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Building Your Daughter's Confidence

Emphasize Her Inner Strengths
When teens think of success, they tend to see a list of accomplishments: stellar report cards, team wins, personal athletic records, invitations to formals, great SAT scores, and acceptances to highly competitive colleges, to name a few. This is true of most stressed out girls but especially perfectionists and square pegs, both of whom have specific, preconceived ideas about what they should achieve.

Far more valuable than helping your daughter to attain these external emblems of success is enabling her to discover her inner strengths. What qualities define her as a person? What makes her unique and wonderful? What do you admire most about her? Which traits will serve her well as she makes her way in the world?

For example, tell your daughter if she is fun loving, caring, or a great listener. Let her know you respect her integrity, vitality, or sense of humor. Marta, a high school senior, gets this right: "I don't like tests. They don't show much about you. They don't show how you think. There are other ways to show who you are--like the school's career program, working with kids, and helping out--rather than memorizing." When your daughter believes her self-worth is based more on her inner qualities than on her report cards or SAT scores, you have effectively broadened her tightrope to success.

Research bears this out. At the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, psychologist Jennifer Crocker demonstrated that college students who base their self-worth on external sources--including academic performance and appearance--report more stress, academic problems, substance abuse, and symptoms of eating disorders. Although they studied longer, they earned poorer grades and clashed more with their professors. The theory is that people who base their self-esteem only on external sources become anxious and distracted by their academic struggles, which results in poorer performance. Focusing on inner qualities builds a stronger foundation for success.

Emily, a sophomore, realizes that she is far more than her transcript:

After a while I realized that grades shouldn't be a measure of self-worth or the only concern of anybody's life. Yes, grades often reflect someone's effort, and yes, they can help with getting into a good college, but other things will start falling through the cracks if grades are number one. My advice to other girls who can't bear to think of anything but a letter grade is: Look around. What constantly makes you happy? Your friends? Family? Crushes? Take a little attention away from your grades and add a little to these things--a little bit at a time.

More on: Teen Stress


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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