We live in a society where men and women alike have successful careers and fulfil worthwhile roles, be it as politicians, teachers or community volunteers. Yet it is widely known that women suffer more from problems related to low self-esteem than men, which in serious cases can lead to anxiety and depression.
As parents we all want to give our daughters the best possible grounding, and do as much as we can to promote their self-esteem. Here are 5 practical things that parents can do every day in order to raise a more confident daughter.
1) Let her take risks
Try and encourage your daughter to take risks in practical situations. Teach her to challenge herself by seeking her boundaries and – with your direction – going over them. For example, encourage your daughter to jump off that wall you pass on your walk to school , even if it takes months for her to master it by herself.
In our health and safety-conscious society it’s hard to remember that adventurous does not have to mean dangerous. And if she does fall, try not to be too dramatic about it and don’t dwell on it. If you feel you must warn your daughter beforehand, try and do this in an understated way.
Is your daughter too old for jumping off walls? Set her the challenge of doing at least 3 things a week that need ‘micro-courage’, such as grabbing a spider from the bathroom sink and putting it outside.
2) Be a good role model
Parents are their children’s most powerful role models, and mothers are their daughters’ most powerful role model for life as a woman, so show her how it’s done. If you have a male partner, divide the daily domestic tasks between both of you, so your daughter does not grow up thinking that only women do the washing up. Partake in sports and make these activities a normal part of your weekly family routine.
Talk to your daughter about your work or career aspirations, so she knows that you have another life outside that of being a mother. Don’t be afraid to show her that women do not always have to be nice or try to please, and that sometimes you can’t be nice in order to get what you want.
Point out female role models in public life, such as politicians or professional sports women and talk about why you like to see girls and women portrayed as active, intelligent characters in TV series and films. If you come across a woman in public life or on TV who you think is not a strong role model, tell your daughter about it and explain your point of view.
3) Stick to your core values and rules
Despite your daughter’s pleas of “but everyone else is doing it”, if what she’s asking for is against your core values – e.g. watching a TV programme you believe is not appropriate for her – stick to your guns and don’t give in. During those all-important decision-time moments it’s very hard to be the unpopular parent, but your strong family values and your voice as a parent are the most powerful legacies to her and will stay with your daughter forever.
This is, however, much easier said than done, so here’s something that will make it a little easier for you. When you’re saying no and you’re being unpopular with your daughter, add: “it would be easier for me to give in and say yes, but I love you enough to do what is really hard for me to do.” One day, she will come to appreciate this.
4) Keep the lines of communication open at all times
Whatever happens, always keep the lines of communication with your daughter open and stay connected with her and her world. Let her know regularly that she can always talk to you about anything, anytime. And when she talks to you, try to be a better listener. It’s easy as a parent to fall into the ‘problem-solving trap’ when listening to your daughter. But try not to answer with “why don’t you..?” and don’t give your own opinion too quickly. Instead, always ask her “how do you feel about it?” and “what do you think about it?” and perhaps most importantly “how can I help you?”
If you have any worries about your daughter, don’t be afraid to share these with her and explain to her why you’re worried. It’s good for her to know your thoughts and she will better understand your behaviour in certain situations.
It’s great to have a ‘connected communication’ with your daughter, but be prepared to get questions from her, some of which might be difficult for you to answer. However, you must encourage her to ask you questions as this will help develop her critical thinking.
And perhaps most importantly, put this sentence in your vocabulary: “It’s okay to feel bad/sad/worried/scared for a while, but now it’s time to do something”. Whether it’s undertaking sports, a creative activity or a community endeavour, participating in activities will develop the core self-esteem of your daughter.
5) Encourage pride
Ask your daughter every day to tell you one thing she did that day that she’s proud of. Just let her do the talking, don’t interrupt, don’t be too critical or too demanding. Remember, it’s hard to give her self-esteem, but it’s easy to take it away. Let her make her own choices (where practical and feasible) and let her dream big. In the words of Hillary Clinton: “To all the little girls out there, never doubt how valuable, powerful and deserving you are of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams”.
This piece is based on the advice of JoAnn Deak, PhD, educator and psychologist, as expressed in her book ‘Girls will be Girls’, and on the views of Caroline Paul, author and adventurist, as expressed in her book ‘The Gutsy Girl’.