9 Tips to Raising a Confident Girl

How to talk to your daughter so she knows she's smart, funny, kind -- and oh right, beautiful

girl smiling

Your mom thinks you make great meatballs and have a knack for making friends. Oh yeah, she also thinks you're beautiful, the most beautiful person in the room at any time. She's been saying this since you were born.

Is this so wrong? You're the friendly, beautiful meatball maker. But it's that word "beautiful" we women always get hung up on. It's the word we've heard since we can remember while our brothers and guy friends are called "cool" and "awesome" -- adjectives more about them as people than their appearance.

Is this an issue? 54% of Care.com poll respondents say they typically call their daughter "beautiful" over "sweet" and "smart" when they greet them. So, are the "pretty dress" and "gorgeous hair" comments we hear as toddlers the reason we constantly critique ourselves -- and our girlfriends?

"We can barely go anywhere without someone -- a waitress, a vendor -- referring to my girls as 'princesses' or telling them that they are beautiful," says Sari Fisher of Marlboro, NJ, and the mom of two girls ages 5 and 2.

Sound familiar? "There's nothing wrong with helping your daughter feel good about her exterior but she needs to know that it is not enough -- looks change," says  psychotherapist Robi Ludwig, Psy.D., Care.com's parenting expert. "There are lots of beautiful people in the world so it's important to also be a beautiful person."

In an effort to help you raise the next generation of strong, confident -- and yes, beautiful women, Care.com asked the Dr. Ludwig and Boston-based psychotherapist Karen Ruskin, Psy.D, author of The 9 Key Techniques for Raising Respectful Children Who Make Responsible Choices -- how we raise our daughters to truly know they're beautiful -- so they can focus on the other things.

And here's the good news: You don't need to stifle your thoughts about how adorable she looks in that poufy tutu or her gorgeous eyes. It's true! (But those things are only part of her loveliness.)

1. Tell her she is beautiful. Do not ignore your daughter's appearance, just talk about in a way that compliments her mind. Instead of saying, "Your hair is pretty" or "Your shirt is pretty," comment on her choice to create something beautiful rather than just being beautiful, suggests Dr. Ruskin. Let her know you love how she put together her outfit or how she chose to style her hair. Depending on her age, you can also impart the knowledge that no matter how stylish or hip you look, the way you carry yourself and the person you are makes the biggest statement and overrides outward appearance.

2. Cater to her. "Hype up things you sense she already feels good about," says Dr. Ludwig. "It shows you have taken the time to figure out what kind of person she is." When you compliment these aspects of her personality it reinforces the confidence is she already building for herself. It might be how excited she was to get a solo in the school play or how good a friend she was to give Zoe a hug when she was crying.

3. Praise her. As a parent there are endless things you love about your child. Tell her! It's so easy to tell her she looks pretty or she did a good job. Now dig deeper and get specific. "I'm so proud that you finished that book all by yourself but asked for help when you needed it!"; " You spoke so nicely with Grandma and Grandpa on the phone and it made them -- and me -- feel so happy. I hope it makes you feel happy, too!" "Recognize then verbalize what is good about her beyond looks she will incorporate it into her self-esteem," says Dr. Ludwig.

4. Exaggerate your differences. Girls sometimes feel pressure to be just like their moms. And moms might not even realize that they are pushing their desires on their daughters. So point out to her how she is different than you in positive ways. If you are known for keeping a messy desk, comment on how neat and organized she is with her belongings. Does she always remember people's birthdays while you are the Queen of Belated Emails? Tell her you wish you had the ability to remember dates and to be so thoughtful. When she hears how you wish you had her good qualities, she will strive to expand upon them.

5. Accept compliments. Both Drs. Ludwig and Ruskin agree: You can't stop someone from giving a compliment but you can use the moment to teach your daughter about herself. As much as you want to jump in and add: "She's not only pretty but she won the spelling bee!" you don't want to sound like you're bragging. "Your daughter needs a healthy balance of compliments so let her enjoy them," says Dr. Ruskin. Afterwards, share a special moment with your daughter where you remind her that she is not just pretty, but you know she is smart, too. And if you must, it's ok to occasionally let the other person know: "Thank you! She's also an excellent soccer player."

