I was not a confident child . As a matter of fact, when I was my oldest daughter’s age I was evaluated for speech therapy because I was very quiet in class. Turns out my speech was fine. It was my confidence that needed work.
Looking back, I can see that my mom wasn’t a very confident woman. I wish she had known just how awesome she was. Confidence was something I had to slowly build over the course of my life, but I knew I had to help my oldest daughter so that she wouldn’t have to work quite as hard as I did.
Hannah is my mini-me; quiet and thoughtful, smart, shy, and very hard on herself. I’ve learned so much about who I am and who I want to be by raising her. Naturally, I don’t want her to have the same hang-ups that held me back. I’ve kept a watchful eye over the years and I’ve done my best to help her build confidence.
Here are four things that have really helped.
1. Enlist Her Teacher’s Help – Sometimes no matter how much we reassure our children, they need to hear it from someone else. I walked into my daughter’s Kindergarten orientation and as soon as the presentation was over I made a bee-line for her teacher.
I told him that Hannah is extremely bright, but very sensitive and hard on herself. She could already read before the start of school and I knew she could be pushed to excel in school, but it would have to come in the form of many gentle nudges. I asked for his help in making her feel okay about making mistakes, and encouraging her to answer questions.
I didn’t raise my hand in class much as a kid, not because I didn’t know the answer, but because I was afraid of being wrong. To his credit, he is an amazing teacher. He pointed out his own mistakes (like the time he accidentally wrote on the smart board with a permanent marker) so the kids would see that even teachers make mistakes. If she cried because she didn’t know the answer on a test, he reassured her it was fine.
At each parent/teacher conference, I made it my mission to find out more than the academic picture of my daughter’s development. I wanted to know how she interacted with the other kids, how her confidence was developing, if she cried at all, how she was overcoming the challenges of new material, and if she asked for help.
By the end of the year, her confidence was really starting to grow and it has continued to grow. Every year, I always ask the same types of questions at every single parent/teacher conference.
2. Encourage Her in Math and Science – I can’t tell you how many times growing up I heard my mother say she was bad at math. Most of the time she deferred to my step-dad to help me with any and all math homework.
To this day I still think I’m bad at math, but honestly I was always a B student in math. That’s not really bad, but perhaps somewhere along the lines I made the association that too many girls do – that we’re just not good at math and science.
At my last parent-teacher conference with Hannah’s fourth grade teacher, she told me that Hannah is gifted. That’s not news to me. She was always reading a few grade levels ahead in school. What took me by surprise was the subject. She said Hannah’s state test scores in math were well above the district average and that she wanted to put Hannah in a special math group, which meets before school once a week and competes in math competitions. The group is primarily for 5th and 6th graders.
When I asked Hannah if she was interested I told her that she would probably see math problems she never had before and she had to be okay with that. She asked if they would teach her how to solve those problems and when I said yes she jumped at the opportunity.
I’m so glad she’s going to be challenged to excel in an area that many girls aren’t. I just know that when she has children of her own someday she’s not going to utter the phrase, “I’m no good at math.” That brings me to number 3.
3. Mind Your Words About Yourself – Like I said, the words my mother spoke over herself had an effect on me. I’m totally guilty of still saying things like, “I’m not very good at math,” but I still try to help her with her math homework whenever she asks. I know I’ve gotta watch what I say. My kids are always listening even if I think I’m just muttering something to myself.
My mom often said disparaging things about her looks too. I was very self-conscious of my own looks especially as a tween and teen. I’m not blaming it all on my mom, but I unconsciously learned to give a voice to my insecurities. I try really hard not to say bad things about myself or my looks in front of my daughter.
Girls look to their moms to understand their own self-worth. Be kind to yourself and they’ll learn to be kind to themselves too.
4. Encourage Leadership Skills – One of the best things I did was put Hannah in Girl Scouts. She’s gotten to meet with local business owners, our town judge and even our Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther. It’s great for the girls to meet influential women.
This year, they held mock elections to learn more about the election process. It was optional if the girls wanted to run for President and I was so proud that Hannah wanted to. Being in the spotlight was something I would have avoided as a kid.
She made campaign buttons and stood up in front of her peers and made a speech about why she would make a good President. My favorite part was when she said she wouldn’t be upset if they didn’t choose her.
I didn’t put any pressure on her, heck I didn’t even hear her speech until she delivered it to her troop on Election Day. To my surprise she won. She then had to run one of her troop meetings and pick a project they would work on.
I told her about Operation Christmas Cheer, a card writing project started by my fellow Hudson Valley Parent blogger Roxanne (aka The Whatever Mom) that sends holiday cards to kids who are very ill. She was all for it and that’s what her troop did during the meeting she had to run. I’m so proud of the girls.
It doesn’t have to be Girl Scouts. It could be sports or any activity that encourages your daughter to take a leadership role.
Hannah has already far surpassed me when I was her age. She’s taught me that confidence comes from practice. It’s slow and steady for some girls, but as long as we keep them moving in the right direction, we can help them reach their full potential. We are their moms, and we have more power than we know.
Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama is the author of “So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life.” She can be found writing for The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not busy caring for her three adorable kiddos. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.