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Let’s admit it: It’s not easy to raise confident girls. There are so many negative influences in our culture which chip away at a girl’s sense of confidence: mean girls on the playground who exclude each other; older girls who spread rumors or exclude others to gain a sense of social power; and media influences which suggest that girls or women who show off their body and sexuality are the most interesting and desirable. As a parent of a young daughter, most reality shows which showcase female cattiness, obsession with shopping, and a proneness for showing as much of their bodies as possible churns my stomach. More than anything, we should want these two things for our daughters: that they be kind, and that they feel good about how who they are.

As parents, there are simple things you can do to help encourage your daughters to be confident and to like who they are. I will highlight some important activities you can encourage and statements you can make to give your daughter the best chance of liking herself through the various stages of school. It’s no easy feat to raise a confident daughter, but it certainly is possible!

Praise your daughter a few times each day – especially when she is a toddler or in elementary school – for good qualities you see in her.

If you want your daughter to like herself throughout her life, the best thing you can do is to remind her on a daily basis why you like and admire her. Praising girls is especially important when they’re under the age of ten because this is when the self-esteem foundation is set. I will share examples of behaviors you may see your daughter engage in that warrant a praising comment from you: playing by herself; playing nicely with someone else; reading; sharing something with someone; not giving up even when she gets frustrated; organizing something or putting something back where it belongs; remembering something which shows that she had been paying attention; and so forth. When you see her doing any of these things, regularly say, “I see the way you are [insert behavior] and I think that is so great that you are doing that.” Another example: “Wow, I am so impressed that you [insert behavior].” When you positively reinforce this type of behavior, she will keep engaging in that type of behavior in the future.

Never, ever criticize your daughter’s physical appearance or body.

The names of girls and women I’ve treated over the years who feel bad about their body or appearance could feel an entire notebook. Many females I know share that either their own mothers or mean girls at school made harsh comments about their appearance, planting the seeds for a lifelong battle with bad body image. Make it a priority to never, ever say anything negative or critical about your daughter’s body because she will not only never forget it, but she will also be more likely to make the same kinds of hurtful comments to her own daughter when that time comes. Tell your daughter at least once each week how pretty she is, and comment on specific things that make her feel good about her appearance: “I think you have the sweetest smile;” “I love your eyes because they are so pretty and gentle.” Quick note: If you do slip up and say something critical, do the honorable thing and apologize later. No parent is perfect but good parents try to repair any previous ruptures in the parent-child bond.

Have your daughter play team sports throughout the year.

The age of four or five years is a great time to start your child on organized sports teams. Some parents wait to put their kids on sport teams until they’re a little older, often because the child says, “I don’t want to,” or because the parent feels the child is too shy or timid. Yet it’s precisely shy or timid kids who need organized sports the most! Give your child a choice of many sports to choose from, and then tell your child that you’ll attend every practice and cheer them on from the sideline. If you have to sweeten the pot to get them to agree, tell them that they will earn a reward at the end of each sports season they finish, and let them brainstorm with you about what the reward should be. The bottom line is that sports allow girls to access their natural aggressive and competitive impulses within a positive, team-oriented environment.

Final analysis

Creating confidence in your daughters is an ongoing endeavor that requires many years of parental encouragement, praise and vigilance. Practice each of the interventions above and you will be providing your daughter with tools she’ll need to take care of and like herself throughout life.