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Building Your Daughter's Confidence

Nurture Her Passions
Psychologist Barbara Kerr, author of Smart Girls: A New Psychology of Girls, Women, and Giftedness, found that highly successful women fell in love with an idea, "a lasting, often intense, absorbing lifelong interest." Dreams direct teens' energy, motivate them to do well in school, inspire their goals, and shape their long-term decisions. When girls are young, they have the luxury of dreaming big dreams and grandiose ideas. As they mature, their mothers and fathers can become anxious about these ambitions, especially if they appear unusual or as mere pipe dreams. Still, your daughter needs you to believe in her and to cheer her on.

As a little girl, Ann Bancroft insisted that she was going to explore the North Pole someday. Her mother supported her by finding adventure books that featured female characters. Playing in her backyard and pretending to be on an Arctic expedition, she honed her practical outdoor skills along with her imagination. Now in her forties, Ann Bancroft is a polar explorer, educator, and motivational speaker. In 2001, she and her colleague became the first women to cross Antarctica on foot. In an interview in the Daughters newsletter, she said, "I feel so lucky that I had adults in my life that didn't pooh-pooh me when I told them I was going to the North Pole someday." She is dedicated to furthering girls' explorations and helping them keep their dreams alive.

As your daughter gets older, sprinkle your support with more pragmatic information and guidance. Barbara Schneider and David Stevenson, authors of The Ambitious Generation, argue that although today's adolescents are ambitious, they often don't know how to reach their goals. You can encourage your daughter to avoid becoming what they call a drifting dreamer by helping her to translate her ambitions into clear, specific, and viable steps.

Does your daughter need to take particular courses in high school? Should she be getting certain experiences now? You might suggest that she read about areas that interest her and arrange for her to shadow individuals whose careers she admires. Perhaps you can match her with a mentor. You can also investigate work opportunities, internships, or volunteer positions that will give her valuable skills and experience.

Parents who believe in their daughters' passions can go all out in making them happen. Erika, a junior, always struggled in school because of a developmental learning disability. Besides socializing with her friends, only one thing excited her: designing clothing and accessories. So her parents got her drawing lessons, enrolled her in a design course at a university forty-five miles away, and taught her to knit. Demonstrating extraordinary focus and perseverance, by age fifteen Erika had developed her own Web site, where she displayed the creations she sold online and in boutiques.

But, you may be thinking, what if my daughter doesn't have any passions? What if she shows no special talents or inclinations, or commits to activities only briefly before quitting? If this is the case, better not to pressure her further. Instead, expose her to as much as possible. You never know when reading a book, hearing a speaker, meeting an intriguing person, or taking a trip will spark brand-new curiosity or inspire a lifelong interest.

Encourage Her to Find Her Study Style
Because of innate variables such as brain wiring and temperament, your daughter brings specific strengths as well as weaknesses to her learning. Although some girls are computer whizzes, geniuses with maps, or have an ear for language, others have to work harder in these areas. In a similar way, your daughter needs to know if she is a born organizer or if she should spend time perusing catalogs from the Container Store. She has to acknowledge if she is a quick study or should plan on doing repetitions and drills before tests. Knowing her learning style is part of knowing herself.

If your daughter is successful, you may be more inclined to trust her instincts. Resilient girls say that their parents don't impose their own learning styles on them. They are happy to give them leeway to figure out for themselves how they perform best, including how, when, and where they should work. If their performance is poor, however, their parents are more likely to question their work habits.

Girls whose styles are alien to their parents often provoke worry. For example, many parents tell me that they can't fathom how any girls, especially distracted ones, concentrate with the cacophonous sounds that emanate from their daughters' bedrooms. Their first impulse is to rush in and unplug the offending CD player or stereo. Yet many girls argue convincingly--especially if they are doing well--that listening to their favorite groups helps. Music is said to act as a natural stimulant, which can keep teens alert, more focused, and less lonely as they do their homework.

Similarly, many parents are aghast at the idea of girls getting together to study for an exam. They can't imagine anything getting accomplished. If your daughter is especially gregarious, desperate for friendship, or dealing with problems that make her feel isolated, she may work more effectively with a study buddy. Bonita, a middle schooler, says, "We divide up the chapters, summarize them, and then we teach them to each other. It really helps us to learn it better and it's way more fun." Being with peers is more stimulating than being alone, and girls are less apt to resent the time that schoolwork takes away from their social lives.

Study Routines
Rather than assuming you already know, explore with your daughter what study routine works best for her. Is she better off tackling her homework right after school, or does she prefer blowing off steam or napping first? Location matters too. Is she most motivated, focused, and productive when she is holed up alone in her bedroom or camped out at the lively kitchen or dining room table? Does your daughter benefit from tackling her hardest subjects first? Although some girls believe, "I like to get my worst subjects over with so then I can relax," others think, "If I do my math first, then I get too frustrated and have to stop."

Time Management
One common dilemma that causes plenty of family drama is how girls organize their time. Many parents I know become wild when their girls procrastinate. They think it is ideal to start early and work methodically, doing a little at a time, until assignments are finished. While this may be your MO, it may be completely foreign to your daughter. Last-minute efforts energize and focus some people. Tammy, a creative and offbeat sophomore, says, "When my fabulous idea arrives, I may devote a whole Saturday or Sunday to a long assignment that's due on Monday."

If your daughter procrastinates because she has trouble getting started, that is another story. In this case you might ask, "Do you want me to go over the assignment with you before you begin?" Many girls appreciate parents who break down tasks into more manageable chunks. Perfectionists, who are notorious procrastinators, welcome clear grading guidelines before they start in. For example, if they know their teachers are looking for certain thesis statements, numbers of pages, and kinds of resources to award an A grade on a paper, they may be less inclined to work as compulsively as they would in search of more elusive grading criteria. If your daughter is adjusting to a new school or different teachers, she may not grasp higher-level assignments and thus will need you to explain directions so she knows what is expected of her.

When it comes to putting her thoughts on paper, which challenges many girls, your daughter has to develop the techniques that work best for her. Although some teens prefer to write the old fashioned way, with a spiral notebook and favorite pen, others find that computers magically unleash the stream of their ideas. Others find it easier to get started after they write outlines or use visual aids such as Venn diagrams or story maps. Still others need to verbalize their thoughts to someone. Eve, who is in middle school, says, "It helps me to talk out my ideas first with my mom. Saying it out loud helps. And sometimes she writes it down for me."

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.

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