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Building Your Daughter's Confidence

Stepping Back So She Can Step Up
Of course you want your daughter to be as self-confident as possible. But unless you are vigilant, your own history can be an unwelcome intruder. Our past feelings and attitudes, especially during adolescence, shape our present responses to our daughters and their achievement. In fact, whenever girls tell me of parental help that either works beautifully or fails miserably, I suspect the difference is attributable to whether their mothers and fathers are aware of their own biases, needs, and worries. So before you try the suggestions in this chapter to maximize your daughter's self confidence, take a moment to mentally check in with yourself:

  • Did you experience a defining moment, whether positive or negative, in your school career?
  • Do you wish you had been different back then? If so, what would you change about yourself?
  • Did you make any decisions or mistakes you especially regret? Do you believe they affected your future success?
  • Are you anxious to see your daughter take a specific path that was denied to you?
  • Are you determined to guide her in the way that you wish someone had helped you?
  • When you envision your daughter's success, does a particular college emblem come to mind? Do you obsess about her appearance or activities?
It is especially difficult to feel comfortable with daughters who are different from us or don't match our internal pictures of successful teen girls. Your daughter might prefer the Goth look rather than the feminine, in contrast to what you had imagined. She might be an average or indifferent student rather than the math whiz you had hoped for. She might have one or two close friends instead of the large crowd you had at her age. Or, despite the unmistakable athleticism she got from you, she may shun competitive sports. Still, if your own emotional ducks are in a row, you are best able to:

Encourage rather than pressure her
Does your daughter see your reactions to her achievements as encouraging and validating, or as demoralizing and demeaning? Cory, a senior who swims competitively, offers an example of harmful pressure: "My dad pushes me a lot to be better because he wants me to get a scholarship to college. But maybe he doesn't push me in the best way. He's--well, it's a negative way. It isn't always good. He goes, 'You're never going to make Nationals.' Maybe it makes me try harder sometimes, or maybe I just won't. Sometimes it's, like, 'Okay, that's enough!'"

In contrast, if you can offer guidance without becoming critical or overly invested in the outcome, your daughter will probably perceive that you are more supportive and affirming of her abilities. Robin, a junior, says, "I talked with my dad over the Christmas break about my progress report. We want my grades not to slip, so he asked how I could maintain it. It was an hour and half talk. We had a lot to cover, like colleges I want to look at this spring. It helped me get ready to come back to school."

Stress her goals rather than yours
Do you impose your expectations on your daughter, or allow her to develop meaningful goals for herself? A junior I see in therapy conveyed how quickly parents can slip into the former mode: "When I found out my SAT scores, I told my mom I got a 1380 and she said she thought I'd get a 1500." Any pleasure she got from her score was immediately erased by the mental calculation of a 120-point gap between her actual performance and her mother's arbitrary standard.

Encourage your daughter to set goals based on what really matters to her. Tessa, one of the freshmen I interviewed, could articulate several well-thought-out reasons for taking honors classes: "I want to be a lawyer or a judge and you have to do well in school. Higher classes are more fun too. They teach you interesting things, and they don't treat you like a little kid. Teachers of higher classes like their job more because they don't have to deal with the kids who misbehave so much. Most want to learn." As a result of this analysis, Tessa is invested in doing well.

When you keep an open mind about what your daughter's path to success should look like and where she should be at any given time, she has the freedom to get to know herself. And as you know, girls can be self-assured only when they know their true strengths and weaknesses; the route to self-confidence is self-knowledge. These strategies can encourage your daughter's self-esteem:

More on: Teen Stress

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From Stressed-Out Girls: Helping Them Thrive in the Age of Pressure by Roni Cohen-Sandler, Ph.D. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, click here.


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