“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” – E.E. Cummings
I published an article earlier this year that discussed the idea that a lack of confidence is limiting women’s career trajectories. In short, women tend to project less confidence in their abilities than their male counterparts (even when they’re highly skilled) and are less likely to take professional risks, call attention to their successes, or ask for raises and promotions.
It occurred to me that a lack of confidence is not something that just appears in adulthood; it begins much earlier. Further research proved the idea- a recent study finds that between the ages of 8 and 14, girls’ confidence levels drop by 30%.
Our daughters’ confidence levels begin to drop when they are just eight years old. Let that sink in.
It’s hard to believe that they’re developing patterns that may affect every aspect of their lives at such a tender age. But it’s happening, and knowing the long-term implications helps underscore the idea that we must nip this issue in the bud… early. A lack of confidence hurts not only our girls, but the women they become, and that’s a losing proposition.
As parents, we’re in a unique position to influence our children’s sense of self; to build their confidence in meaningful ways and leave them with a legacy of independence and resilience. I’m not talking about all the rah-rah stuff we do. I mean the serious, stick-with-you-for-life knowledge that they are strong and capable and can overcome whatever obstacles life puts in front of them.
Here are the best ways to instill genuine confidence in your daughter:
1. Make her step outside her comfort zone. Teach your daughter that she doesn’t have to be comfortable with something to do it. Acknowledge her fears, then help her learn to move past them. “Yes, this is scary. It might not go the way I want. But I am capable of doing the things that scare me”.
Another thing that research reveals is that many women hesitate to take on a new challenge unless they’re almost certain from the get-go that they’ll succeed. Don’t let her fall into the trap of limiting herself this way! We don’t grow by doing only the things we’re good at, or that feel comfortable. Let her learn to stretch her abilities and make it clear that sometimes she’ll have to jump in and learn to swim as she goes. She may have mixed results, but it’s actually a good thing if things don’t go quite as she expects- it will teach her to improvise and hone her problem-solving skills.
Nelson Mandela had it right when he said “I never lose. I either win or I learn.”
2. Be transparent in your own struggles, and the steps you take to resolve them. She’s already watching your every move, so choose your teachable moments. Stressed out about a big presentation at work? Don’t be afraid to share how and why you’re struggling. Walk her through your action plan, ask her opinion and then listen to her answers. You might be surprised by her responses- kids are remarkably perceptive and may come at an issue from an entirely different perspective. Remember to thank her for her contributions and let her know how her suggestions might (or do) help you.
She’ll reap benefits in several important ways:
This type of interaction will make her feel heard and valued.
It will help kick her critical thinking skills into gear- without the stress of being under the gun herself. When she’s the one in the hot seat, she’ll be able use that process as a guide.
She’ll learn that overcoming obstacles is a shared human experience. No matter who you are, knowing you’re not alone goes a long way to calming fears and tensions.
Make yourself relatable, and she’ll learn to model your confidence.
3. Allow her to fail. It seems counterintuitive because we want our children to feel successful, but remember, their definition of success begins with us. We can show them that there’s value in failure, because it teaches us humility and persistence. It also drives change, and is a catalyst for reorganization, innovation, learning, education and leadership.
These skills develop in the face of adversity, and they can pay off in a big way. History is filled with stories of high-profile people who experienced countless failures before they ever tasted success.
When you allow her to fail, your daughter will learn that failure is not the end of the story; it’s just the beginning.
Interested in the data on the “confidence collapse” and what it means for our girls? Click here.