Pediatric Associates of the NW Blogs

Ask the Experts: Raising Confident Girls

Natalie Lieblick, Patient Partner
October 11, 2018 09:00AM

Something unexpected happen when school started this year. My strong, carefree, crazy daughter was suddenly concerned about how her hair looked. She wanted a perfect pony-tail, no fly-aways and a bow. I expected this to happen, but not quite so soon. She’s starting first-grade after all and I don’t ever remember thinking about things like this in first grade.

It got me thinking. In this new Instagram era where photos of ‘perfect’ are everywhere how do I help my daughter feel confident, proud and comfortable with herself and her body?

I decided to ask the experts. I talked with Dr. Whitney Casares and Dr. Mari Kay Evans-Smith. These ladies are not only medical experts, they are also moms of girls – giving them additional perspective.

In talking with these ladies, they both agreed they are seeing more girls with body issues, anxiety, and lack of confidence then they used to. I asked them for some practical advice on what I can do as a parent to help.

Our Girls Are Watching and Learning

Moms, it’s true. Pressure is on. Our girls really are looking at us to see how to behave, think and act. As Dr. Evans-Smith pointed out, “Moms need to model confidence. Our daughters need to see us taking risks, experiencing failures, and talking about what we learn from those experiences.” Dr. Casares took it one step further and pointed out, “If we always talk about our bodies, our daughters will do the same.” If we are constantly critiquing ourselves, especially with negative words, our daughters are going to negatively critique themselves as well. Likewise, Dr. Casares reminded me that girls will model their friendships based on the way we interact with our own friends, so be mindful of how you engage with others.  

Dads, you’re not off the hook. You need to model for girls how you want their partners to treat them and how they should expect to be treated in life and at work. Spend time one-on-one with your daughters and be intentional about how you engage so they know what they should expect. Not sure what to do? Dr. Evans-Smith recommends teaching your daughters the same skills you’d teach your son – it’ll serve them well throughout life and is a great way to spend time together.

Along these lines, pay attention to the shows and movies your girls watch. TV shows send messages about how to act and think, so Dr. Casares encourages parents to make sure the way the characters act and work together align with your values as a family. Characters should be respectful and lift girls up, not tear them down. Positive shows can be hard to find so, with her younger daughters, she likes to watch educational shows like Animal Planet or science and baking shows.

Help Your Girls Find New Experiences and Find Purpose

Our job as parents is to get our girls out of their comfort zones and trying something new, according to Dr. Evans-Smith. Encourage risk taking, and know that if it doesn’t work out, that’s okay. When we work at finding out what we’re good at, sometimes we will fail (see our previous blog on Resiliency). When things don’t go as planned, Dr. Evans-Smith recommends highlighting what worked instead of focusing on the negative. That said, she also says we need to have balance. It can feel off for kids if we make a huge deal when they are successful, and we ignore or downplay when it isn’t.

Confidence comes from having a strong sense of self, and trying lots of things will help girls find what they are good at and are excited about. It can be anything – sports or art, music or reading. As Dr. Casares put it, “Kids need to have something they feel ownership over.” In her practice she consistently sees kids who don’t have something they feel passionate about falling into more risky behaviors.

Kids also need to have interactions with different types of people, and different ages of people to develop confidence. Dr. Evans-Smith recommended encouraging your daughter to tell her stories to people of different ages. She also emphasized the importance of playdates for your preschooler at other houses so they experience other types of family dynamics.

There are a lot of pressures on our girls these days. Boys have similar pressures, but, according to the experts, those pressures seem to affect girls in unique ways. Starting at a much younger age, they are aware of their bodies, how they look, and how they are ‘supposed’ to act. We need to raise confident daughters. Dr. Casares summed it up nicely. She said, “If we can foster a sense of self when our daughters are younger, they will know who they are when they are older. As they grow, we can reinforce that sense of self based on a strong foundation of confidence.”

Talk to your provider at your next visit to get more practical tips on raising confident girls, and send me an e-mail if you have a topic you’d like me to explore with the experts at PANW.