According to child psychologist, Jean Piaget, the most important phase in the development of self-esteem occurs between the ages of about six and 11. Self-esteem, or confidence, is built when an individual feels self-worth. Women are often belittled by our society, which makes it all the more imperative us parents find ways to protect our daughter's self-esteem and encoure them to love themselves. We absolutely must teach our daughters the intricate art of confidence. It's one of our most important parental responsibilities.
My mother taught me that, no matter what, I am important. She raised me to believe in myself and in my actions. She raised a confident woman who never, and even when they're at their most toxic, shies away from getting into heated debates with groups of men. She raised a woman who does not back down from a challenge and who embraces adversity. She raised a strong, independent, and self-assured woman. But, for be fair, I was also susceptible to that type parenting because confidence runs in my gene pool.
My maternal grandmother earned herself a PhD in Chemistry, despite every possible life obstacle known to man, and has walked her entire life with her head held high. She never let anyone mistreat her and her perseverance and confidence earned her highest honors in her field of work, along with the utmost respect among her peers. My paternal grandmother was one of the most poised and self-assured women I have ever met. She carried herself with prestige. She had bi-weekly standing appointments for her hair and nails. She never left the house without being put together. She took pride in her appearance and in her ability to overpower a room with her infectious laugh, wit, and mental prowess. My grandmothers were and will forever be the models of confidence.
However, not all women (or men) are lucky enough to have such incredible women as role models, so we must teach our daughters confidence so we can protect and build-up their self-esteem. Here are just a few ways to make sure you reach such an important, vital, and worthwhile goal:
Model Body Positive Behaviors
Women are brutal when it comes to their own appearance. Last weekend I put on a two-piece bathing suit and scrutinized myself in the mirror. My stomach is the antonym of a six-pack, my thighs are adorned in stretch marks, and my boobs look like they've breastfed two kids because, you know, they have. Most people would probably think my body belongs in a one-piece, or at home, while others would call me "brave" for wearing a two-piece. But when my daughter walked into the bedroom, I quickly changed my facial expression of self-disgust and asked her what she thought of my swim suit.
"It looks great," she said. And there you have it. I feel like I look awful, she just sees her mom, ready for the pool. I know many of us look in the mirror and are never quite satisfied with what we see, but until we learn to accept ourselves, our daughters should never know how we truly feel about our bodies. We should never criticize ourselves in from our our kids. In fact, we should hold ourselves in highest regard to show our daughters what confidence looks like.
Involve Her In Team Sports
Team sports focus on camaraderie and involve all individuals on the team. Every player is equally valued for her contribution. A plethora of studies suggests that sports and other psychical activities build self-esteem in children. Being a part of a team allows the child to feel like she is automatically socially accepted, while simultaneously offering her a sense of belonging. That being said, it is also important to make sure your daughter is having a positive experience while participating in team sports and is not being bullied or unappreciated.
Teach Her To Express Herself
Remind your daughter her voice matters. In any given situation, ask her what she wants to do. Encourage her to make her own choices based on the information she knows. Teach her techniques for powerful rhetoric. Build her emotional vocabulary by encouraging her to use words to describe how she is feeling. Casually ask her how she is feeling and cautiously offer different words until he chooses one that feels right to her. It's satisfying to one's ego to be able to coherently express oneself, so teaching self-expression is a great step towards confidence.
Let Her Fit In On Her Own Terms
Sure, kids (and many adults) want to fit in. But plenty of people do some really self-deprecating things in order to do so. Of course I want my daughter to fit in and not feel left out or be an outsider, but I would (ideally) like her to be confident enough to fit in on her own terms. In other words, if there is a group of kids who want my daughter to change her personality in order to be accepted into their group, I would hope my daughter does not subject herself to their whims.
Simultaneously, do not push your daughter to be friends with any specific group of people just because you think they are "the popular kids." Allow her to make her own choices when it comes to friends (while carefully guiding her away from those who are of negative influence). Teach her that friendships aren't about who does what for whom, or who has the most friends, but about being a good person and a kind individual.
Praise Her Efforts
We tend to focus on the outcomes of our actions rather than the effort. It makes sense since, in the adult world, no one really cares how you get from point A to point B as long as the result is as intended. In order for our daughters to become confident, though, we must praise them for their efforts and not just the outcome. Make sure to acknowledge how hard she's been working on her project for school, or how much time she's put into her extracurricular activities. Praise her hard work instead of just the result and, in return, she'll take pride in the process.
