How to Build and Boost Her Confidence
Written by Lindsay Sealey
Bright and sparkly. This is how I’d describe seven-year-old Cloe. She’d bounce into my office wearing her pink tutu, red sneakers, and hair in ribboned ponytails, excited to tell me about her week: the birthday party where she hit the pinnata and the candy came pouring down or the playdate where she and a friend decided to bake cupcake ice cream cones. Cloe was bursting with self-confidence. She never held back or hesitated; she always spoke clearly, loudly, and boldly. Several years later, a now twelve-year-old Cloe came to see me. She had changed. Not only was she taller, wearing jeans and a hoodie but she was quieter, much more reserved, and didn’t seem to want to share anything with me except the words, “Fine” and “Good”.
What happened to Cloe? Where did her confidence go? What is so typical and so heart-breaking is how little girls can change from feeling full of self-belief to thinking they are not valuable at all.
Ask yourself this question: is your daughter
- NEVER confident?
- SOMETIMES confident?
- ALWAYS confident?
If you are like most parents, teachers, and girl champions today, you will likely see that she may be a 3 today but as she grows, she will likely waver between 1 and 2.
Research tells us that around age eight, there is a perfect storm of changes that all contribute to a growing girls’ plummeting confidence including a changing body as she enters puberty, more social awareness of how she fits (or doesn’t fit) in with peers, and an increase in social media exposure along with societal messages to be careful, value perfection, and avoid risks at all costs. According to authors of The Confidence Code, Katty Kay and Claire Shipmen, confidence levels between girls and boys are evenly matched until the age of 12 but “between the ages of 8 and 14, girls’ confidence levels nose-dive by 30 percent”. ( Girls' Confidence Plummets Starting at Age 8: Here's How to Keep Her Confidence Strong)
What happens? Where does this confidence go? Most importantly, how do we work together to build and boost her self-confidence in the early years so that she feels empowered to care less what others think of her, to embrace the idea of “perfectly imperfect”, and to take smart risks. Let’s take a closer look.
What is confidence? Put simply, confidence is feeling strong and secure in yourself and your abilities and knowing you can develop even more of your skills and talents while being brave enough to try new skills and activities to become even more confident.
Why does confidence matter? Confident girls feel happier and healthier than those girls lacking in confidence. They are much more willing to take risks and show their bravery. They can take chances and make changes. The most confident girls I know don't spend a lot of time on their devices, they are engaged and involved in many different activities, and they don't seem to care about what others think of them. Refreshing but rare.
Why does a girl seem to "lose" her confidence as she grows? Girls seem to lose their confidence in a "perfect storm" of changes as they grow. They begin to have an awareness of how they compare to their peers, and they start to evaluate (am I taller, smaller, smarter, less smart, as popular, not as popular, prettier, or less pretty than so and so?). At the same time, their bodies start to change (at different rates, of course), their thinking becomes more shaped by their perception of how others see them, and they are sensitive to what others think of them. Since they also need to gain peer acceptance (and fear judgment, criticism, and, ultimately, rejection) they change themselves to fit in. So, it's no wonder they hold back and shy away from bravery, morph themselves into who others want them to be, and diminish their uniqueness. And, at the very same time, they have 24/7 access to something called social media—perfected and polished images for them to see and though they love their phones, they do not realize how this is damaging their self-confidence and feelings of “not good enough”. Do you see how it is no wonder her confidence diminishes?
How do we work together to build and boost her confidence? Here are my top 6 tips to help you get started:
1. Be a positive power of example to her: you can tell her to "be confident" but more helpful, you will have to show her how it's done - with your words - how you speak to yourself and also to others (and about others), with your body language - posture is everything, and with your actions, challenging yourself to speak up when you have been wronged and taking chances that may make you feel uncomfortable. She is watching you. Let her see the most confident you.
2. Together, find examples of confidence in the girls she may be friends with or following on TV Netflix: talk about why these girls are confident and if she is willing to try to emulate these girls in any way. What about Malala Yousafsai, Zendaya, Greta Thunberg, or any of the girls from the Babysitter's Club Netflix series? Help her find and follow girls who are taking big steps, breaking glass ceilings, speaking up and out, making a difference, and shaping our world. Tell her over and over that she, too, can do great things like these girls when she grows up and she can start by practising now. Help her get excited about her future confident self!
3. Practice how she speaks: words are EVERYTHING. First, to herself. Instead of, "I am bad at colouring", ask her to try, "I am working hard at improving my colouring skills". Instead of "I am so clumsy”, ask her to say, "I am going to go slowly and be more careful, so I don’t fall or spill things.” Teach her the growth mindset that uses the phrase “not yet”, as in, I am not a talented ballerina or scientist, yet I am working on both!
4. Work on her body language: essentially, this can help her feel more confident from the inside out, but it also can show others she believes in herself. Body language includes standing tall, chin out, shoulders back, and good eye contact. Practice makes progress (especially when it comes to muscle memory). Together, pose like superheroes—chin up, chest out, and hands on your hips—to promote a feeling of power and to decrease stress. Let your little superhero feel strong in her power pose.
5. Finally, work on her skillset: I promise you, the more competent she feels the more confident she can feel too. To start, ask her what skills and talents she already has (growing girls tend to discount and discredit the work they have already achieved) from being a good friend and showing empathy, body movement and coordination, singing a song to being talented at doing her own hair or helping you put away groceries. Then, ask her what skills she wants to develop—come up with a broad and expansive list that could include: tidying her room, learning her alphabet and simple words, telling a story in order, or preparing her own cereal in the morning. Maybe she wants to try adventuring by hiking, biking, or swimming. We want our girls to be "all-rounders" and diversify their talents.
6. Teach her to be brave and do hard things: taking risks—whether this is making a new friend, expressing her feelings, accepting a “no”, or dealing with a change in routines, new is never easy—and you may need to do this in tandem. Yet, girls can do hard things. In fact, the motto, “I can do hard things” may be one you can repeat. Of course, she can. She can learn to be imperfect, be messy, make mistakes, and take risks. She can also ask for help and navigate change. To help her take each hard thing and break it into easier steps. For example, if it’s hard for her to do a puzzle, do it with her and talk out your steps. One simple step at a time. Then, let her try a few pieces on her own. Finally, let her try doing a simple puzzle with you near but not helping. When little girls do hard things, they learn they can. And this is confidence!
I can't tell you how critical it is that we build and boost her confidence—the earlier, the better; not just today, but every day! In the words of the Dalai Lama, “With realization of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world.”
Lindsay Sealey, BA, MA Ed, is the author of the award-winning books Growing Strong Girls: Practical Tools to Cultivate Connection in the Preteen Years and Rooted, Resilient, and Ready now available on Amazon and Audible. She is the founder and CEO of Bold New Girls and Brave New Boys and an instructor with Udemy.