My kids and I were enjoying a fun walk along the river trail the other day. The autumn air was crisp and cool. Giant trees followed us on both sides and the gurgling of the river could be heard below. The day was perfect and, with golden leaves littering our path, we almost felt as if we were traipsing along a golden walkway.
As we went along our way, we soon came across another group enjoying the trail. Two girls rushed ahead of the group running and walking and skipping all at once, their smiles as radiant as the afternoon sun. The two girls were friends of Adventure Bo and soon they were hopping breathlessly up to us to say hello.
The rest of their group soon caught up and we all said our hellos, talked about the day, and soon moved along with the two girls waving and laughing and skipping away.
As we continued walking along the trail I thought about those two girls with their confidence and carefree attitude. They were not yet teenagers and I wondered how long it would be before they were too self-conscious to merrily skip along a trail. How long would it be before they didn’t want to run because they might look weird or before they would be more worried about keeping their hair in place and their clothes nice to hop and jump around? And how long would it be before they saw my son as a cute boy who might like them if they were pretty enough instead of a fun person to talk to? When would it all change? And was there any way to stop it?
Let’s face it, society and the media aren’t going to help. They are going to continue to put anorexic actresses on the big screen. They are going to continue to focus on the female body as a symbol of that woman’s worth. And they are going to continue to photoshop even the most beautiful people to put them on magazines.
So as parents it’s up to us. We have to somehow counteract all of the negativity coming at our girls in the media and at school. And we have to give our girls a secure foundation for their self worth and a self-confidence that can stand up to the pressures of the world, but how?
5 Ways to Help Your Daughter Build Self-Confidence
1. Praise Her Efforts
You need to praise your daughter but not in the way that you think. You need to consistently and positively point out good things about your daughter that she has control of. And you need to stop praising things that she doesn’t have control of.
For example, don’t tell your daughter that she’s smart (audible gasps from every mom). I repeat, DON’T tell your daughter that she’s smart. Research shows that praising your child for their intelligence (something they don’t have control of) is actually detrimental. Instead, tell your daughter that she can learn anything she works hard at. Instead of praising her for getting 100% on a spelling test, praise her for spending an entire hour studying her words. Praise her efforts.
2. Focus on Specific Skills
This one can be tough and you’ll soon see what I mean. You need to stop giving blanket statements of praise and instead focus on the specifics. Children today are constantly praised for the tiniest and simplest of things until soon that praise becomes worthless. It’s true. Studies show that blanket statements of praise become meaningless to children after a very short time and stop motivating them. In fact, soon the opposite becomes true.
By the time your daughter is a teenager, she’ll think that the teacher constantly giving her atta-girls really thinks that she’s stupid and needs the encouragement. Whereas the teachers that critique her work and push her, think she has more to offer.
So what can you do to stem the tide of meaningless praise but still be able to tell your daughter that you think she’s great? Focus on specifics and don’t overdo it. After a soccer game, don’t go up to her and tell her she “played a great game.” Instead, tell her that you liked how she looked for her teammates to pass to or how aggressively she went after the ball. This kind of praise lets her know specifically what she did well and what she can continue to work on. Plus, it’s a lot more meaningful.
And while your daughter won’t miss the “great game today sweetie,” you might. It will take practice and a lot of effort on your part, especially when all the other parents are doing it. But just keep telling yourself that you are doing what’s best for your daughter, not what feels best to you.
3. Challenge Her
The simplest and most fail-safe way to build your daughter’s self-confidence is to challenge her. Just think about it, when is the last time you did something that you weren’t quite sure you could do at the beginning? Did you actually complete a marathon when you weren’t even sure you could run 10 miles when you signed up for it? Have you ever hiked to the top of a mountain that seemed insurmountable? Did you ever study your guts out for a test and end up getting that A that you never thought you could get? Didn’t you feel like Wonder Woman after you were done?
And guess what, that fantastic feeling stays with you in the form of increased self-esteem. And the more “hard things” that you accomplish, the greater you feel about your self worth. And the same is true with your daughter. And this one is super easy. Simply take your daughter on challenging hikes where she can feel proud and tired and worn out all at once as she reaches the peak. Sign her up for a race at a distance that she’s never run before and train with her. Encourage her to do things that she finds scary (prod her to sign up for the big part in the play, push her to enter that contest, get her on that roller coaster, etc.). And before you know it, your daughter will feel like Supergirl.
4. Treat Her with Respect
As parents we can sometimes get into a mode of “because I said so” and “what were you thinking.” We can get into a rhythm of treating our children like second-class citizens. After all, we’re their parents; we’re the grownups, which means that we are in charge. And it is true that we are in charge, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have to respect our children as fellow human beings. (And, frankly, it isn’t as effective either.)
How can we teach our daughters to respect themselves and expect others to treat them with respect if we don’t treat them with respect? Now, I’m not saying that we don’t discipline them at all because that’s not helpful either, but I am saying that you discipline them with respect. This means that you ditch all of the yelling, name calling (really, miss queen bee), derogatory statements (how could you be so stupid), etc. and simply apply reasonable consequences to their actions. I am not the best at this by any means, but I’m working on it. (It also helps to have pre-determined consequences, but that’s a whole other article.)
And, in addition to respectful discipline, treat your daughter with respect the rest of the time. Treat her as if she can actually do things without your help and don’t jump in to save her all of the time, even if it will be quicker and faster. And pretty soon she’ll see that you believe that she can take care of herself and she’ll start to believe it to.
5. Be a Good Example
“Don’t say things. What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
A simpler, and often misquoted, version of Emerson’s words might be, “What you do speaks so loud, that I cannot hear what you say.” And it’s true. Our daughters are watching us. We may be telling them to be confident, true to themselves, brave, and that their worth is so much more than what they look like. But they might see us constantly putting ourselves down, jumping on every diet wagon, not willing to go out of the house without makeup on, and constantly saying derogatory things about ourselves (I’m so fat, I can’t go out of the house looking like this, oh I just wish I looked like so and so, etc.). And if that’s what they see us doing, they are more likely to copy it and forget all of our nice words.
So be a good example to your daughter. Be the kind of woman that you want her to grow up to be. And while it may be hard to go out of the house without makeup on the first few times, just remember that you’re setting a good example. You’re telling your daughter that women are beautiful even without makeup. And who knows, after a while you may even enjoy going out without the hassle. And if you are constantly showing your daughter what a confident, true-to-themselves, brave woman looks like, they’ll grow up thinking that is normal. And they are much more likely to follow your example.
And who knows, if we can all master these five things, maybe we’ll raise a world full of confident girls who wave and laugh and skip along excited for what each moment might bring along the trail of life.