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Building Your Daughter's Confidence

Address Her Stress Level
At any given point, your daughter may not be aware of whether she is coping well enough or whether she is significantly stressed out. Most girls are pros at hiding their distress not only from you, but also from themselves. And adolescence is a time of great flux. All it takes to rock your daughter's social, extracurricular, or academic worlds is a phone call from her crush, an exciting school assignment, or her coach starting her in a game. On the other hand, feeling excluded, doing poorly on a test despite trying her best, or getting benched can just as easily deflate her confidence. So getting an accurate read on her stress level requires checking in with her often.

Although you don't want to overreact to ordinary bumps in the road, you might wonder if your daughter is feeling stressed out if she

  • Is especially secretive about her performance
  • Generally rushes around, plays catch-up, and laments having too little free time
  • Never feels like she--or her accomplishments--are enough
  • Is excessively upset by disappointments
  • Complains of feeling overwhelmed
  • Has trouble keeping academics, extracurriculars, and socializing in balance
  • Dreads school and feels uncomfortable there
  • Twists herself into a knot to please--or has given up all hope of trying
Beyond these characteristics, the preceding chapters have clued you in to the possibility of more specific vulnerabilities. If your daughter compares herself unfavorably to her friends or siblings, for example, you might ask if she feels out of place in school or in the family. If she is frantic to be included in a clique or to find a best friend, you might talk about whether the desire for acceptance is adding to her other stresses. If your daughter is never satisfied with her accomplishments and dwells on doing even better, you will probably check out whether she feels she has to be perfect. If she struggles after changing schools, you can point out that she may be experiencing the normal challenges of transitions. Or if she seems chronically unhappy, spacey, or sidetracked, you will address the stresses in her personal or family life that may be distracting her from success.

If you are still unsure of the pressures your daughter feels or what she needs from you, ask her. Don't be afraid that broaching the issue will put ideas in her head or make her more anxious. In fact, when you ask how she is doing, you are reassuring her that she is not alone and that many teens feel stressed out. You are also letting her know you are available to talk--as well as giving her the message that you can tolerate this discussion.

Sure she might clam up, especially if she feels as if you're prying or getting on her case. But by keeping your tone light and conveying interest rather than anxiety, your gentle questions are less likely to invoke her wrath. Pick a time when she is usually receptive to talking and say something like "Are you stressed out about anything right now?" or "What can make things easier for you? I know this is a stressful time."

To pave the way for your daughter to come clean about her distress, you might disclose something about your own pressures, as if you're in this together. Or you might use an observation about her friend as a bridge to talking about her--for example, "I heard Liz quit the track team because she's so stressed about college visits. She didn't want the added pressure. How are you handling everything?"

As a next step, you might decide to gather more information. Contact your daughter's school and ask for feedback on her progress.

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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