Many parents are becoming acutely aware of all the ways in which friends, family, society, media and fashion impacts and undermines confidence in our daughters. As a parent, with active participation you can help safeguard her self-esteem.
In the article, how to parent girls, Steve Biddulph (author of Raising Girls) writes in a highly concerned tone, “diet ads, alcohol marketing and fashion pressures, to the inroads of hard pornography into teenage bedrooms. Girls,” he writes, “are filling up mental-health clinics, the police stations and emergency rooms, and the drug and alcohol programs in numbers never seen before.”
So, how do we help our girls? We can go about this in several manners. First, it is crucial to show children that they are appreciated, loved, and that they light up our worlds. Don’t we all wish to feel this way? Think about it from an adult perspective, wouldn’t you feel good if the face of the person you loved most lit up every time you entered the room?
Parenting expert Michael Grose says that little girls are different and parents should recognize that when raising them. “Yes, there are gender differences and one thing that often comes to mind is that girls keep parents busy in adolescence and tend to be seen as easier in the earlier years,” Grose says.
“In order to raise a girl with high self-esteem, it is very important to keep her physically active and healthy. Limit their access to media so that they do not get exposed to negative self-image, self-harm, and mean comments from others. Girls really benefit from spending time in natural environments including through organised groups such as Guiding, camping in the bush with the family or just free playing in the backyard.”
Grose writes, “Research shows that girls have more fears than boys. These includes developmental fears (e.g. fear of separation from parents as a toddler) and learned fears (e.g. fear of dogs). Some experts believe that this increase in fearfulness is related to overprotective parenting.” So, not only do girls need to be outside, with you, they also need your support to face those fears and overcome that.
Here are some other super important points to remember when raising your girl:
1) Courage to Express Her Feelings
Encourage her to share and express her feelings rather than holding them in. For example, naming emotions helps toddlers learn that emotions are normal “why do you think he looks so sad?”
Also, help her identify her emotions by saying things such as “you felt hurt when Katie would not talk to you.”
The best way to teach a child is by being the example. Model the behavior you wish to see by doing this yourself and talking to her about your feelings “I felt angry when you stepped on the dog’s tail.”
Denying a child the chance to express themselves sends them a very loud message that their feelings are not worthy. The child will translate this to mean that they are not worthy and this results in a whole new set of issues.
Ultimately, helping kids manage their emotions begins by validating those emotions and providing an environment in which they feel safe to express them.
When your child encounters frustration, remember that your empathy will be a critical factor in her overcoming it. Instead of automatically jumping in to remove the source of the frustration, give it a larger context by communicating your compassion that she has to encounter this circumstance:
“I’m sorry this feels so hard…”
“This isn’t how you hoped it would turn out…”
The ups and downs of life are completely normal, however, if your daughter is regularly feeling anxious, mindfulness—a mind-body based approach to help manage negative feelings can help her live more in the moment and learn how to deal with her emotions.
And as Steve Biddulph, in his book 10 Things Girls Need Most, says “a big part of being strong means being in charge of your emotions.”
2) Stop Controlling and Start Coaching
Coaches help kids develop skills while kids play the game. Your job as a parent is to support your child so she can flourish and develop. Doing things for her robs her of the opportunity to become competent. Doing things with her teaches her how and builds confidence. This means we have to manage our own anxiety and let go of our need to control.
Respect Her Choices. If she prefers karate to ballet, bicycle to scooter, superheroes to princesses…Whatever her tastes and preferences, it is crucial that she can count on you to support her and encourage her to give her best in whatever is her passion!
3) Remember that Perfection is Not the Goal
Resist the temptation to “improve” on your child’s task, unless the outcome is vitally important or dangerous. Constant intervention undermines a child’s confidence and prevents her from learning for herself.
Praise your daughter for her efforts rather than her performance.“Focus less on the outcome and more on efforts and the development of new skills,” says Dr. Rooney. Mastery is what builds confidence, and learning to tolerate failure fosters resilience.
