Hoda Kotb Won't Be an Overprotective Mom: 'I Want a Strong Daughter' with a 'Soft Center'

Hoda Kotb is raising her two young daughters to be tough cookies with hearts of gold.

The Today anchor — who adopted her second child, a baby girl named Hope Catherine, last month — tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story that she’s doing her best to instill a tender, yet fighting spirit in her girls as they grow up.

“I don’t want to prepare her with a coat of armor to go out into the world,” Kotb says of 2-year-old Haley Joy. “I want her to be open and vulnerable because, look, it is that whole thing about courage does come from vulnerability.”

For Kotb, 54, part of that parenting technique comes in knowing when to lay off. The star said she recently watched Haley, whom she adopted shortly following her birth on Valentine’s Day 2017, attempt to hold hands with another little boy while playing — only to have him push her aside.

“My instinct was to jump in, but what I said to her was, ‘Oh, he doesn’t want to hold hands, let’s move on.’ I want her to understand rejection and all that kind of stuff,” she explains. “But it doesn’t mean you’re not joyful … I want her to be open and realize that rejection is nothing about you. It’s not about you, just keep going.”

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Hoda Kotb Says Daughter Haley, 2, Is a “Protective” Big Sister to Baby Hope

Kotb says that much of her decision not to be an overprotective parent comes in the lessons she learned as a child that ultimately shaped her into the person she is today.

“I had all the things in school that a lot of kids have. You get picked on, you’re weird, you have a funky name, crazy glasses. People want to beat you up for no reason,” she tells PEOPLE. “But I know that all of those life experiences turned me into a stronger human. I want [Haley] to be tough, too. I want her to be tough, but I also want her to be gentle. I want all those things for her.”

She continues, “I don’t want them to only be strong, though. I want a strong daughter who has a soft center. I want a tough young girl who also is the most empathetic one in the room.”

Kotb revealed she’d welcomed her new bundle of joy in a phone call on the April 16 episode of Today.

“It’s a girl! And her name is Hope!” the new mother of two could be heard saying through tears over the phone as her co-hosts wiped their own eyes.

Hope’s arrival comes a little more than two years after Kotb adopted Haley in February 2017 following her Valentine’s Day birth that year.

Bringing Hope home and becoming a mom of two has filled Kotb with “overwhelming joy,” she says, explaining that each time she welcomed a new daughter home, her “heart expanded.”

Hoda Kotb Opens Up About Adjusting to Life as a Mom of Two: “In a Blink, Life Changes”

The star — whose 2007 battle with breast cancer left her unable to conceive a child biologically — also says that she and boyfriend Joel Schiffman are still open to possibly expanding their family of four.

“I come from three, so I’d never close a door, ever, ever,” Kotb reveals to PEOPLE. “When I talked to [Joel] about two, I said, ‘Hey, I want to talk to you about something.’ I said, ‘I really feel like [Haley] should have a sibling … just to go through life with. It’s a long life she’s going to live.’ “

“I want her to say, ‘That’s my brother, that’s my sister,’ ” she adds. “[Joel] said, ‘What took you so long?’ “

For more on Hoda Kotb’s new life as a mom of two, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.

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