What other people think and feel about her begins to matter more than what SHE thinks and feels about herself.
Sure, some girls manage these external expectations and take them in stride, holding on to their sense of self with just a few healthy bumps and bruises.
But for the many girls who don't, the pressures they feel collide with psychological and physical development in the pre-teen years, to create a dip in self-esteem and self-worth. (And self-esteem and self-worth are the foundation for a positive body image and healthy nourishment).
Below is a list of ideas for you to incorporate into your daughter's life to help maintain - or build - a healthy self-esteem. These go way deeper than telling her she's beautiful or smart, or reassuring her when she feels like no one likes her. But they are also not a magic pill...like anything worth doing, supporting and building your daughter's self-esteem is an ongoing job. (Trust me, the media and her peers are not letting up, so we can't either!).
1. Watch what you say about yourself. Every time you put yourself down, you give your daughter permission to put herself down. Be a shining example of self-kindness.
2. Notice the messages in the media she's engaging in. Talk with her about what she's seeing; ask her how those messages make her feel; and help her understand that the media is DESIGNED to make her feel badly, so she will buy more stuff! State your opinions loud and clear.
3. Watch movies and read books that empower girls and women. For some fabulous lists, check out www.mightygirls.com, my new favorite resource! (Personally, I can not wait for "Brave" to hit the big screen!)
4. Encourage your daughter to do something daring (better yet, do it with her). I loved watching the girls (and moms!) at my retreat last summer participate in the zip-line experience, despite being nervous. Doing something that feels "hard" is a huge confidence booster, and you can draw upon that experience later, when she's feeling nervous about something scary.
5. Help her use her voice. "Nice girls" are subtly encouraged to stay "sweet" and not speak out. This keeps her "small" and stuck. Encourage her to speak her mind (even if you don't like what she might have to say:)
6. Along the same lines, allow and accept a range of behavior. Don't make compliments and attention contingent upon "good girl" behavior only.
7. Find strong empowered role models to be involved in your daughter's life. I have consciously chosen several women I deeply admire to take active roles in my daughter's life. I can not tell you how reassuring this is.
8. Pay attention to what her dreams are. Never say, "oh, that's cute, but that's not realistic." Her dreams are HER dreams. Believe in her and help her reach them.
9. Ask your daughter to tell you what she did today (or every day!) that made her proud. If she has a hard time answering, help her by identifying things that you think may have made her proud ("Wow, I was impressed you did X." Did you feel good about that?"). The key here is that you are trying to help HER be proud of herself, rather than needing to make you proud (because "nice" girls always try to make others happy, giving away their own power).
10. It's great to let her know you're proud of her too! But be careful to not praise EVERY WONDERFUL action your daughter does. Over time, if a child is so used to being praised for everything, she begins to rely on this praise to feel good about herself. Try noticing, recognizing and validating instead of praising sometimes.
11. Teach her to be KIND to other girls and to see the best in them. And talk with her about the importance of being extremely kind to herself as well as being a caring person of others. Let her see YOU caring for your own needs!
12. Celebrate failure!!
13. Help her "use her words" to express her feelings - especially anger (too often girls learn to internalize anger; an angry woman or girl is often called names...). It's ok to feel anger and find appropriate ways to express it.
14. Help her resolve interpersonal conflicts, rather than avoid them or give in to be compliant.
15. Don't always jump in and fix issues or stuff for her. Help her fix it for herself and develop confidence in her competence as well as her ability to handle disappointment. Too much "help" ( in the service of not wanting to see our kids struggle) can interfere with growth.
16. Make sure your own self-esteem is not wrapped up with your daughter's outward success or appearance. She is not an extension of you, and she must know that you are taking care of your own self-esteem, not relying on her to "manage" it. Of course, you want your daughter to succeed, but just as her self-esteem must come from inside, so must yours.
17. And along those lines, the best thing you can do to raise a confident girl is to continue to work on being a confident woman: a woman who loves herself despite her "imperfections;" who values her needs and treats herself kindly; who expresses her feelings & speaks her mind; who feels fear and does it anyway; and who recognizes her true value and worth.
This is a journey we are all walking together! Let's ensure that self-esteem does not peak at age 9 for our own daughters, and for girls and women everywhere! The world needs us!