How do we raise our daughters to have the confidence they need to take on the world, bombarded as we all are with a very narrow conception of what women should aspire to be and achieve? The ideal woman, it seems, is photoshopped to perfection and ‘comfortably’ balances a very complex set of expectations: "be pretty but not too pretty, confident but not bossy, professional but still feminine, and have something to say but not too loudly.” Left to navigate such contradictory expectations, our daughters are likely to end up confused and decidedly unconfident.
What role do we as parents play in fostering that confidence? It turns out, we play a major role, likely the most important of all. We are our children’s first demonstration of what it means to be human in the world, and the first 'mirror' reflecting how they are perceived by others. In truth, we can have a monumental impact on their self-esteem. Luckily, there are a few ways we can help cultivate confidence in our daughters from a young age:
- Encourage her to play freely, disregarding what toy companies would have us believe are 'girls' games and 'boys games'. Inevitably she will come face to face with outdated gender stereotypes, but if you challenge them, you're sure to let her know that certain games, sports and interests are not 'off limits' because she is a girl.
- Focus on something other than appearance. The media floods us with constant commentary on women's looks – we need to do something different in our homes. Try ditching any discussion of appearance, whether it's hers, yours or anyone else's, and comment instead on values you admire, on skills and personality traits and effort. Encourage your daughter to cherish her body not for how it looks but for what it can help her achieve.
- Cultivate media literacy from a young age by talking about the books you read to her and the shows she watches. Ask her what she thinks things mean, why things are portrayed the way they are, and what would happen if they were portrayed differently. If you lay bare the tricks of the fashion and marketing industries, she’s less likely to feel inadequate when faced with the unrealistic perfection of mediated images of women and girls all around her.
- Allow her to exercise control over some of the choices in her life. Learn about her preferences and honour them. Trusting her to make certain decisions will encourage her to trust in herself too, rather than trying to please others.
- And, most importantly, demonstrate confidence by acknowledging your own strengths while being patient about your weaknesses, by carving out time to care for yourself as much as you do for others, and by finding empowering ways to strengthen your body, challenge your mind, and express your creativity. Ultimately, the best way to foster a healthy self-esteem in your daughter is by maintaining a healthy self-esteem yourself.
Date Published: 26 October 2016