Here’s a chilling statistic: research shows that a girl’s self-confidence peaks at age nine. That’s enough to stop you in your tracks when you consider how many opportunities lay ahead for these girls and how much they’ll need to believe in themselves to pursue the most exciting and important ones.
Of course, that begs the question: How do we reverse this trend so our girls grow up to be self-assured women who are able to pursue their personal and professional goals without fear of failure?
1. Encourage girls to have a “growth mindset.”
“People with a ‘growth mindset’ see new situations or even failure as an opportunity for growth,” says Melody Wilding, a licensed therapist and professor of human behavior at Hunter College in New York City. “Boys are conditioned to see failure as a challenge, like I’m going to beat the odds. Girls are taught to internalize failure as a character flaw or as not being good enough. Adults can model positive self-talk for girls. Take on new situations together and say, ‘This may be hard, but we’ll get the hang of it.’”
2. Help girls discover and articulate their worth.
“You want girls to be able to say to themselves, ‘These are things that I enjoy doing, that I am good at,’ says Courtney Macavinta, co-founder and CEO of the Respect Institute. “It can be a club after school or playing an instrument. It can also be character traits, such as, ‘I’m the one in my friend group that’s a great listener.’ Offering those things to one’s community builds confidence.”
3. Help girls make a habit of building support networks.
“People who thrive have support networks,” Macavinta says. “In middle school, you might need a support network around academics, such as needing help with homework. Parents can teach their daughters how to build support networks. As girls start to struggle with friends, relationships, and body image, you want them to know who the trusted adults and peers are that they can go to.”
4. Give compliments.
“A lot of people are worried that if they give their children too many compliments, they’re going to raise teens with huge egos,” says Kali Rogers, founder of Blush, a life coaching practice focused on teenage girls. “But girls encounter so much negativity, like bullying and competition with their friends, so they need to hear it. You probably think your daughter is so talented and creative and beautiful, but you need to vocalize it.”
5. Focus on effort, not outcome.
“Praise girls based on process rather than outcome,” Wilding says. “Instead of saying, ‘You’re so smart,’ and praising the character attribute, praise the effort. Say, ‘You worked so hard on that project for school.’ Word it so you’re rewarding the doing.”
6. Take her emotions seriously—she’ll grow up trusting her instincts.
“When a girl is upset, don’t say, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get over it,’” Rogers says. “She needs to recognize that her feelings are valid. If she has someone with her in the trenches validating her feelings, she’ll grow up with a better gut instinct and better reality testing.”
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