by Shannon Serpette
Some people seem to be born with confidence, an unshakeable belief in their own awesomeness. I never had that while I was growing up. Although I didn’t have what I would call low self-esteem, I did always envy other people in my school – the ones who were prettier, smarter or more athletic than I was.
I never seemed to have any discernible talent. My grades were decent, and I was an okay athlete. I never had parents who pushed me to try harder in any area of my life. Any talents I did have remained well hidden until my adult years when I slowly started to recognize I was competent in more areas than I had ever imagined.
When my son was born, I was determined that any talent he had would not go undiscovered. Like many parents, I wanted him to have more opportunities than I did while I was growing up. But when my daughter was born, that desire to help her find her footing felt a little more intense than it had with my son.
I’m still not sure to this day if I was projecting my own feelings from when I was growing up, or if I simply felt stronger about instilling her sense of self-worth because I know girls as a group aren’t as confident as boys are.
In grade school, high school and even college, I saw the same scenario play out year after year. Girls, even when they knew the answer to a question asked by the teacher, were reluctant to raise their hands and speak up in class. When it came time for group projects, the boys in the class would always take the lead, and most of the girls, myself included, felt fine with that.
I want things to be different for my 9-year-old daughter. I want her confidence to be off the charts. When she knows the answer in class, I want her to raise her hand up high. If she likes a boy when she gets older, I want her to tell him. When she feels she is being mistreated by someone, I want her to defend herself without making one single apology for it.
In short, I want her to be everything I wasn’t, everything she wants to be. I want her to tackle everything in her path and know deep down in her soul that she has the tools and the talent to do it.
Although girls have far more opportunities in school and extracurricular activities than they did when I was a kid, I’m still not quite sure how to encourage my daughter to be fearless and fierce when it comes to believing in herself and expressing herself. I’ve pieced together my own plan though – one that I’ve come up with through research and also from life experiences.
Here’s what I’m doing to raise a confident daughter:
- I teach her that kindness matters, but that also includes being kind to herself. I teach her to be nice to everyone, but when people aren’t nice back, it’s okay to distance yourself. There was one girl in her class who wasn’t nice to her for years. At first, it really bothered her, but over time, she learned to let it go and realized it didn’t have anything to do with her – this girl was just unhappy and didn’t know how to deal with her emotions. Over time, the girl matured and my daughter kept trying to be nice to her. These days, they’re good friends.
- I enroll her in every sport she has interest in. She’s currently in basketball, softball and volleyball, and she’s also had tumbling and tennis lessons. Being in a sport teaches girls to be tougher, to be fitter and to be stronger. They teach girls how to be fierce competitors, and that what happens on the court is nothing personal. It gives them confidence to realize they can hit a ball or shoot a basket. They see the value of practicing something – even if it doesn’t come naturally. They learn how to set goals and achieve them. It’s also a good place for them to make new friends who share their interests and beliefs that girls can do anything.
- I like to show my daughter examples of strong women who changed history. Whether you loved her or hated her, Hillary Clinton showed a lot of girls that anything is possible, that girls can break through barriers they haven’t yet. My daughter has read about Queen Elizabeth, Helen Keller, Sacajawea and others who have influenced history. So much of the history that is taught in schools focuses on men and their achievements so I make sure she learns about women in history outside of school.
- I practice what I preach. I try to be a strong role model for her. When I feel timid or shy about voicing my opinion about something, I think of her and I power through any discomfort I have. I let her see me standing up for myself and for others. I make sure I try new things, and that she sees both my successes and failures.
- I let her know that I believe in her. I tell her how smart, kind, tough and pretty she is. I never comment on her body, unless I’m talking about fitness. I make sure she knows that people of all shapes and sizes are beautiful in their own way.
- I show up. I’m at everything she does. I make it a priority, my top priority, as I do for my son. Whether it’s a ball game, tumbling class, volunteering at her school, or being a room mom for holiday parties, I’m there. It doesn’t matter if I’m tired. It doesn’t matter if I’ve spent more time on the bleachers than I have in my bed for the week. I’m going to be there because cheering her on and participating in her life proves more than my words do – it shows that she’s important to me. And that’s the biggest gift we can give our girls – letting them know they matter, both to us and the world.