Give her space to fail. If your goal as a mom or dad is to have a strong, emotionally healthy daughter, it won’t be helpful to protect her from every obstacle she faces. Confidence is nurtured by having our kids face adversity.
No one succeeds at everything all the time. There will be setbacks and failures, criticism and pain. Use these hurdles as learning experiences rather than dwelling on the events as failures or disappointments.
Katty Kay, lead anchor of BBC World News America and coauthor of The Confidence Code explains the importance of “showing your daughter that mistakes are a normal part of life. Speak up often about your own missteps, even when it’s something as minor as dropping your phone, and give her opportunities to make little flubs.”
“The process of learning through trial and error will build her confidence. Or try something new together—a baking experiment, a martial arts class— where you can “mess up” together for the fun of it.”
4) Make Sure She Knows You Love Her No Matter What
She needs to know that you will love her “no matter how her appearance might change or how she dresses or how she might perform at something,” says Dr. Rooney. “Because even though kids are so reliant on their peers for feedback when they’re in their teens, what her parents think of her matters just as much as it ever did.”
5) Let Her Have a Voice
Giving your daughter the opportunity to make decisions in her life will help her build her confidence and trust her instincts. Of course these decisions come on gradually and are age appropriate, but even giving her the opportunity to learn from bad choices in a safe environment is a great place to start.
6) Leave Appearances Out of It
Compliment all of her good qualities—not just her looks. Who your daughter is isn’t tied to how she looks or what she wears. You don’t want to raise a daughter whose self-worth is directly connected to her appearance and the way she dresses herself. Oh geez, did I end up having huge issues with this area as a teenager!
One way to break the cycle is by raising girls who think of themselves as more than eye candy. So, reward them for having good grades, for participating in activities or volunteering.
7) Model Self-love and Positive Self-talk
You must love yourself before you can teach your child to love herself. You can model this behavior by rewarding and praising yourself when you do well. Whether you run a marathon, get a promotion at work or throw a successful dinner party, celebrate your successes with your children. Talk about the skills and talents and efforts needed for you to achieve those accomplishments. In the same conversation, you can remind your child of the skills he or she possesses and how they can be developed and used.
Model body acceptance. Moms have a huge impact on their daughters’ body image. Avoid what clinical psychologist Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair calls the “morality of orality”—talking about food and yourself as “good” or “bad.” As in: I was bad today: I had pizza. So I’m not going to have dessert.
In addition, you should “model appropriate behavior,” because “Children do as they see, not as they’re told. If you want your child to be mindful of others, you must be mindful of others yourself.” Platt advises.
8) Give Her Good Role Models
Cinderella and Snow White were never my favorite. I prefer to share the adventures of the brave and bold Moana or Pippi Longstocking with girls than traditional fairy tales. So many of them feature a princesse who needs to be saved by a handsome prince and then get married. What did Cinderella do after she became a princess? Did she work to help orphans like herself in her kingdom?
Give your girls the right role models and make sure they know their aspirations should not to be limited to being pretty and popular. Perhaps there isn’t as many strong female characters in children’s literature (although that is changing!), however, there are many heroic ladies whose biographies you can read for a bedtime story.
9) Teach Her to Say No and To Not be a People Pleaser
Knowing and respecting your limits is fundamental to a more balanced and happy life. Many women are burdened with the mission of caring for everything and everyone alone, accepting more than their body and mind can stand, or even subjecting themselves to situations that do not match their values and desires for fear of saying no. Teach your little one about responsibility and commitment, but make it clear that she is not required to do what she does not want, that she can verbalize her wants and limits and that they need to be respected
10) Affirm Your Child’s Ability to Impact the World
Competence and feelings of mastery are about power and derive from a child’s experience of herself as having an effect on the world. Teach her about the power of one. That you can make a positive change in this world.
11) Limit Media to Small Doses
I many forms of media: social media, television, movies, magazines and even books portray women in objectifying ways. They are too sexy, too suggestive, too weak, and too many other negative connotations.
It is important to empower girls so they can face, and hopefully even change and challenge, the media and society’s negative and inaccurate view of them.