Building Your Daughter’s Self-Esteem

confident girlsOur oldest daughter, now 7, asked me a question recently that set me back on my heels. “What’s special about me?”  It took me by surprise because she has always been a confident, outgoing kid.  The thing about this simple question that made me pause was that she wasn’t fishing for a compliment, she really meant it.  She was having a momentary crisis of self-confidence and she was looking to me for help.  When she asked it,  I heard s a little voice in my head say, “Be careful dad, don’t screw this one up.  Moments like this is where strippers come from.”

When it comes to raising my daughters, I feel a lot like the classic Chris Rock bit where he talks about his one job as a father being to keep his daughter off the dance pole.  As funny as that bit is, there is a lot of truth there.  As dads, we have a huge impact on the way our daughters feel about themselves, and men.  Like Chris Rock says, “They don’t grade fathers, but if your daughter’s a stripper, you [screwed] up.”

So when my daughter asked me to tell her what made her special, I knew not to take it lightly.  It’s not like it was hard to think of an answer.  I’m her dad, and coming up with things that make my daughter special was like trying to find something to watch on TV on a Sunday afternoon.  Sort of a no brainer.  Since then, I have been thinking a lot about my little girl’s self-esteem.

I guess she’s just at that age when the self-esteem starts to drop off, on the way to adolescence when I’m sure it will hit it’s all time low.   Good times.  So I’m no psychologist, but here are my tips for boosting your daughter’s self-esteem.  You don’t have to pay any attention, but if your daughter starts wearing clear heels and changes her name to her birth stone, don’t come crying to me.

So here are 5 things I am doing to help build up my daughter’s self esteem:

Give her your undivided attention

When you talk to your kids, put down the iPhone or Blackberry, and look ’em in the eye.  I’m as guilty of this one as anyone, but multitasking can send the wrong message.  When your kid asks you a question let them know they are important by stopping, looking them in they eye, and talking to them.  Sure it’s not realistic to do this every time, but more often than not, give them the respect you expect back.  You know how you feel when she won’t look up from the TV to answer you? It’s like that for her too.

Give her compliments

A few time a day, be sure to compliment her on something.  Now don’t be the dad that goes around praising every little thing she does.  Nobody likes that guy.  But a little deserved praise goes a long way.   Try not to make everything about how she looks either.  Sure you want to tell her she looks pretty, but you also have to let her know she’s smart, and nice, and funny.  We all know girls who grew up only hearing how pretty they were.  We don’t want want our daughters to be those girls.

Watch what you say about yourself

This one goes for the moms and dads.  If your daughter hears you saying how fat you think you are, or how dumb, it’s going to effect her internal dialog as well.  Our kids model our behavior especially at a young age, so show her a confident parent.  Keep your hangups about yourself to yourself.

Encourage her

We all want to protect our kids from disappointment, but sometimes we can go overboard.  I think it’s better to fail than not to try, and I let my daughter’s know that.  When they do fail, and they will, you need to bring out your best glass half-full stuff.  So don’t say that she probably won’t make the team to try to soften the blow if she doesn’t.  Encourage her to push herself and let her know that she will fail sometimes, but the only way to find out what you’re good at is to try lots of things.

Be the model you want her to see

Be careful about the signals you send to your daughter about women, because she’s going to notice what you say and think.  Let her know you respect women because they are smart or talented.  Make sure she hears you talking about her mom and other women in a respectful way.  The way your daughter hears you talk about women will impact how she will let others talk to her.

So there are 5 things I’m doing to try to help boost my daughter’s self-esteem.  I’m no Dr. Phil, but I’m going to do everything I can to raise a confident, strong daughter.  She’s lucky to have such a good role model in her mom, but I’m going to try to do my part as well.  What do you think?  Let me know or add your tips in the comments.

Ian is the father of two young daughters  (7, and 2).  He has a podcast about starting a business while raising young children at Startup Daddy.

Photo By Pink Sherbet Photography

19 thoughts on “Building Your Daughter’s Self-Esteem

  1. The letting them fail part is so, SO hard. Neither is modeling what you want them to be. So, ya. I agree with the “not easy but necessary” thing, too.

    I think letting them do things on their own, even something as simple as choosing their own clothes to wear, goes a long way. Letting her pour the milk, even if she’s gonna spill. Trying not to correct every little thing, but to let them experiment and find their own way.

    I’m rambling. I must stop.

