Confidence and the girl child

Confidence is so important in our world while we go about making everyday decisions that play a vital role in how our lives will turn out in future. The confidence to take on new opportunities and challenges, the confidence to push back on what is wrong and to speak out on what is right, the confidence to stand for who we are and what we are, the confidence to pursue our dreams, the confidence to just be. For young girls, the confidence to speak up in class, to challenge attention from sexual predators, to say ‘No’ to peer pressure, the confidence to be comfortable in their own skin.

Despite the importance of confidence, it is also a known fact that confidence is known to drop by 30% in young girls aged between 8 and 14, and between the tween and teen years, as high as 46%. It is also thought that this drop in confidence levels is more likely to be noticed by fathers rather than mothers. This could be as a result mothers having had the same confidence gap at that age or still experiencing confidence gap.

Research has shown that the drop in confidence in girls is as a result of onset of puberty and rumination’ i.e. dwelling extensively on negative feelings. The argument is that women have a more active prefrontal cortex which makes them better at big picture thinking and strategy and as young girls, this can make it easier to excel in school, extracurricular activities, family responsibilities etc. On the flip side, women also have the anterior cingulate gyrus which contributes to over thinking that can be very crippling for tween to teen girls. So at the point in their lives during adolescence when young girls are still trying to establish who they are, this can trigger a series of toxic over thinking about a lot of issues. For e.g. a silent treatment from someone could in their heads mean that they are hated or a bad grade means they are stupid or the fear of raising their hands in class to answer a question for fear of getting the answer incorrect and facing ridicule as a result of this or the feeling of impending danger at all times. Since girls are also usually raised to want to be liked, there is always that added pressure to want to be perfect so as to be liked. This is why a girl can be a straight A student and not believe in herself. If these concerns are not addressed, lack of confidence continues into adulthood.

Lack of confidence can result in

  • Difficulty in making friends/lack of social interaction in school or in public
  • Low motivation
  • Poor body image
  • Negative moods
  • Earlier sexual activity
  • Alcohol and drug abuse to feel better

What to do to increase confidence in young girls

  • Model body acceptance
  • Be practical: Teach skills necessary to achieve whatever goal being pursued
  • Give opportunities to the child to learn new things/get her out of her comfort zone and take risks – Create opportunities where her voice can be heard. Let her order at restaurants, let her make key decisions where possible.
  • Encourage the child to keep trying – It is not only ok to praise an outcome but also the effort and journey to getting to the outcome. It is important that a child is able to assess their performance, and in cases where the performance is the best they could give without a positive outcome, the effort put in should be celebrated as well.
  • Enrol her in team sports – Research shows girls in team sports have higher self esteem
  • Model confidence/Role model failure and struggle – Children learn by what they see. You can show a child how you put in effort to achieve your goal and how to show resilience if not successful, focusing on strategizing on how to be successful a 2nd time around etc and to keep going until the goal is achieved
  • Encourage the child to act confident – Acting confident is the first step to being confident so teach the child to make eye contact, to walk straight, to engage in activities she loves, and to walk away and say no to situations that could be dangerous
  • Practice social skills – children sometimes get nervous in social gatherings. Teaching a child how to join conversations, contribute to conversations, etc will go a long way in helping that child with their confidence in public
  • Praise your child’s efforts rather than just the outcome
  • Remind her of failure fixes – Teach her how to be solution orientated, how to envision looking at a problem and waking her through how to solve the problem in a logical manner
  • Have a good relationship with your child, speak to her and understand her fears and concerns so as to better address these fears and concerns. Your child needs to feel that she can speak to you and not get judged.
  • Communicate she doesn’t have a problem and that she is the way she is based on a combination of brain biology and different expectations for boys and girls. Focus should be on preparing the child for the world outside school where pressure they feel in school will not be applicable.

As parents, guardians, during this period when the virus COVID-19 has meant we remain indoors with family, it gives us a great opportunity to study and identify any signs of dropping confidence levels in our children or wards and work with them to overcome lack of confidence. According to the book ‘The confidence code for girls’, the recipe for confidence could be as simple as risking more, thinking less and being yourself. Remember confident girls become confident women.

Recommended book: THE CONFIDENCE CODE FOR GIRLS: Taking Risks, Messing Up, and Becoming Your Amazingly Imperfect, Totally Powerful Self – By Katty Kay & Claire Shipman

(Sources: Time Magazine-How to help young girls keep their confidence during puberty by Katty Kay, Claire Shipman and JillEllyn Riley: CNNhealth-A ‘confidence code’ for girls: 5ways to build up our daughters by Kelly Wallace: Child Mind Institute-13 ways to build boost your daughters self esteem)

Please leave your thoughts in the comments section or contact

Yvonne – May 2020