Fathers can help their daughters counter stereotypes about confident females — here’s how.
Yesterday, I wrote about the Frisco Texas elementary school that appeared to provide differing curriculum for boy and girls. Boys would learn about careers and college while girls would be taught about friendship. Parents rightly objected over this gender bias. Subsequently the school reported both boys and girls will be taught all of the topics.
One of the more disquieting topics presented for girls was titled “GIRL TALK: Confidence – How do we get it? Can we have too much?” I think asking this question is inflammatory. It’s implying a girl can have too much confidence. It’s akin to saying high self-esteem is an undesirable characteristic in girls.
Some studies show girls tend to have less confidence than boys. Both boys and girls experience a drop in confidence as they enter the tween years. However, girls have the most apparent decline in confidence, which can follow them into adulthood.
Confidence is associated with achievement, risk taking, leadership, and authority. However, confidence is often confused with arrogance. Some think if you overestimate your abilities, you’re arrogant. But if girls don’t push the boundaries of their capabilities, how will they grow or excel?
Girls who exhibit confidence have also been called bossy. Last year, the campaign to ban bossy was launched. The intent is to eliminate the word bossy when describing girls who exhibit leadership abilities and take initiative. I’m not suggesting we allow our daughters to be mean or bully other kids. But with guidance as they mature, girls can refine their assertive tendencies into relevant leadership skills.
Girls need an environment to develop into competent trail-blazing women. So, how can dads help their daughters grow in self-assurance? Here are a few effective ways to facilitate confidence in girls.
- Stop any negative self-talk and ask her to reword it. If she fails an exam and says she’s stupid, correct her. Ask her to tell herself the truth – she failed an exam but she is not a failure. Help her to see how emotions are involved and not reflective of reality.
- Stop your own negative self-talk. It’s easy to call ourselves derogatory names when we’ve messed up as well. No one will be harder on us than ourselves. Let’s start giving ourselves more grace when we make mistakes.
- Encourage her to take risks. Get her to try something new. Have her try out for a new sport, or join the robotics club, or take her golfing with you. When she wants to try out for that solo, support her instead of fearing she will embarrass herself. She won’t learn resilience if she never fails. Failure needs to become a normal part of life for her. It will teach her to not easily give up.
- Allow her to make mistakes. Too often we get angry with our kids when they commit blunders. Mistakes cost parents time and money. Kids will be negligent and leave their bike unlocked to get stolen, lend a treasured ring to a friend who doesn’t give it back, or leave the gate open for the dog to escape the yard. It’s a normal part of growing and maturity. Her experiences will improve her decision-making skills. Don’t fix her problems for her either, but help her to brainstorm ways to resolve her problems.
- Talk about the mistakes you made in the past, how you recovered from them, and what you learned from them. It can be intimidating to share our slip-ups with our kids. As your daughter sees how you learned from your mistakes, she will approach challenges with less fear and intimidation and more confidence and expectation.
- Practice empathy. When your daughter inevitably fails, let her talk about her feelings surrounding the situation. Show her how to be self-aware and define what she’s feeling instead of allowing her to default to being mad. If she’s told to just “buck-up” it can backfire on confidence building. Instead, validate her feelings and opinions. Don’t mock or put down her ideas no matter how far-fetched they may be. Her crazy ideas will eventually lead to more creativity and innovation.
- Don’t give her praise, especially if she’s craving it. Don’t tell her she’s pretty or smart or did a good job. Kids look to their parents for approval, and can use praise to validate themselves. Instead, tell her what she did well and encourage her efforts. For example, tell her, “You picked up your toys without me asking you,” or “You did your hair all by herself,” or “You came up with an interesting idea for the science fair,” or “You scored three goals in soccer today.”
- Finally, encourage persistence. This may be the most difficult of all for dads. Don’t let her give up when the going gets hard and she’s tired of the fight. Tears of frustration will come. She could give you a list of reasons why she needs to quit. But, she won’t know how much she can improve or accomplish until she finishes this semester of piano or the basketball season. You will know when the time is right to throw in the towel and move on.
Let’s stop questioning whether our girls (and boys) have too much confidence. Success is rarely achieved without hard sustained effort. With encouragement, support, and getting out of the way, parents, teachers, and other adults can help girls develop the confidence they need to lead a happy and successful life.
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