It may sound cheesy, but self-belief and self-esteem are crucial to raising girls to go out into the world feeling confident and resilient for what lies ahead of them. And while raising girls with high self-esteem despite their being surrounded by digitally altered images is no easy task, it is possible. Here are some of my tips and advice on how we can take small steps to make a big difference.
Have you ever asked your daughter to visualise themselves as a blank canvas? Ask them to draw a self-portrait and all around the edges of their picture, they should write all the things that they feel they are ‘good at’ or ‘capable of’. It is important to help our girls to determine their strengths, put some muscle behind them and keep pushing those strengths forwards. Many of our girls will thrive from the inside out and that is where they find their strengths, their inner confidence, and their self-esteem.
Today, with social media’s coverage of women appearing ‘perfect’, our daughters are exposed to a world with ‘ideal’ body images and appearances. However, appearance isn’t the only thing that determines our self-esteem. Most of your daughter’s personality will not show in her clothes, but instead her characteristics. Is she brilliant at sport, is she always making you laugh? Or maybe she is really kind and always helping her peers out? It is important for our next generation of girls to know that trying hard at school, at sports, or at being kind is the best self-achievement we can accomplish.
In reality, no one is ‘perfect’ and building our daughters to be confident in their appearance and personalities is ever important. As a parent or caregiver, you are an important role model for your daughter. By showing positive role modelling, you can really help her build self-esteem and develop her confidence to try new things.
Building self-esteem is an act of effort. It’s not about always doing things right, but about recognising your own strengths and believing in the things that make you, you. My parents encouraged me to be confident, to be kind and to celebrate myself. I am now trying hard to instil these messages in my own daughter.
Self-esteem seems to change all the time and the same applies to our girls. One minute they are drowning in confidence, and the next minute, they might find that someone has said something in passing that completely crushes this confidence. Without a doubt, this has happened to me many times. The important part is how our children learn to get back up again, to rebuild their confidence and have those crucial internal, positive conversations with themselves.
Your daughter’s true friends and her frenemies are two different things. Things can become difficult when these two relationships merge. In many cases, your daughter will not be as open and honest with a frenemy as she is with a friend, so having them in the same place at the same time can be a sticky situation.
Friendships can be a difficult thing, and at school, we can often misunderstand a friend’s intention. Does your daughter have a ‘friend’ you think might be influencing her, in a not-so-positive way? Perhaps she feels some pressure to act along with this peer. In helping your daughter navigate these relationships, encourage her to look at the friendship in its entirety. Is the relationship having a positive impact on her mental wellbeing? Where necessary, encourage your daughter to put herself in her friends’ shoes and consider where any negative remarks or behaviour might be a trigger from something else? Is there something your daughter can do to help that person?
Depending on the number of issues within that friendship, your daughter should consider whether to give that friend another chance. Some frenemy relationships can be detrimental, and, in some cases, it can be better to encourage your daughter to start to gently distance herself. Tell her to take a deep breath and do whatever she needs to continue to present herself in a calm, composed way around that individual. It’s easy to jump into the negative talk, but it won’t help things go smoothly between the two of them.
In terms of peer pressure, I find it important to model saying “no” occasionally. If I have been asked by some friends to go out on a night I really want to stay in, I’ll say no – and I’ll communicate this with my daughter. I want her to understand that it’s ok to have different interests from her friends, and it’s ok to admit you aren’t comfortable with something. But remember to set those boundaries – else she might say no to doing her homework every night!
For our girls, school years can be a real resilience test. Now I sit here with a daughter of my own and we chat about the good days and the bad days. The days when she feels like she has failed. I gently remind her that she never fails – she only learns. Many girls worry about whether they will get the top grades they strive for and it is important to remind girls that grades do not have to define them. Doing their best should always be enough. Dr Carol Dweck, a prominent psychologist at Stanford University, is famous for her pioneering research on motivation, personality, and growth mindsets.
Dr Dweck speaks of a high school in Chicago that required students to pass a certain number of courses to graduate. If they didn’t meet the criteria, they would receive the grade of ’Not Yet’. She loved this idea because, in a traditional classroom, a failing grade would far too often define the student in life. But Not Yet was a learning curve that gave them a path into the future.
In her research, she gave 10-year-olds problems that were slightly too hard, and some of them responded in a positive way, saying they loved the challenge. They had a growth mindset, knowing that their abilities could be developed. Others felt it was catastrophic; they thought they were failures, coming from a more fixed, pass-fail mindset perspective. Dr Dweck discovered that instead of luxuriating in the power of not yet, they were gripped in the tyranny of now. The process of Not Yet opens the door for perseverance, endurance, and strength building an endless number of possibilities for our girls. It values the meaning of effort over failure.
My top tips in helping your children overcome their fear of failure are to praise effort over ability and by having open, honest conversations about success and failures. Share some of your own experiences and shine that positive light on how your failures have helped you become who you are today. Without failure, we don’t learn.
Unlocking self-esteem, confidence and resilience in our girls is how we will truly find our next generation of thinkers, doers, artists, creators, and entrepreneurs. You’ll find them in every classroom.
‘Rise of the Girl: Seven Empowering Conversations to have with your Daughter’ by Jo Wimble-Groves is available from 7th October 2021 (published by DK).
If you’re worried about your daughter’s self-esteem and confidence, they may benefit from speaking with a youth coach. A youth coach can help young people discover what is most important to them and where they want to go in life.
With the help and guidance of a youth coach, teens and young adults can feel more prepared, develop beneficial life skills and discover coping mechanisms that can work for them when challenges arise.
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