6 steps to raising a confident daughter

March 26, 2012 at 8:30 AM ET

By Dr. Robi Ludwig

One thing all mothers have in common with their daughters is that they were once daughters, too. It’s safe to say that we moms want our daughters to feel strong, smart and powerful.  But in a world of mixed messages coming from school, friends, magazines and TV shows, the goal of raising a confident daughter can feel daunting.

It’s no secret that children learn the most about themselves from the way parents communicate with them. According to a recent survey from Care.com, when mothers of girls were asked what adjective they typically called their daughters, a majority (54%) responded “beautiful” whereas only 15% responded “smart.” And nearly one-third (32%) most commonly refer to their daughters as “sweet.” (As a mother of a 9-year-old daughter myself, I can honestly say that I am guilty of calling my daughter “pretty” a lot, but not as guilty of calling her “sweet.” I like to stick to reality!)

What message are we really sending our girls if good looks are what we’re overly focused on? While I don’t see it as harmful to send the message to your daughter that she’s pretty, I don’t think this is the only trait for which she should be exalted. Beauty alone can be a dangerous characteristic to place all of your daughter’s self-esteem bets on. As we mothers learned in our own lives, there is always going to be someone prettier right around the corner. And a daughter quickly learns that her mother’s accolades are hardly objective.      

One of the best ways to raise a daughter who likes herself and is confident is to recognize all her strengths. The messages we send as mothers and parents need to be empowering, yet honest. 

1. Do tell her she’s beautiful. Just be sure that you also highlight the message that beauty is as beauty does. How she carries herself as a person will have an even greater impact on how people see her.

2. Share your daughter’s passion. You can make a powerful connection with your daughter when you pay attention to her interests. It sends the message that what she likes matters.

3. Help her claim and own her strengths with pride. There’s a difference between conceit and confidence.

4.Be supportive.  Listen to what she has to say, but don’t lecture. Help her make sense of what’s going on in her world. Share stories about yourself when you were young to demonstrate your empathy and understanding of her situation.

5. Point out positive female role models when reading or watching the news, not simply to show your daughter that anything is possible, but also to encourage conversation about the paths female leaders take to success.  The answer isn’t always just “study hard” or “practice,” but rather something specific like, “when she was your age, she enjoyed books about adventure.” 

6. Shareyour approach to confidence-building with the regularcare providers in her life. It’s important your daughter hears a consistent message from all the people in her life, from her grandmother to her nanny or babysitter.

In the end, encouraging confidence in our daughters is related to how we feel about ourselves, and the pride we have in our talents. And this feel-good experience always begins at home.

Dr. Robi Ludwig is a national TV commentator and psychotherapist who practices in New York City. She is also the author of the book “Till Death Do Us Part” as well as a contributor for TODAY.com.

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