Children of any gender can suffer from self-esteem and self-confidence issues. However, girls tend to have challenges in these areas more often.
In a culture saturated with digitally altered images of impossibly thin women, it’s no surprise that girls are much more likely to develop eating disorders, though boys also can develop them. Girls are also more likely to self-harm when stressed or depressed. So how do we help our daughters find their voice and have a happy, emotionally healthy life?
Determine what she’s good at and help her develop that skill. Everyone feels good about themselves when they do something successfully. The better you are at it, the better you tend to feel. It makes you feel special and capable. Help your daughter identify something that she loves to do and encourage her to spend time working at it. Her confidence and self-esteem will soar.
Sign her up for team sports. Team sports have been shown to benefit girls by making them more confident. Team sports are a great way to learn new skills, make new friends, and build a social circle.Winning and learning how to handle defeat are both great for one’s self-esteem, confidence and perseverance.
Ensure that your daughter understands that your love isn’t conditional. This is a no-brainer. Every child needs to understand without a doubt that they are loved regardless of their choices or success.
Let her have her own style. Allow your daughter to have her own unique style—and yes that includes things like music, hair, and clothing. While her choices may very likely not match your own, exploring and finding an identity can create emotional stability, self-esteem and confidence.
Be a good example. Your daughter is always watching, even if she isn’t always listening. Moms have a huge impact on their daughters' body image. Don't ask, "Do these jeans make me look fat?" or obsess out loud about food or put your appearance down in front of her. Believe me I know how hard this one can be—I haven’t done a great job at keeping my mouth shut. So stop and pause, consider how your behavior and comments could be interpreted.
Praise effort as well as outcomes. It’s not possible nor even good to be successful all of the time, so focus on praising effort. We grow and learn from our mistakes as well as from watching others handle their mistakes. Again, our kids are watching so if you mess up use it as a learning moment for her. Perfectionism is highly overrated.
Teach her to use her voice. Confidence and self-esteem largely come from the ability to influence and direct your own life. Women spend enough time being pleasers so try to give her time to make her own choices and honor them. Assertiveness teaches your daughter that her opinion and wishes are important. Encourage her to stand up for what she needs and wants.
Encourage your daughter to try new things. New things can be a little scary. Overcoming that apprehension allows your daughter to add new activities, skills, and people to her life—all of which will boost her self-esteem and confidence. On top of that, learning to tolerate failure fosters resilience, which is critical in life.
As parents, we know that nurturing a positive body image is crucial to helping our daughters become healthy, well-rounded adults. But looks are just a small piece of the whole—or at least we want it to be. So I think that we need to make a very conscious effort to balance our compliments about a girl's appearance with compliments about who she is, what she does, and what she brings out to the world. And we need to encourage her to value herself and to stand up for what she needs and wants.