This goes for yourself too, Momma. When someone showers you with a compliment in front of your kids, accept it gracefully. And if the good words are about your looks? Thank the person and move on. But be sure to talk with your daughter later about how you feel beautiful in ways other than your face or clothes.

6. Start young. And we mean really young, as in in-utero. Pregnant women develop relationships with their growing babies and if they know the child's gender, they talk to them and think about them differently. You might dream about all the pretty clothes you will buy for your daughter and about how beautiful she will be. Dr. Ruskin suggests you shake up these expectations. You don't need to picture your daughter as a rock climbing instructor or a lead scientist finding the cure for cancer, but daydream about all the possibilities she will have in life and all the wonderful personality traits she will have -- aside from looking cute in baby jeggings.

7. Change your vocab. Retrain your brain to use the word "smart" from the very beginning. Sure the dress you just put on her is adorable, but did she lift up her arms when it came time to slip the frock over her head? Tell her: "You're so smart!" Whether it's figuring out where to put a puzzle piece or identifying her nose, telling her she is smart will start to sink in. Your daughter will become aware of the compliment, learn it about herself and eventually mimic your words, says Dr. Ruskin. And then one day she will know it's the truth.

8. Monitor your self-criticism. It might not seem like your kids are listening when beds never get made, toys aren't shared and homework is left hanging, but our words really do make it past their iPod ear buds. If you say, "Mommy is putting on makeup to look pretty," your daughter will come to understand that you are concerned about your looks. Use your words and actions to teach her that makeup and clothes are fun ways to play with your appearance but you don't need them to be beautiful you simply want to use them in a creative way.

And stop asking "Do I look good (fat, pretty, ok, thin)?" when kids are in earshot. You might question your appearance but you don't have to share it. Plus, curbing these negative thoughts might stop them in your mind all together. Everyone wins!

9. Get everyone on board. Now that you have a game plan, it's important to share your approach with your nanny, regular babysitters or caretakers. If you have a regularly scheduled meeting with your nanny (like a weekly sit-down) share these words of wisdom or print this article. It's important for your daughter to see and hear all her role models (especially those college-age sitters!) acting and feeling the same way.



