It’s hard enough being an adult in today’s world, filled with weight-loss and diet commercials, airbrushed images, a relentless emphasis on appearance and an obsession with dieting and shame around eating.
Being a girl? Probably even more confusing and potentially damaging and demoralizing.
As I wrote in an older post on Weightless, tween and teen girls are just starting to form to their identities and figure out the world. They’re trying to make friends, yearning to belong and fit in, maybe even being bullied, dealing with a changing body, dealing with academic and other social pressures and trying to make sense of an often contradictory and damaging culture.
So what can parents and caregivers do to help girls grow up with a healthy sense of self?
Today, I’m pleased to present my interview with clinical social worker Barb Steinberg, who works with girls and parents to build a healthy self-image and body image.
Below, Steinberg reveals how parents can raise confident girls, help them quiet their inner critic and create a positive environment where they can thrive. As adults, we also can learn quite a bit from Steinberg’s wise words.
Q: How can parents help their daughters build up their confidence?
A: There are three basic elements to confidence: our sense of achievement, belonging and self-esteem.
Achievement: Parents can provide their daughters with opportunities to experience achievement using their minds, bodies and hearts – whether it is achievement in sports/ the arts, achievement in grades or achievement in being a kind, considerate human being. Encourage the notion that what feels like achievement for one person may not for another – it is individual. Feeling the pride of achieving something increases self-confidence.
Belonging: When parents create an atmosphere of belonging it adds to their daughter’s feeling of well-being, safety and sense of self. Getting a sense from your parents that what you have to say is valuable, that you are capable of problem solving within the family, that you are an important member of the family adds to girls’ confidence levels.
Self-Esteem: Self-esteem is our self-perceptions – our thoughts and beliefs about ourselves. Parents can help their daughters increase self-esteem, and thus increase their confidence, by giving them many different opportunities to try new things, see what they like and don’t like, see what they are good at or not good at – let them fail and get back up to develop resilience. It’s in this failure and recovery that girls learn how strong and capable they are. This gives them the tools in life to believe in their own abilities.
Q: In your workshops you talk with parents about creating a “positive body culture” in your home and quieting your “inner critic.” What are some ways parents can do that?
A: Here are some tips I like to give parents and girls to use to create a more positive body image and treat themselves in a kinder way:
- When talking about your own body – be kind, do not speak negatively about it and at the same time be honest. If you feel like you would like to be in better shape, say so and then act on it. Be a role model. Show your daughter that when you want to make a change to feel better/feel happier, you take steps to create it.
- Remove the scale from the home. There is no need to let a number dictate how you feel about yourself or determine what kind of day you will have. Your clothes can be your guide.
- Declare your home a “fat free talk zone” – no negative comments about your body, no using the word “fat.”
- Create a list of positive qualities about yourself that have nothing to do with your outer appearance. Put it in a place that you will see daily. Add to it often.
- Begin a daily gratitude journal – list five things you are grateful for that day (i.e., the yummy hamburger I ate, the rainbow I saw, my time with my friend, Samantha, etc.). This will train your brain to look for the good.
- Tell your daughters on a regular basis what you admire, like or respect about them. Say out loud what you like about yourself – role model being kind to yourself in this way.
- Encourage and demonstrate doing things to show your body that you appreciate it – bubble bath, take a nap, go for a walk, wearing comfortable clothes, etc.
- Teach media literacy – expose them to websites that show the truth about airbrushing or all that goes into magazine covers (i.e., The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty), write letters (with your daughters) to companies that you think are adding to the negative body image of our girls, teach your girls to talk back to the images they see in the media.
- When your daughter says she feels fat, ask her what is making her feel that way. Try to get to the underlying thoughts/emotions. It may have nothing to do with her body but have to do with a distressing event that happened recently.
- Encourage and demonstrate moving your body by doing something you like – dancing, swimming, hoola-hooping, biking, ice skating, etc.
- Remind your daughters regularly that every body is different. We all have different genetics. Even if we ate the same thing, did the same amount of exercise for a whole year, we would not all look the same at the end of the year.
The most powerful message we can send to our girls is: You are not your body. You have a body but it is not who you are. You are so much more!
More about Barb Steinberg
Barb Steinberg is a licensed, masters level, clinical social worker. She has worked with adolescents and the adults in their lives for over 20 years through life coaching, workshops, parent education and products, such as her popular, educational DVD, The Wisdom of Girls: Teens, Sex & Truth. She has been featured as an expert on adolescent girl issues on KUT News, KVUE-TV, Fox7, The Savvy Source for Parents and LiveMom.
What do you think about Steinberg’s responses? Anything you’d like to add? What would you like to know about raising kids with a healthy self-image?