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How to Raise a Confident Girl

Strengthening feelings of competence, relatedness, and autonomy.

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Teenage girls are often held to an incredibly high standard in society. They can feel as if they have to be smart, beautiful, funny, successful, involved in their communities, and overachievers. It is no wonder that anxiety disorders and eating disorders are so pervasive among this group.

There is good news — as a parent, you can make a difference in shaping the future of your daughter’s mental health.

This is the first of a three-part series of posts on the topic. Let’s dive in.

Research on self-motivation and personal well-being by Richard Ryan and colleagues (2000) has emphasized the importance of competence, relatedness, and autonomy. These three ingredients appear to be essential to maintaining a positive view of the self. How can we use these findings to improve our children’s self-esteem? Here are a few strategies.

Enhancing Competence

Your child may shy away from new activities, people, or situations because of a fear of evaluation by others or a fear of failure; however, this tendency to withdraw will likely result in lower self-esteem in the long run.

Self-esteem is fed by feelings of competence, both in activities of interest and in those we don’t necessarily enjoy (e.g., the feeling you get when you finish cooking dinner for your family, even though you hate to cook).

Here are a couple of areas in which you can help your daughter build her feelings of competence:

Interpersonal relationships

Relationships are inherently difficult and require effort to maintain. Inevitably, your daughter will experience roadblocks in her relationships with others. At times, she may need to be more assertive with a friend. At other times, it might be helpful to apologize and repair a relationship. Building her social competence will result in positive dividends as she becomes the amazing adult you know she has the potential to be.

How you can help:

  • Modeling effective strategies for communicating with others is a good place to start. Your daughter looks to her environment to learn ways of communicating. If she notices that you can be assertive, genuine, and a good friend, she’ll follow your lead.

  • Encourage her in fostering relationships: Anxiety related to being in a social situation can cause children and adolescents to avoid those situations altogether. Avoiding social situations is a recipe for loneliness and isolation. Encourage your daughter to seek out friendships, start a conversation with a new person at school, join a club, and engage in activities that deepen emotional bonds (talking on the phone, spending time with friends, being thoughtful in her friendships).

  • Help her navigate the rough spots, but never solve the problem for her. Building relationships can be difficult, and conflict is inevitable. Navigating difficulties in friendships will strengthen her social skills and build on her ability to be resilient. Resilience is an important ingredient for self-esteem.


It is no secret that many children dislike completing school work. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) it is also an important part of life that becomes the foundation for skills they’ll need to use in the future — such as when they venture out into the workforce.

As such, it is important to develop a tolerance for school, as well as for other things that may not be necessarily pleasant, but are necessary. Building feelings of competence in this and other areas (like doing chores) builds resilience. Additionally, school constantly tests the limits of your child’s cognitive ability, and the more she learns, the more likely it is that she will integrate positive feelings about herself (“I am good at learning," “I thought that project was hard, and look how nicely it turned out”).

How you can help:

  • Instead of going into a conversation about why she needs to go to school, have a conversation about what school has to offer in terms of emotional development. Discuss how every time she succeeds at something difficult, she increases her “grit." Talk about how school is a microcosm of adult life, and how this is the place to make mistakes, both in the professional sphere and interpersonal sphere.

  • Support her learning by helping her identify areas where she might need help. Is math an issue? Help her figure out this problem by teaching her problem-solving skills. Have her come up with a few options for getting her grade up in math, then have her present those options to you. This skill is essential to feeling competent and in control of your destiny — both important factors in improving self-esteem.

  • Challenge her thinking: A general attitude of “school sucks and I hate it” would likely lead to behaviors that are congruent with this way of thinking. What do you do when you hate something? You will likely put less effort into it. You will also complain, either internally or externally. If the schoolwork portion of school is the main cause of dislike for your daughter, reframe the experience of school by pointing out the other areas of school that actually add to her life — such as the people she meets there. You can use this strategy for other things as well. Thoughts don’t necessarily have to be positive, but a negative bias is likely to contribute to avoidance and withdrawal, as well as a negative view of the self and the world.

Raising a confident girl is possible, and you can play a leading role in this task as your daughter integrates that coveted word — confidence — into her description of who she is.


Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American psychologist, 55(1), 68.

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