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Comments (33)
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Posted: August 06, 2013 at 4:17 PM
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Ellen H.
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Posted: August 02, 2013 at 10:38 PM
Naomi C.
I thoroughly enjoyed this informative article. As I read on, I was so happy to read the very things that I instill in my charges on a daily basis. I take every opportunity to give them constructive compliments. For example, my 4-year-old and 2-year-old charges are often quarreling about toys, turns, etc. I jump to the opportunity to encourage them to learn to share, apologize to on another when feeling have been hurt, and to compliment them for all the efforts they make. I will take to heart not to emphasize that my 2-year-old charge is the cutest girl in the world...LOL. She is also very smart, confident, and considerate. Thank you for this article.
Posted: June 30, 2013 at 11:47 AM
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Aline M.
Awesome article! As a Nanny for 2 girls (ages 10 and 6), this definitely hits home. The 10 year old is starting junior high this upcoming school year, and in 5th grade now, she is already dealing with some self esteem issues. She has a father who is in out and of her life, so that is mainly where the self esteem issues are coming from. I remind her everyday how beautiful she is, how smart she is, how awesome she did on her homework, or just other compliments. Her face lights up and it's a great feeling not only for her, but for me as well knowing that I made her happy with just telling her those things.
Posted: May 03, 2013 at 5:24 PM
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Barbara G.
A positive attitude in all aspects works well for all involved in the family roll!
Posted: April 18, 2013 at 10:05 PM
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Michaela S.
this is great! i agree! :)
Posted: March 08, 2013 at 7:04 PM
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Lorenza V.
Very good, child needs to know that they can create and make things better.
Posted: March 06, 2013 at 3:33 PM
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Danielle F.
All I have to say is, Awesome!!!Now I feel more confident too:) raising a daughter in this world is a challenge but it always starts at home..It's our job to be the best we can for all our daughters and sons..
Posted: September 25, 2012 at 1:53 PM
This should have been titled a mothers 9 steps to building her daughters self esteem. Is it assumed Dad wouldn't care? Or brother? Isn't this everyones responsabilty? I don't disagree with the information.. But could and be more diverse.
Posted: August 09, 2012 at 4:35 PM
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Amy F.
Great information. I have two 11 year old daughters that constantly compare each other, I can really apply theses messages to help them embrace their individuality. double the pleasure, double the fun :)
Posted: August 09, 2012 at 10:55 AM
Sonia S.
Sandy, I am definately going to use that line on my daughter!
Thanks for the great article. I printed for my daycare provider and husband:)
Posted: May 08, 2012 at 12:39 PM
Tessa C.
I agree !...
Posted: May 08, 2012 at 11:47 AM
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Joseph H.
Since the loss of my wife last year I now am now Mr. mom for my 6yr. daughter & am finding your articles very useful & informative. Whit. H Cloudcroft NM
Posted: May 07, 2012 at 12:34 PM
Donna C.
Self empowerment is key!
Posted: April 29, 2012 at 5:21 PM
Tonja O.
This is a very SMART article. :) Thanks so much for the insight!
Posted: April 13, 2012 at 10:12 AM
Think I can be that lovable person. I'll soon be there!
Enjoy your Mom's 24 hours/day job (lol).
Manm Jo
Posted: April 09, 2012 at 10:26 AM
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Stephanie H.
SO true. :)
Posted: April 01, 2012 at 9:42 PM
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Nicholle M.
Great article
Posted: March 31, 2012 at 1:16 AM
Posted: March 30, 2012 at 11:17 PM
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Monica G.
I love this message, and it will help me with my daughter.
Posted: March 27, 2012 at 9:32 PM
Raquel W.
Makes perfect sense!
Posted: March 27, 2012 at 1:44 PM
Debra D.
Hello all...this is a wonderful article! My daughter is going to be 3, soon...and she is beautiful, smart and affectionate. She even shares sometimes...lmbo...really, we must encourage our girls and our boys. The world is a cruel place, so...they definitely need to get the Best from the place they call "home" comment if you'd like. Have a blessed day.
Posted: March 27, 2012 at 11:11 AM
Photo of April N.
April N.
Thank goodness for Dr. Robi! I get soooo sick of hearing the word 'beautiful' in a generalized way I mean. Is it just me or does it that every woman feels she HAS to say Angelina Jolie is SO beautiful. Really? What is beauty? Is she attractive? Sure? Is she more attractive than every other human being on earth? Probably not. There are many forms of beauty and I absolutely think that it's okay for MOM to think you're beautiful, but, how bout a little balance ladies. Start defining what beauty is with your daughters. Beauty isn't just about outer appearance. Attitude, manners and self-esteem should rank way up there when talking to and complimenting young girls. Thanks for the article!
Posted: March 26, 2012 at 7:43 PM
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Nina M.
I really enjoyed this article.!
Posted: March 21, 2012 at 5:57 PM
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Nancy R.
Posted: March 20, 2012 at 12:39 PM
Anjelica P.
I love this article. I believe telling you child they are beautiful does indeed help build their self esteem up at a young age.
Posted: March 15, 2012 at 3:19 PM
Monique G.
great article!
Posted: March 15, 2012 at 9:14 AM
Photo of Chantelle Mari H.
Chantelle Mari H.
Posted: March 13, 2012 at 2:00 AM
great post, i have three girls,will be taken everything you say on board, thank you
Posted: December 17, 2011 at 12:37 AM
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Michele A.
This was great! I really enjoyed reading it and reflected on how i was brought up.I thank god for my mother, may she rest in peace...
Posted: November 12, 2011 at 11:23 AM
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Luisa G.
I do believe that children need a reinforcement everyday of how good they are!and how very proud we are of them!
Posted: November 02, 2011 at 12:23 PM
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Rebecca F.
Posted: November 01, 2011 at 1:43 PM
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Elissa F.
GREAT article... fABulous!
Posted: October 20, 2011 at 8:09 PM
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