Posted by Laura Dimock on

“I just wish she had the confidence to speak up.”

This is a phrase I hear over and over again from parents of young girls –  and I remember having the same thought when my own daughter was in kindergarten. As parents, we see the best in our kids. We know the positive qualities they bring to this world, and we want them to share those qualities with others. We want them to showcase their strengths and truly know their talents.

Building self-confidence and developing a strong voice to go with it takes time, however, and many girls feel stuck between wanting to voice their thoughts and opinions and wanting to please others. In fact, girls are often socialized to be kind and polite above all other qualities. One study by Girlguiding in the United Kingdom showed that 42% of girls aged seven to ten thought boys were better than girls at “being strong,” and 55% of girls aged seven to 21 said they did not feel they could speak freely because of their gender.

When parents encourage assertiveness and teach coping and problem-solving skills earlier, girls develop the self-confidence they need to build emotional strength and resilience. This gives them the courage to raise their hands more often in class, stand up to peers, and take up more space in this world.

Encourage Bravery

Healthy risk-taking plays an important role in early childhood. The more girls are willing to push themselves and take risks, the more courage and confidence they build. They begin to understand their own limits—- and they challenge themselves to step outside of their comfort zones and test those limits.

One way to encourage bravery is to get them outside and active: climb trees, build things, practice joining groups at play. These small acts of courage translate to big feelings of bravery as girls grow.

Promote a Growth Mindset

You might think about academic pressure as a challenge for the high school years, but I find that even very young girls struggle with the pressure to perform to high standards. This pressure can lead to black-and-white thinking that holds girls back — self-doubting talk such as, “I’m just not good at science” or “I’m a bad writer.”

We can promote a growth mindset by focusing on the process of learning and growing. When girls get the message that they have the ability to work through difficulty and learn new things, they stop giving up and start finding their way through their struggles. Try these phrases to help your daughter remember that learning takes time:

  • “I’m working on this.”
  • “I haven’t learned that yet, but I’m trying.”
  • “I can give it another try.”
  • “I can figure out how to do this.”

Teach Resilience

Setbacks are a part of life. We all face obstacles and deal with problems that sometimes seem overwhelming. It’s what we do with those setbacks and problems that’s important. When young girls build resilience, they are better able to cope with challenges because they know they have the strategies and problem-solving skills to figure things out.  

Our girls learn a lot from watching us, especially when they’re young. If we jump in to fix every problem for our girls, they internalize the message that they can’t solve their own problems and that failure is a bad thing. If we sit side-by-side with our girls and provide support, they learn that they can handle failures, setbacks, and problems on their own.  

Trust Your Daughter

In this age of endless adult-directed activities and free time filled with extra-curricular activities, we don’t always place our trust in our girls. When we load them up with specific skills to learn and long to-do lists to check off, we don’t allow much time for them to figure out who they are and to find their own sparks.

As parents, let’s take a step back and trust our daughters. Trust them to make good decisions about little things (outfits and hairstyles) and big things (“I don’t want to play soccer. I would rather try a robotics club”). Trust them to solve their own problems, even if they need a little encouragement while they do it. Trust them to complete their homework, play their sports, and finish their chores to the best of their abilities. Trust them to know what they need to feel confident and strong.

Self-confidence and resilience require time and practice. These skills can’t be taught in a single lesson, but when girls are given opportunities to make choices, amplify their voices, and work through problems at a young age, they build the self-confidence and resilience they need to become more independent.

About Katie Hurley, LCSW

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a child and adolescent psychotherapist and parenting educator in Los Angeles, CA and the author of The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World(Tarcher/Penguin 2015).

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