It’s no secret that we live in a Barbie idolizing society. Little girls are targeted at an early age to understand that in the scope of femininity, appearances matter. A lot. Stroll through Target or Wal-Mart, or any of the all girl stores in the mall that sell clothing and accessories for children from 2 to 20, and you will notice that ‘sex appeal’ sells. Today, it is estimated that over 1 million little girls under the age of 10 get their hair colored, and by 12, 33% of all little girls have had manicures, pedicures, or eyebrow waxing. All in the name of beauty. This pressure to ‘look good’ however rarely if ever automatically equates to feeling good and having confidence.
According to Dr. Anita Gurian of the New York University Child Study Center, confidence in girls begins to diminish around the age of 9 years old. In fact, young girls between 9 and 11 are often at the highest risk for developing eating disorders, dealing with adolescent depression and struggling with body image issues. Not only do girls have a lot of hormonal changes to deal with as they grow up, but they also have a lot of silent pressure from society to look a certain way, and the nasty ring of girl on girl jealousy and ostracizing does very little to help the situation.
Parents play a major role in instilling confidence in their daughters. Certainly, all parents try to be an advocate for their child, and are constantly reminding their daughters how beautiful, smart, talented and adept they are. The problem is that saying the words over and over again, doesn’t necessarily make a child believe that she is ‘all that’ and a bag of chips. This isn’t to say that parents should stop complimenting and focusing on their daughters strengths, but there are other steps parents can take to ensure that they raise healthy, happy and mostly self-confident young woman.
The first step is one that is so often overlooked and starts with the parent or female influence in your daughter’s life. Children often pay more attention to the non-verbal clues that they pick up from their mothers, aunts, older sisters, grandmothers etc. than they do from the verbal messages they receive. In other words, if a mom is standing in front of a mirror berating her body, or is constantly dieting, or is extremely hard on herself than chances are pretty good that the daughter will be getting the wrong message. What woman, mothers especially say about themselves in front of their daughters plays a major role in what young girls expect from themselves. And fathers are not excluded from this either. Men with daughters need to pay close attention to the way in which they treat, respect, and look at other woman in their lives. It is important that they teach their daughters that size and looks are not the only things that matter, and certainly aren’t the foundation of a successful life.
Additionally, it is important to recognize that self-confidence should not come from appearances alone. Your daughter should be encouraged to pursue her interests and passions and talents. (Even if they are not your own!) If you notice that your daughter has a knack for music, or acting, or playing softball then you should do your best to allow your daughter to shine in that arena. This gives her a personal sense of accomplishment and allows her to be at her best. The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that all young girls after the age of 5, should be encouraged to find their talents and interests and that this exploration helps to build self-confidence.
Another important role in self-confidence is allowing your daughter to have responsibilities. Even at the age of 4 or 5, your daughter can learn to do things on her own. As she is given the chance to succeed and care for herself, even through very simple measures such as setting the table or tying her shoes she learns to depend upon and believe in herself. The older she gets, the more responsibility you can give her the more confidence she will develop. Your trust in her and her ability to be responsible show her through action that she is capable.
Decision-making is another huge factor in self-confidence. Too often, as parents, we dwindle when it comes to allowing our daughters and sons to make decisions for themselves. This robs them of learning that there are consequences to their decisions. It also causes them to be constantly reliant upon authority figures to make decisions. As they grow into young woman and enter into relationships, this can be a slippery slope for them to walk alone. The younger you allow your daughter to make good decisions, and prompt her to think on her own the better off she will be in the long run.
While you may feel inclined to constantly boost your child up, and pay them compliments, doing so in abundance and overly actually hurts your daughters confidence, and ruins their trust in you. There is nothing wrong with your daughter understanding that they have strengths and weaknesses. There is nothing wrong with your daughter being sent the message that she can do anything she sets her mind to. But she shouldn’t be terrified of failure, or of disappointing her parents. Telling your child that they did well, when they didn’t or worrying about hurting their feelings and skirting the truth diminishes their self worth in the long run.
The most important thing for young girls to realize is that looks are not everything. Beauty is not the answer to all of life’s problems. Beauty should not be their number one goal. Your child is a total package physical, emotional, and spiritual, and in order for them to feel confident, they need to be supported in all of these areas.