Disclosure: This post was written by Katye Irwin, LPC, LPC-S, NCC and Tricia Newton, LPC, NCC, counselors in Upper and Middle School Divisions, and sponsored by The Academy of the Sacred Heart.
Confidence Coaching Our Daughters
When we ask a parent what they want for their child, they usually say “to be happy” often followed by “to be confident.” However a 2017 study done by the Girls Index, a national survey of twelve thousand fifth- through twelfth-grade girls, found that the number of girls who describe themselves as “confident” declines more than 25 percent throughout middle school. How do we help our daughter avoid this statistic? What role do parents play? And how can parents help their child grow and maintain their confidence throughout their school years? Below we discuss the ins and outs of confidence and arm you with tips on how to become your daughter’s confidence coach.
Think about the first time your daughter did something independently. Maybe it was buttoning a coat, brushing her hair, or fixing breakfast. Do you remember how excited and proud she was of herself? At that moment, she felt that she could do anything…the world was her oyster.
In a rushed, fast paced, emotionally charged world it feels much easier to want to do a task for our child, due to time constraints or not wanting to see her struggle, but is this helping her? Maybe it helps diminish frustration, defeat or tough feelings in the short term, but what is this doing for her sense of self in the long run? What message are we sending to our children when we do something for her when she is totally capable of doing it on her own? (i.e. you can’t do it; mom or dad can do it better; my way is the right way; yours is the wrong way). During this pressure cooker time, we have to remember that we are parenting for the person we want our child to become, not for the moment.
So what do we do and how do we support?
Praise the Process
If your child is working hard, if she is putting forth the effort, if she is truly trying, that is most important. Confidence coaching starts at a young age and continues throughout adolescence and beyond. Don’t get bogged down in the product your child is producing, but rather praise the process. When confidence coaching your daughter, use developmentally appropriate words of encouragement. Some examples are as follows:
Elementary age children experience new situations and feelings for the first time, so they may be reluctant to leave a parent’s side or join in on social situations. During these difficult times, remind your child that tough feelings don’t last forever. Such as, “I know you may feel nervous, but nervous is just a feeling and feelings don’t last forever”. “The feeling is tough but it will go away, I know you can do it, and I’ll be right here if you need me.”
Middle School Age
The simple task of ordering a hamburger or smoothie can be nerve racking for some middle schoolers. This is an opportunity to encourage them to take a small risk and one that doesn’t have serious consequences. Practice with them so they feel more confident before making the order and continue with “what is the worst thing that could happen”. This is an opportunity for you to remind them it is ok to be nervous and sometimes we have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
High School Age
A high school girl may shy away from difficult conversations, whether it’s with peers or adults. To avoid the negative feelings, they talk themselves out of it and rationalize why they shouldn’t have the conversation. As a parent this is a time to listen, validate her feelings, but not solve her issue. Some appropriate responses could be, “I can imagine it is scary to confront someone and not know how they will respond”; “I can see the idea of talking to your teacher one-on-one is overwhelming for you”. No matter the outcome, let her know how proud you are of her and that she put herself out there. You could say, “Wow, I am really impressed you were able to talk to them, I bet it felt good taking that step.”
At every age process the feelings, both positive and negative, that your child had once she has accomplished the challenging task. Encouragement should be genuine, appropropriate, and meaningful and should reflect her personality and your parenting style.
Mindset and Model
When we do not have the mindset that we are capable and able to achieve, we don’t take risks. The fear of failure keeps us from trying and therefore diminishes our confidence. When our child tells us she can’t do something, it is an opportunity for you to question her doubt and help her to re-frame her thought process. How does she know she can’t do something unless she tries? What is preventing her from trying? Take this time to show your daughter that you are real and not perfect. Tell her a time that you took a risk, both past and present, and how you felt, and the consequences that came from that situation. Your daughters need to know about your failures even more so than your successes. By doing this, you are modeling healthy coping strategies. We need to teach and model healthy coping strategies to our kids, so that they become more resilient which leads to taking more appropriate risks and diminishes the fear of failure.
Built by Doing
There may not be one thing that will maintain or boost a child’s self confidence but we do know there are things we can do to support it. Sometimes as parents, we have to “sit on our hands”, let them do it themselves, experience the process, and keep trying. They will make mistakes. We will continue to make mistakes. But we can help them learn from them instead of being defined by them. They need to know that we believe in them and are here to support them. And remember that confidence is built by doing.
For more information on building confidence, check out the following resources:
Listen to the Podcast HERE.
Enough As She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy and Fulfilling Lives by: Rachel Simmons (Author of the National Bestseller Odd Girl Out)
 Girls Index qtd in Enough As She Is, Rachel SImmons. New York: HarperCollins, 2018.