  2. Jacki that is such a good point about letting them make their own decisions and do things for themselves. Our 3 year old is going through that “I’ll do it myself” phase now. So often I take the “Pick your battles” approach thinking fine, it’s easier to clean the mess or let her wear her pajamas to the store. It’s important to remember how proud our kids feel when they pick out that unmatched outfit or when they fill their own cup even if they get just as much on the table.

    Switching from “Is it worth the argument?” (me) to “Can I give her this small win?” (her) can make a huge difference for both of us. Thanks for the insight. Ramble here anytime :)

  3. Really appreciate this perspective. Definitely not a moment to treat lightly! Your thoughts about complements brought to kind this NY Mag piece on power and peril of praise I have been turning over and over in my mind : http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/

    In short, really diff outcomes depending if we praise kids for effort vs. innate ability – you’re so smart vs. Wow you never gave up!

  4. Thanks for sharing that Stefan.”praise kids for effort vs. innate ability” makes so much sense. All of these great ideas seem like so much common sense after you read them. Little differences that take no real effort, only a small shift in perspective can make such a big difference. I look forward to reading that piece.

  5. Accept that you can “model behavior” til the cows come home, but they may still turn out a bit differently than you planned. Love and support them just the same. To expect your children to see the world completely through your eyes is ludicrous, and to reject them when they don’t should be considered criminal. Support them without fail. Be their greatest (constructive) critic but simultaneously, their greatest fan.

    Find resolution in this and the remainder falls into place.

  6. My daughter is turning four, and I worry about this stuff continually.

    Good advice for raising any child, male or female. Boys have the same esteem issues; they don’t wear them on their shoulders like the girls do though. Nice column.

  7. I enjoyed this post. I have a daughter that was just born in September of this year I hope her mother takes little steps like this. Her and I are not together and I still haven’t got to meet my little Ava in person.

  8. This is first thing I read this morning. What a great way to start my day. Today I happened to take the day off and plan to go to my daughters school for lunch. Shell be so surprised. It that’s not undivided attention then I don’t know what is lol! Thanks for the article.

  9. Hi Ian,

    This post really stood out to me because I have been working on an anti-bullying initiative. I have a weekly chat (Wednesday at 9 EST) and I’d like to cover this week how we can build a child’s self-esteem after they have been bullied. I know that is not the main thrust of your post here, but you are more than welcome to co-host if you wish to talk about children and self-esteem in general. If we can’t put an end to bullying, we need to know how to cure it.

    Even if you cannot make it on Wednesday, this is a great post, and I’m so glad to see it. I think many fathers are kind of intimidated by raising girls for all kinds of silly reasons. Props to you.

  10. I love the conversation taking place here. Thanks for all the kind words and insight!

    @Marjorie- I’ll try to get in touch. Not sure if I can help, but if I can, I’m happy to. That is such an important topic. So great you’re tackling it!

  11. I have a 19 year old daughter that when she was growing up I did look in her eyes when I would answer her questions,I all ways told her that god made her special because she was the only her we had and because none elese could see what she can see from her eyes. I told her she was the only one that could hear what she heard and no one else could could decide what she was going to be I allways said never let anyone tell you you can’t do something only you can say I can’t and as long as you try your best first but you can always try agian because your best will change from day to day like reaching for the glass from the cupborad the first time you tried you where only 1 yr. old and I would have to pick you up but you lifted your hand to try first then when you where 3 you could push your chair to the counter and step into it to reach it then when you where 6 you could reach it with no help so as long as you try your best with the help from God you can do any thing and she carried that with her for along time still today I think she did well in school clear through high school always trying her best she carried mid 90’s for grades she won a scoalarship for collage from my workplace and started collage and was doing well B+ when she came home for winter break in Dec still doing her best and liking what she was learning ” she said” by Feb she had quit collage and moved in with a 33 year old man and she just told me that she is a stripper. So my best advice to you parents is always do your best to I have always loved my daughter with no condtions and still do but I can’t make her choices I have no regrets for anything I have done raising her except I wish I could have given more money in my paycheck. She is our gift from God and I LOVE HER

  12. I appreciate all the help I can get. My daughter is 21 and her self esteem is so low. I was there for her but when i think back, i think i may have been one of those critical parents that didnt want their child to fail.  BIG MISTAKE! I believe its not too late! Thank you!

  13.  Great advice. I know all these things, but when your daughter comes home from school crying you can tend to doubt what you are doing. It doesn’t always take the sting out of what the kids at school are saying, but knowing that her parents are there to love and support her goes a long way. 
     I like that you think too many compliments send the wrong message, besides I think our children know when we aren’t being truthful with them. Being positive is much more important than hearing ‘good job, well done’ all the time. 

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