I’m delighted to be the parenting advisor to the Disney Ultimate Princess Celebration: Time to Shine’ campaign in association with The Female Lead, Leah Williamson the Euro Winning Lioness Captain, and authors and Youtubers Kirsten and Aiyven Mbawa.
Here’s my advice for nurturing your daughter’s self esteem and confidence.
What we say and do can inadvertently reinforce the very gender stereotypes we are so keen to dismantle. “Our words and actions have a powerful impact on our children
So, what should we say to bolster girls’ confidence, teach them responsibility and encourage them to follow their dreams—while also helping them learn from their mistakes.
Tip #1: Let Her Play
Don’t get hung up on what your daughter wants to play, whether it’s princesses or plumbers. While we may view one as traditionally female and another as male, to little kids, it’s all the same, so there’s no need to categorise. Just encourage her to pursue her own passions.
Tip #2 Ask What She Thinks And Why
Ask your daughter what she thinks and why she thinks that – no judgement – just encouragement – it raises your daughter’s consciousness about issues, problems and helps her formulate her ideas while also empowering her by communicating that her ideas and opinions matter.
Tip #3 Give Her Choices
If we expect our daughters to make good decisions once they reach adulthood and have to navigate the world of work and life, they will need lots of practice. Let her have an age-appropriate say in matters that affect her – from deciding how you all spend your family time to how you divide household responsibilities, to what she wears (good luck with that during the teenage years) to extracurricular activities.
Tip #4 Celebrate Successes
If you are British, we often have that self-deprecating gene of being modest! As they get older, some girls get embarrassed when they’re singled out for being good at something —whether it’s swimming, running or STEM —and even try to downplay their accomplishments.
However, continual self-effacement can lead to a loss of confidence. So, if your daughter gets a great grade in a spelling test, or a music exam don’t tell her it’s impolite to celebrate —celebrate her success with an enthusiastic, “Well done – all your hard work paid off.” But ‘Talk and Teach’ them the difference between being proud of herself and just showing off in front of others.
Be specific in your praise and if your pre-schooler or younger child, proudly shows you her latest drawing, be sure to share in her delight and point out the wonderful colour of the sunflowers or the vibrant purple sail on the boat.
The key is to praise the effort, not the result! Recent research suggests when we overdo it in terms of praise, we can do more harm than good!
Tip #5 Resilience Must be Earned
Don’t rush in to rescue!
So often parents rush in to rescue their daughters instead of letting them struggle a little bit longer with pulling on their wellies, pulling up their zip or solving a tricky maths equation.
Tenacity teaches resilience and helps girls to know that they are not ‘damsels in distress’ they are capable of handling difficult situations on their own and that can be a very powerful lesson.
Tip #6 Avoid the B-word: ‘Bossy’
‘Talk and Teach’ your daughter that it’s OK to be ambitious.
Break the stereotype that Type A women are “bossy,” while Type A men have “leadership skills.” Just be mindful of the messages you pass on to your kids whether they are girls or boys!
Tip #7 Watch People Pleasing Behaviour
Teaching manners, empathy, kindness, and thoughtfulness for others are great values, but if your daughter’s behaviour starts to tip into pleasing others instead of herself then it’s time to ‘Talk and Teach’ her about finding the balance between respecting and helping others, and being assertive about what she thinks and wants.
Tip #8 Be A Role Model
As I’m writing this, I thought to myself ‘I must send this to my daughter’ – to see what she thinks – as I hope I’ve modelled being a confident, kind, ambitious, lively, bold, and cheeky Mum!
If our daughters see us standing up for ourselves, speaking up when we don’t agree with others or asking for help when we need it, they will learn they can do that, too.
Tip #9 Go Beyond Pretty
We’ve all done it: At a party, wedding, or social situation we’ve gone up to a little girl and told her we like her dress, her hair or said how pretty she looks.
It’s an easy icebreaker.
We mean well and it feels natural to compliment a child, but it can reinforce the message that looks are what matter most.
One simple solution is to keep talking. Ask follow-up questions – “What games do you like to play’’ ‘’How high can you jump?” or “What’s your favourite book/film/toy?” —so it’s more about who she is, not what she looks like.
Tip #10 Two Ears and One Mouth
Ask questions, then listen!
It’s estimated the average girl is exposed to some form of media (TV, billboards, magazines, online videos, etc.) for close to seven hours every day, and much of it plays off stereotypes. That is an enormous amount of marketing messages to take it and make sense of.
Use it as an opportunity to talk to your daughter, and to help her practise her critical thinking skills. The easiest and simplest way to help your daughter start thinking for herself is to ask her questions in a relaxed and chatty way.
‘What else do you think that girl can do?’
You don’t want them to tune out or feel ashamed that they like to play princess or like pretty things. It’s just a balance to the bombardment.
And then really listen to what they have to say. Validate their opinions and their experiences.
Tip #11 The Best Gift of All Is Your TIME
Girls of all ages and stages love spending time with you – playing, reading, cooking, talking, exploring.
It shows your daughter she is loved, no matter what.
One way to do this is to provide a daily dose of undivided attention.
Being fully present with your daughter will give her the gift of self esteem and what better gift can you give her?