How Do We Raise Our Daughters to Trust in Their Own Abilities, Qualities, and Judgment?
Does it just happen naturally? As mothers, do we just give them a few compliments and hope for the best? Or, like most life skills, is it something we have to make a conscious effort to build?
There have been many articles on how to raise confident daughters.
Several, like this one featured by the Child Mind Institute, provide excellent guidance on how to help our daughters build their confidence based on what they can do, not on what they look like. Others offer concrete practical strategies we can implement today.
As my daughter Kendall has gotten older, this topic has naturally bubbled to the top of my “things I need to worry about, research, and prevent” list. In recent years the media has gotten better about embracing body shapes of all kinds, but there remains a strong tendency to stereotype what the “perfect” female body is. Up until now, my primary concern about Kendall’s level of self-confidence has been focused on helping her to build a healthy love and appreciation for her body. In a moment of clarity, however, I realized that was not enough.
If you follow Odd Moms Club, you know Kendall was diagnosed at birth with Down syndrome. Down syndrome is a genetic disorder resulting from a triplication of the 21st chromosome. Instead of having just two copies of the 21st chromosome, individuals with Down syndrome have three. Like lots of other medical conditions, the impact this third chromosome has on the development and abilities of people with Down syndrome varies greatly.
Kendall is able to do many things independently. Like most children though, she too has moments of difficulty. Moments when she struggles to complete a task or gets super frustrated. It was during my moment of clarity, that I realized, while I have been very conscientious about helping her to build a healthy body image, I was neglecting to also help her build a strong mental resilience, a.k.a. self-confidence – the ability for her to know within herself, “Yeah, I got this! I’m confident in myself – I trust my own abilities, qualities, and judgment!”
So what is the danger of not making a conscious effort to instill self-confidence in our daughters?
Well, it’s not good.
Without self-confidence, negative language and thinking become the voice in our daughters’ heads. They will turn to this voice when they are struggling with something. Without the confidence to trust their own abilities and judgment, doubt and fear may creep in, leading them to shy away from taking risks, trying new things, etc.
In addition, a recent US-based study found that girls as young as 6 years old (what?!?) believe that “brilliance” is primarily a trait found in men. Excuse me while I rant for a moment…..
Ok, rant complete.
Does this shock you? It sure did me! Six years old! I should have had my moment of clarity a few years ago!
But it makes sense, right? When you really think about it, how often are we giving our daughters mixed messages?
“Be strong and stand up for yourself!”
A few hours later, “Oh, honey, stop being so bossy.”
I will admit this happens in my house more than I realized. Does it happen in yours?
So What Do We Do?
Besides the practical tips given above, what else can we do to make sure we’re raising our daughters to have a healthy dose of self-confidence?
1 – Acknowledge Their Emotions
It’s ok for our kids to think and feel like they can’t do something. (We all experience that, right?!) Our job as parents is to help them work through those emotions. If frustration comes out in the form of negative behavior (throwing something, crying, getting mad), we should try (I know it’s hard!) to look past that unwanted behavior and see it for what it is – our child’s way of communicating that feeling of frustration.
2 – Be a Role Model
If you become frustrated about something, share that with your child. “Mommy is so frustrated right now!” And then show them how you handle frustration; for example, “I’m going to take a break from this and come back and try again later.” By providing a model for your daughter of how you handle your frustration, she will see that getting frustrated is okay! It’s perfectly normal. And her self-confidence will grow as she sees you having the confidence to try again.
3 – Reward Their Effort
I personally think this is huge! So often, we primarily focus on the end result – we offer praise for the “perfect” outcome. Only rewarding the “perfect” outcome leads to our children thinking that if the outcome isn’t “perfect”, they have somehow failed us. We need to reward their effort. We all sometimes fail at things – the first time we try, or the second, or third, etc.. The better skill to teach is persistence and that trying again is the real “perfect” outcome.
4 – Don’t Swoop In
For any parent who has witnessed your child struggling, you know – this is sooooo hard! Whether you’re running late and just need to get out the door or you’re watching your daughter really struggle to accomplish something, it is almost impossible not to swoop in and do the task for her.
Kendall didn’t start walking until she was about 2.5 and believe me, watching her work so hard to accomplish something that most kids were doing between the ages of 6-12 months was, at times, excruciating. I remember thinking, “I’ll just carry her everywhere”. But how would that have helped her? Yes, it was hard for me to watch her struggle, but she needed to because otherwise, she never would have learned on her own.
(Now she won’t sit still and can climb a rock wall like nobody’s business!)
5 – Allow Her to Make a Decision For You
“Say what? You want me to let my 6-year old make a decision for me? Surely you jest!”
Nope, I’m completely serious.
Now I’m not talking about a life-altering decision. But simple things, like which shoes should mommy wear with this outfit? Have two pairs for her to pick from (both of which you would be perfectly happy wearing) and let her choose!
Imagine how empowering this must feel for her! “Mommy wants to wear the shoes I picked out – wow! She must really think I make good decisions!” 🙂
6 – Reward the Unexpected Outcome
As parents, we have a bad habit of projecting our expectations onto our children. Before our kiddo even finishes her task, we’ve already formed an idea in our own minds about what the result should be. If the actual result is different from what we expected, we “suggest” a change, “Well, what if you did it this way?” Or, “Let’s try this and see what happens.”
When we don’t reward the unexpected outcome, we inadvertently tell our daughters that the result she produced wasn’t good enough to earn our praise. Over time, instead of focusing on the outcome she wants to produce, she will try to produce the result that will most please us. The better option is to keep our expectations to ourselves, reward the unexpected outcome, and let our kids know that we are proud of them no matter what the result is.
Our daughters don’t have to experience feelings of self-doubt. They can feel strong. Confident. Fierce! When we foster their self-confidence they will learn to believe in themselves. They will learn to be their own biggest cheerleader. They will rise!
Let’s get social and share strategies! How do you build your daughter’s self-confidence?