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While we wish wholeheartedly that it wasn’t the case, a “gender confidence gap” exists: simply put, women feel more insecure about themselves and their abilities than men, and this affects everything from the subjects they choose to study to the careers they eventually work in.
The “gender confidence gap” is also linked to the dream gap, the result of parents (unwittingly, we hope), putting different expectations on boys and girls. The result being, that girls, from as young as age five, already feel they are less than and that their potential is limited.
It’s clear that raising confident women stems from raising confident girls, and that we need to empower our daughters from early childhood. Now the question is, how to do it – especially when many of us are still learning to build up our own self-confidence, as adults?
Here are the tips to know and the things to do to raise confident girls of the future, who will continue to break glass ceilings.
Encourage your girl to be sporty
Sports are a good way to show girls they can do what boys can, to get them outside and to make them view their bodies as strong and capable. Sports also encourage teamwork and discipline, as well as reinforcing that failure is just a part of life that we need to accept and move on from. Research from Ernst & Young also found that there is a significant correlation between women who played sports in primary, secondary school and university and future career success: 96% of women in the C-suite had been sporty in childhood, and over 50% had been university athletes, showing that competition, drive and self-belief in athleticism is linked to those same positive qualities in life.
Teach her to love her body – and let positive role models help
Upsetting as it is, it won’t come as a total shock to read that 40-60% of girls aged six-12 are already concerned about their weight, or about becoming too fat, according to stats from the National Eating Disorders Association, a fear that follows many for their whole lives. This damaging, time-consuming pursuit, combined with media depictions of bodies that look nothing like most of our own, can create a lifetime of body shame and self-hatred. Teach your girl to embrace body positivity as much as possible by not openly talking about your own body issues (e.g. dieting, weight gain) and by introducing them to body-positive role models. If you need a hero for your girls to follow, we’d suggest Jameela Jamil, whose I Weigh movement is all about embracing body positivity, calling out bogus beauty and fashion industry campaigns and feeling proud of the skin we’re in.
Expand her horizons – while encouraging her interests
It’s high time we realised that children are interested in everything and anything, and that a blue car might be marketed to a boy, but there’s no reason your girl won’t love it. So encourage your child to play with whatever she wants to play with, to wear what she wants and to be who she is. If that happens to include being dressed as Rapunzel, daily, show her that even princesses can have new narratives (we particularly enjoy the story, How the Library (Not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel, by Wendy Maddour and Rebecca Ashdown). Showing her that femininity doesn’t have to be one-dimensional, with one narrative arc of girl being saved by boy, is key. Teach your daughter how to save herself – by finding happiness and fulfilment through her own interests, and not through the affirmations of others.
Don’t mollycoddle her
We live in an age of “helicopter” and “snowplough parenting,” where parents feel it’s their duty to force obstacles out of their kids’ paths to make things as easy for their children as possible. Unfortunately, instead of teaching our kids resilience, it’s making them fearful of everything, including failure, which can be especially damaging to girls with perfectionist tendencies. Learn to let go, and encourage your child make her own mistakes. Urge her to try new things, like going to those netball team trials – even if she’s never played before. Do something new together to show that you’re both capable of taking on a challenge – and that you can laugh about it if you don’t succeed. Also, redefine what failure is: it’s always a learning experience you can benefit from, no matter the result.