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Provide supportWhatever your concerns are about your daughter or your relationship with her, helping her to be more self-confident will go a long way toward facilitating her success. Girls who feel competent can cope with life's stresses better than those who think they are inept. Self-assurance also allows girls to take the risks necessary to learn and grow. For your daughter to become strong, feel good about who she is, and draw upon her inner resources, she must (1) get to know herself well, (2) think of herself as capable, and (3) believe she can measure up to others' expectations.
You and your daughter's teachers play an important role in this process. She is able to become most self-confident when all of you can stay attuned to her stress level, recognize her uniqueness, and keep your hopes for her appropriate--that is, in line with her true talents. When I think of the mothers and fathers who have worked hard to boost their daughters' self-confidence, Sheryl's parents come to mind.
Without their unwavering support and sensible encouragement, Sheryl most likely would label herself a misfit in her family. A freshman in high school, she is the younger of two children in a long line of highly achieving intellectuals. Her parents are both respected scientists, and her older brother is a Princeton undergraduate. Sheryl, however, is more at home in the sports arena than in the classroom; she lives to play volleyball, soccer, and basketball as well as to snowboard and surf.
Sheryl's parents recognize that she is not--and probably will never be--a scholar. Instead of trying to mold her to the family's blueprint for success, they encourage her to pursue her interests. They educate themselves about her favorite sports, sign her up for teams, and leave work early to watch her games. When Sheryl explores becoming an animal trainer for movies and commercials, they nurture her passion by getting her a puppy and a bird and helping her to find dog-walking jobs in their apartment building.
Despite having an academically gifted sibling and extraordinarily successful parents, Sheryl is self-assured. She tells me, "Sports come easily to me, while other people have strengths in learning and getting good grades. I'm totally different. I might be good at something they're not." Because her parents appreciate her gifts, help her to know herself, and don't expect her to be exactly like them, she feels fine about herself:
I know and my parents know that I don't get as good grades. It's pretty unlikely I'll have a straight-A average, but I understand that. My love is sports and animals and having friends, while my brother loves computers and science and math. We have different passions. I don't find happiness in hard work or educational stuff. I get good enough grades and I'm good enough. I've been lucky because my parents haven't tried to make me successful in my brother's way, just in my way.
Sheryl's parents have given her the empowering message that she has the right to star in her own life. She gets to figure out who she is, what she is passionate about, and where her talents lie. She has the freedom to discover her personal style and to grow from her mistakes. Above all, her mother and father encourage her to get to know herself and to stay closely connected with her inner life. Because they keep their own nervous energy in check, they are able to accept their daughter for who she really is.