September 17, 2019
If you were to ask your daughter to describe herself, which words would you hope she uses? Perhaps strong, independent, and compassionate. Definitely confident. The trouble is that even though we may wish that our daughters feel confident in themselves, the sad truth is that a large majority of them don’t. We may see glimmers of confidence as our girls grow up and try new things with a fearless, I’m-going-to-succeed attitude. But, that level of confidence all too often takes a dive after about age 8, and it stays low throughout the pre-teen and teenage years.
While it is fairly typical for girls to have lower self-confidence levels as they get older, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are things that we as parents can do to help our daughters develop confidence and stay confident during the most difficult years of their adolescent lives.
Journalist, author, and speaker Claire Shipman and her co-author, Katty Kay, wanted to look into just how confidence levels change in young girls as they approach their pre-teen and teenage years. To get some answers, they did a study and survey with nearly 1,400 girls between the ages of 8 and 18, and their parents or guardians. The results they found confirmed that young girls face a confidence crash in the pre-adolescent lives.
The results that Shipman and Kay found from their study is shocking. At incredibly young ages, our daughters go from feeling fearless and like they can do anything to convincing themselves that they have to be perfect, that no one likes them, and that they are limited. In fact, girls are 18% less likely to describe themselves as confident than boys as they reach their teenage years. Instead, girls often describe themselves as stressed, shy, anxious, worried, emotional, ugly, or depressed.
That is certainly not how we want our daughters to feel about themselves.
You may or may not notice your daughter’s self-confidence change as she approaches her teenage years, but whatever the situation, there are some things you can do to as a parent to help her stay confident or re-establish greater confidence in herself:
Help your daughter get comfortable with being uncomfortable. By getting outside of her comfort zone and taking on the risks that come with it, your daughter can discover ways that she can support herself in the face of challenges. She can recognize that she can feel afraid or scared, and that’s normal, but she can still do new things anyways.
Shipman and Kay refer to “failure fixes” as things your daughter can do to help her get into a more positive mindset, especially when she fails. Failure is inevitable, no matter how hard we try, but helping your daughter know how to deal with failure can help keep her confidence up. Some ideas of “failure fixes” include reading a book, listening to music, watching TV, getting outside, or whatever it is that will help distract your daughter from overthinking about failure.
A great way to help keep your daughter’s confidence up is to lead by example. Each of us struggle with perfectionism to some degree, but women tend to worry more than men. Even if we know we shouldn’t, we compare ourselves to others and get after ourselves when we do not reach impossibly high and perfect expectations. When our daughters can see us not only struggle and deal with failure but also work through it, they have an example to show them that they can deal with and overcome failure themselves.
Girls are generally the way they are due to genetics, biological makeup, and their environment. Should any of these lead to your daughter having lower levels of self-confidence, understand that that (nor your daughter, for that matter) is not a problem to be fixed. There is nothing “wrong” with her. Increasing her confidence could be simply helping her gain a bigger perspective of who she is, what she can do, and how she fits with those around her.
Dissatisfaction with body image can be a huge contributing factor to a lack of confidence, and it can be easier for daughters to feel less confident in themselves and their appearance when they see their mothers doing it. Avoid asking whether items of clothing make you look good. Don’t verbally obsess over what you eat or put yourself down. Instead, try verbally expressing your gratitude and appreciation for your body to give your daughter an example of greater confidence. Something else you can try is to help her notice when body images are altered in media, and to recognize that you don’t have to be a specific body type.
We often praise our daughters for looking beautiful. While this is good, it is important that not every praise is directed to her appearance. By complimenting your daughter on other things, it will help her recognize that people accept her for more than just her looks, and that she has so much more to offer. For every compliment you give about your daughter’s appearance, try giving at least two other compliments that are not focused on her looks.
When your daughter is involved in various activities, it can help her develop a more solid foundation of self-confidence because her interaction with and acceptance from others will not be based on her appearance. Try getting your daughter involved in music, theatre, or art. Help your daughter find a way to express herself in ways other than the way she looks or the things she has.
If we only praise our daughters on their performance, it can be easier for them to develop the idea that they can never fail, or else they will disappoint you. Instead, try focusing on her efforts to help her see how she faced risks or difficult tasks, and help her master or overcome the challenges she faced. You can help her see that some things will end in failure, but that is okay because her worth or confidence is not determined by whether or not she succeeds in everything all the time.
This is an activity you can try with your daughter. Have her make a list of risks that she has taken, and note how she worked through them. This is a great way to remind your daughter that she can step outside of her comfort zone and take risks; it is also a great reminder of what she is capable of. You can also try this activity with failures. Have your daughter list out any failures she has faced, as well as how she tackled and overcame them. This serves as a reminder that failure is inevitable, but she can still work through it. Finally, brainstorm with your daughter some phrases she can use when she feels a lack of confidence creeping up. Some of these phrases can be like, “I’ve done something like this before, and I can do it again.”
Above all, it is essential that your daughter knows that you love her no matter what. It does not matter how her appearance might change, how she dresses, or how well or not well she may perform at something. To parents, it may seem that pre-teens and teenagers only care about what their peers think, but knowing what their parents think of them matters just as much.