5 Tips for Parents on How to Raise Confident Girls

How to instill a healthy sense of self-esteem in your daughters

confident girl - young girl raising hand in classroom
Instill confidence in your daughter and teach her to raise her hand and speak her thoughts and opinions.. Quavondo/Getty Images

A healthy sense of self-esteem is vital to ensure girls turn into confident women. If you are the parent of a daughter, you have likely spoken to her about women's progress toward equal rights and the fact that, unlike women born just a few generations ago, girls today can grow up to be whatever they dream of being, even president.

Although women have indeed come a long way, there are many obstacles that remain.

This includes unrealistic and harmful portrayals of women in the media, disproportionate emphasis on women's physical appearance, and limits and unequal pay in the workplace. Despite a parent's best efforts, all too often, girls internalize these negative messages, which can affect their self-confidence and lead to health problems such as eating disorders, depression or anxiety about how they look. 

The good news is that parents can take steps to help daughters reject gender bias and unequal treatment of women. Caretakers can share information with daughters to increase their confidence and counter outdated ideas they may face as they get older. 

Discuss Why Campaigns Like Ban Bossy Matter

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who founded LeanIn, a program designed to inspire and support women to help them achieve their goals, has launched a campaign called Ban Bossy, to counter the message girls often receive when they assert themselves.

The campaign brings attention to the fact that in too many instances, a little boy who speaks his mind is deemed "assertive," while a girl who does the same is labeled "bossy." The Ban Bossy website notes that by middle school, girls are less interested in being leaders than boys, and that this trend continues into adulthood.

The website also notes that girls are called on less often and are interrupted more frequently. Ask your daughter if she has seen or experienced examples like this, and talk about ways she can reverse the trend in her own classroom and among her friends.

Remind Her That What She Thinks Is Important

Once you've talked about that double-standard for girls who speak their minds, talk about ways your child can contribute more in the classroom. Make it a habit to regularly have dinner together (which has been shown to be beneficial for kids' development) and discuss news events and what happened during the day.

Encourage your child to tell you what she liked or didn't like about her day; ask her to tell you what she thinks about a book she's reading or a movie you've recently seen; or to talk about anything that might be on her mind. A child who gets into the habit of expressing her thoughts and listening to others—having conversations in which everyone has a chance to be heard and have their thoughts respected—is more likely to raise her hand in class and be confident about her answers and opinions.

Teach Her Only to Apologize When She's Wrong 

In recent years, there's been a lot of discussion, and even a shampoo ad, about women apologizing when it isn't necessary and they haven't done anything to apologize for—much more than men. Encourage your daughter to be respectful of others and of course to apologize if she does something wrong. But also be sure to let her know that being polite and friendly and getting along with others and giving others respect does not mean she needs to apologize or feel like she doesn't have the same rights or deserve the same consideration as everyone else.

Talk to Girls About Healthy Body Image

Teach her to recognize the toxic messages all around us about girls and women, and talk about why they are wrong. Women are often judged on what they look like instead of their abilities and talents, much more often than men are.

Encourage your daughter to be on the lookout for harmful content such as ads that show perfect-looking airbrushed models that are only one body type (tall and very thin) and movies or TV shows that focus on what women look like rather than what they can do. Remind her to love her body and focus on being strong and fit and healthy, not on what she looks like.

Examine the Messages You're Sending 

What examples are you setting for your child? Do you constantly look in the mirror and say critical things about yourself or express unhappiness with your looks? Do you feel and show confidence when you interact with people or when you tackle a project or assignment? Try to see yourself from your child's point of view because she will watch and learn from you.

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