I grew up in a picturesque suburb of New York City. By all outside appearances, I had it together: confident, carefree, and a natural leader. I went to college, built a high profile career in the media industry, got married, and had children. Then I had a daughter. The second I heard “it’s a girl,” I knew that I had to build a better me because of her.
I realized then that despite all the outward signs that I “had it together,” on the inside my confidence wasn’t built on a solid foundation. I’d always had the feeling that I wasn’t enough. I spent so much time outwardly focused – trying to please and impress others with my academic achievements, athletic abilities, physical appearance and ladylike social skills – that I never spent much time looking inward.
I had no idea how to build confidence from the inside.
So I went back to school and got a coaching degree, trained at the Girls Leadership Institute and started my own private practice. I attended countless classes and conferences and pored over parenting and confidence theory books into the wee hours of the night.
I came to understand that girls get a lot of mixed messages: we tell them to be leaders, but we call them out for being “bossy.” We tell them they are strong and resilient, but then we jump in and solve their problems for them. We encourage them to be assertive, but then we pepper them with tips on being respectful.
My dear friend Google says confidence is “a feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities and judgment.” Essentially, confidence is believing in yourself. So if being confident means “having your own back” and trusting yourself, we need to show our daughters how to trust themselves and believe in their abilities.
These actionable tips will help to build her confidence and teach her to believe in herself.
- Lead by example and learn to like yourself. We have a tendency to compare ourselves to others, contrasting the worst things we know about ourselves to the best things we know about others. The inevitable outcome always leads to feelings of inadequacy and despair. Tell yourself that you can’t possibly be making a fair comparison. If you treat yourself well and believe in your capability, then your daughter will follow suit. By showing and teaching her to like herself and speak to herself kindly (no negative or self deprecating comments), she will feel better in her own skin.
- Create leadership opportunities and help her believe she is capable. You don’t need to already have the ability to do something, you just have to believe that you can figure it out, learn, practice and not give up. A great way to help your daughter understand this concept is by creating leadership opportunities at home. Whether it is planning grandma’s birthday celebration or just involving her in everyday choices, simple occasions to lead herself and others can have a major impact on her budding self esteem. Give your daughter the opportunity to practice decision-making skills. Let her choose which chores she wants to do for the week, what she wears to school, and how she wears her hair. When parents trust girls to make decisions, girls internalize the message that they are capable.
- Remind her where to focus and let her follow her own dreams. This is not the “fake it ’til you make it” approach; rather, teach your daughter to focus on those things that she wants in her life, not the things that she doesn’t want. When she begins to shift her focus to her wants and goals, she will begin to attract more of “the good stuff” into her life. Encourage her to speak up for her beliefs. Commend her for her grit and resiliency. Above all, tell her that you believe in her. The more she hears it from you, the more she will believe in herself.
- Show respect for her point of view and love her unconditionally.Listening to your daughter more than you lecture her and being open to changing your point of view based on what she has said will go a long way in building her confidence. She will see that what she thinks and says matters and has the power to change a situation. Girls will face ups and downs as they grow and will experience successes and failures. Whether or not they believe they can be successful and recover from their failures is largely determined by the amount of unconditional love and support they receive at home every single day.
- Help someone. One of the most important steps to finding self-confidence is to give yourself to others. Serving another person almost always results in the healthy realization that you are important in this world, that you have something to offer, and that the world is more beautiful because of your presence. Research has shown that helping others can increase one’s self-esteem. Giving back often forces girls to get out of their comfort zone. When the only person that they have to disappoint is themselves, they are more likely to stay inside their shell. When their actions have a direct impact on the lives of others, they are more likely to step up – and as they do, they will see that they are capable of much more than they imagined.
- Help her develop a strong emotional vocabulary. Many people lack the ability to communicate emotions, but it is the key to both understanding others and being understood. So much conflict and misunderstanding could be avoided if we knew how to express our emotions. Teach your daughter to share her feelings and ask for what she needs to resolve problems and challenges. To be able to tell a friend that she made you feel bad and that you’d like an apology is a skill that can resolve conflict and strengthen not only friendships, but self-esteem as well!
- Force her to make mistakes and help her accept her weaknesses.The best way to build self-confidence and resilience in young girls is to give them the opportunity to fail and get back up again. Show her that she can survive whatever embarrassment or hurt she experiences. Many girls feel that they have to be “perfect,” so it’s important that girls fall and get back up over and over for them to get comfortable with the feelings that come with failure. They can’t do that if we don’t push them to try new things. Dwelling on failures and weaknesses leads to a lack of self-confidence, and accepting them is an important step in developing confidence.
- Teach her how to communicate in real life. Being able to look someone in the eye and greet them or ask them a question is no small feat nowadays with screens taking over our lives. Teaching (and forcing) your daughter to do this when meeting someone new or talking to “grown ups” is a great way to help her get comfortable with the “real world” and confident in how she acts and presents herself in the world and to others.
Confidence is the foundation of a healthy self-image. Resilience is critical for girls in the new 24/7 selfie generation. Confidence building – along with establishing leadership and interpersonal skills – starts at home. Our girls are eager for us to show and teach them these important skills. Together we can lead our girls to a bright and confident future!