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Strong and Confident

7 tips for raising a girl that isn't afraid to speak up.

Source: elenathewise/Depositphotos

It’s never too late to raise confident young women. Girls in our culture are bombarded with messages to be strong, but not too strong; to be an individual, but also conform; to focus on inner growth, but still be a fashion diva. It’s enough to confuse even the most level headed people.

Coaching our daughters to grow and develop in ways that strengthen their internal sense of self and build their confidence is something parents can start at any age. But whether you started focusing on building resiliency and poise when your daughters were young, or just began thinking about this aspect of parenting, focusing on confidence and esteem is particularly important during adolescence.

The teen years can be very hard for girls. Increased pressures to conform to an ever-changing ideal, physical, and emotional changes, as well as changing expectations put undue influence on girls resulting in a host of potential psychological and behavioral problems. Fortunately, there are things parents can do to raise strong, self-reliant, confident girls:

  1. Focus on Inner Growth, Not Just Outer Beauty – Girls in our culture are bombarded with messages to be thin, sexy, and popular. While it is important for girls to learn proper self-care, including making appropriate clothing decisions based on the event they are attending, the over-emphasis on outer beauty in our culture sends the wrong message to our girls. Help your daughter focus on her inner self by teaching her how to develop resiliency. Emphasizing skills related to problem-solving, self-advocacy, and mastering her emotional reactions will increase her inner confidence and self-reliance.
  2. Praise Her Character, Not Just Her Fashion Sense – It’s easy to get caught up in our daughter’s image, complimenting her fashion sense or her appearance. While there is nothing wrong with the “you look so adorable” comments you may frequently give, it is essential not to stop there. Notice her character and compliment that as well. If she is empathetic and helpful to her friends, praise her for that. If she remembers to consider another person’s feelings or points of view, acknowledge that. Spending more time providing positive encouragement for her character will help her realize that there is more to life than her outward appearance. And this will build up her confidence.
  3. Encourage Healthy Lifestyle Habits – In today’s busy world, most families do not eat well, get enough sleep, or live balanced lives. Encourage healthy lifestyle habits - including proper nutrition, adequate sleep, and time for exercise and relaxation - are critical components of stress management. The more we can set the example of healthy living, the more our daughters will value these healthy habits. Focus on balanced meals, getting enough rest, exercising, and making time for relaxation. The better you both are at balanced living, the better equipped you both will be to handle the stressors of adolescence.
  4. Focus on the Positive – Building resiliency, and confidence starts with focusing on the positive. This can feel difficult as our daughters develop the eye roll, shoulder shrug, and attitude that often defines adolescence. Before you jump into correcting the all-too-frequent behavior, stop and consider the big picture. When you focus only on the angsty, drama-filled emotional rollercoaster that defines this age, you will not strengthen her inner confidence. In fact, your efforts may actually whittle away that confidence. Instead, try focusing your energy on what she is doing right. Acknowledge the good things she does by giving specific praise to it. “Wow, Jane. I really liked how you helped out with dinner when I was running late from work” will do more to encourage positive behaviors than berating her being snippy with you when you asked for help. Focus on the things you would like to see from her and minimizing the attention you give to minor behavioral glitches. This is the best way to encourage appropriate behavior and build her confidence.
  5. Seek Strong Role Models – Our girls live in exciting times, filled with more positive female role models in all aspects of life. Women are represented in math and science fields, politics, athletics, the arts, broadcasting, engineering, construction, and almost every other area. Girls involved in science and sports are spotlighted by the media more and more as role models. Books and media, while still portraying the damsel in distress waiting to be rescued, also feature more and more stories highlighting strong female characters who rely more on their inner strength than anything else. Encourage your daughters to be excited about the future for strong women. Coach them to learn from the many examples now in our culture. Learning from other successful girls and women is a great way to increase confidence.
  6. Be a Good Role Model – While it is great to look for strong role models from our culture, don’t forget the impact you have as your daughter’s primary role model. Our daughters are always listening to us, whether we realize it or not. How we react to others, our level of assertiveness at getting our own needs met, and the self-talk we engage in will do more to support or undermine our daughter’s confidence in herself than anything we explicitly teach or discuss. When you see women being treated inappropriately, get involved. When you have a need that isn’t being met, be assertive and self-advocate. If you make a mistake (who doesn’t) own it and try to reconcile any of the problems created by the error. Be kind and gentle to yourself and let your daughters bear witness to all of these moments. In your example, she will see the woman she is or can become.
  7. Focus on the Journey, Not the Result – Life is about falling down and getting back up. No one learns what they need to learn without a few hurdles to overcome. Focusing on results without taking the time to focus on the journey shortchanges the learning that has taken place and can undermine confidence. Take time to honor the learning process your daughters engage in, without only emphasizing grades or the end result. Model your own emphasis on the journey, not only the result. In doing so, your daughter will gain confidence from all experiences, realizing that even when she fails to achieve her desired outcome, she has not “failed” in the task itself. There is something to be learning in each and every experience. It is this learning that strengthens confidence overall, not merely whether or not we achieved a specific objective.

Raising strong and confident girls starts by being a strong and confident adult. Use the tips above to focus on confidence - for both you and your daughter. For more recommendations check out The Girl Guide: Finding Your Place in a Mixed-Up World.