Cultivate Her Strengths & Find Opportunities to Showcase Those Strengths
Find an activity or a few she is good at and make sure she takes pride in those activities. Stimulate growth in said activity by signing her up for classes that improve upon the specific skills needed to excel in that activity. Once again, praise her efforts and find ways for her to showcase her new skills. Then, find ways for your daughter to unveil her skills. Whether she enrolls herself into a science fair or an art show, or she performs in a recital or a martial arts competition, figure out how your daughter wants to flaunt her abilities and do it together.
Allow Her To Fail & Teach Her How To Recover
We all want to protect our children from harm and hardships. But if we create a utopia for our children, they may not be able to handle adversity in the long-run. So, if we let our daughters fail and teach them to try again, we will be gifting them the ability of handling difficult situations. Few things make one feel more powerful and confident than learning from a failure and then persevering beyond one's preconceived abilities.
Reward Her For Her Successes
Although we should definitely praise effort, we should also reward behaviors and successes. Applaud your daughter as much as you can. Focus on even minor accomplishments. If your daughter earns good grades, take her out for ice cream. If she performs in front of a crowd, reward her with something she's been wanting. Find ways to show her that her accomplishments matter.
Do Not Speak Poorly Of Other People
Do not talk negatively about other people in front of your kids. Listen, everyone in their lives has at least once rolled their eyes at someone else's actions. We've all said something negative about someone else, but it's vital, as mothers and women, we do not let your daughter listen to us tear down other women. (We shouldn't be doing this anyway, but I can't preach what I don't follow.) Instead, find women you respect and talk about them in the presence of your daughter. I discuss my friends accomplishments in front of my daughter all the time, and I love watching her listen with a sparkle in her eye.
Encourage Her To Have Her Own Style
Don't dress your daughter in your style. Sure, we all dress our kids in the beginning and we all have our own style we'd like to impart upon our children. Eventually, though, your daughter will be too old to want to take your advice, so you'll have to let her make her own choices. Do not allow her to think her body is something to hide with modest clothing, instead allow her to explore fashion and do what feels right to her.
Control Media Access
Negative influence is everywhere and little girls are bombarded with terrible role models from all sides. Half of the internet tells our daughters their appearance is the only thing that matters, while the other half screams at them that appearance doesn't matter at all. The point is, the more time your kid spends online, the more conflicted she will probably feel.
I would encourage every parent to withhold electronic devices for as long as possible. Honestly, nothing good comes from them. Smart phones are used only for entertainment (let's be honest, our kids aren't using those things for educational purposes) and mainstream entertainment is heavily anti-girl power (we are getting better, but we still have a very long way to go). So, to the moms who are fighting the uphill battle against cell phones, I stand with you. You're doing it right.
Foster A Love For Reading & Critical Thinking
If you teach your daughter to love to read, you have won a mini-war. Once your kid appreciates the written word, she will gain confidence instantly. By reading she will open her world to incredible literature, important information, and critical think-pieces. She will learn how to analyze and synthesize information, and that information will make her feel powerful and armed with knowledge. Build your daughters confidence and self-esteem by encouraging her to be in charge of her thoughts.
Never Call Her Names & Do Not Shame Her
Honestly, I felt weird even adding this point, but unfortunately this still needs to be said. Do not call your daughter "weird" or "bossy," even as a joke. Do not ever call her any names, as all name-calling brutally damages self-esteem. Do not let others call her names and influence her in terms of how she feels about herself. You may think calling your daughter "quirky" is adorable, but she may instantly associate that word with a negative feeling.
Do not put her down when she fails at something. Do not say "I told you so" when she has tried her best, or ever. Don't comment on her appearance in a negative way. Don't tell her that her outfit looks ridiculous or that she is dressed "inappropriately" (whatever that even means). Just don't do it. You wouldn't like being called a name and neither would anyone else.
Tell Her She Is Smart & Beautiful & Strong
I know, I know, we are no longer supposed to tell our kids they are smart and are instead supposed praise them for how hard they work. I get the psychology behind that recommendation, I really do. And we are also not supposed to tell our daughters they are beautiful and instead praise them for their intelligence. But I think we can all agree that there isn't such a thing as too much self-esteem.
So, I say we tell our daughters they are smart and they are beautiful and they are awesome all the time. Trust me, she'll hear plenty of negativity about herself throughout her life, we're just trying to negate some of that. So, as long as the praise doesn't focus solely on her looks and there is a healthy mix of compliments, then shower your daughter with sweet words and phrases that will make her feel good about herself all the time.
Love Her & Tell Her Often
Finally, love your daughter and show her how much you love her every day. All it takes is for you to listen to her and for her to know you are there as a parent and a confidant. Encourage your partner and all those around her to create a loving and nurturing environment. Remind them to praise her not just for her appearance but for her incredible personality, for her strong opinions, and for her amazing brain. Love her openly and loudly and she will feel like she could be and do anything.