Build Confidence: How Words of Encouragement Will Build Your Daughter’s Self-Esteem

Self-esteem issues plague tween girls plenty—without having to hear negative talk from Mom and Dad, too. Here are three phrases you should never say to your tween daughter.

Self-esteem issues particularly plague tween girls (girls ages 8 to 12) because of their changing bodies, newfound emotions and complicated friendships. Many tween girls struggle with confusing feelings, wanting desperately to fit in even as they fight to establish themselves as individuals. During this trying time, the words parents choose in guiding their daughter are more important than ever. There are many things that can have a negative influence on a tween girls’ self-esteem—and some of them are comments that may seem perfectly innocent at first. Here are three things you should never say to your daughter.

1) You don’t know what real love is.
While it’s true, your ten year old daughter may not fully understand the complexities of relationships between man and woman, she’s been learning what love feels like since the day she was born – from you. Hopefully she’s learned that love feels like protection, kindness, encouragement and warmth. And she may have also learned that sometimes love hurts, isn’t always perfect, and doesn’t always meet every expectation. If she is struggling with any of these emotions, build confidence and encourage openness by acknowledging her feelings instead of putting them down.

2) “Why can’t you be more like your sister (or brother)?”
One thing a parent notices the day they bring their second child home from the hospital is that the second is always different from the first! From temperament to looks, two kids are each unique. As your kids grow, their differences may become even more obvious, but in order to encourage positive self-esteem in each of your children, it’s best to avoid comparing them to each other. If one is excellent academically and the other excels at sports, promote each of them individually in the things he or she does best. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t encourage your sports star to do her best in school, but do so by complimenting her own abilities, rather than comparing her to her whiz-kid sibling. Not only will this help build confidence in your daughter, it’ll reduce competition between her and her sib—which means you’ll be listening to fewer fights. A win-win situation!

3) “You’ll grow out of it.”
When your daughter is unhappy about a certain part of her body or a personality trait she possesses, the easiest thing to do is to assure her that it’s only temporary. But the truth is, that might not be the case. Some hereditary attributes are here to stay, so it’s important to encourage your daughter to be happy with herself now, just the way she is. Telling her she’ll grow out of it will only prolong her feelings of discontent as she waits for the magical “change” to happen.

In addition to avoiding these three phrases, keep in mind these tips for speaking to your tween daughter. First, recognize that what you say may not be what she hears. For example, if you say, “Get over it,” she might hear “You’re such a drama queen.” Your comment, “I told you she was like that,”—which sounds perfectly innocent to you—might sound like “You deserved to be hurt by her because you didn’t listen to me” to your daughter. Girls between 8 and 12 are undergoing huge emotional and hormonal changes, some of which may make them extra sensitive. So remind yourself to think before you speak—it’s more important than ever.

Kids want to be appreciated and valued, and tweens are no different. With your words, you have the power to encourage them and to build confidence at a time when lots of external sources such as friends, school and media are tearing them down.

Praise about specific actions is a good way to encourage a repeat performance of those actions. Giving her words of encouragement instead of discounting her feelings will help ensure that your the first one she brings her problems to next time. According to a Discovery Girls magazine survey, 77% of tween girls say they feel comfortable telling their moms anything. Showing genuine encouragement when she reveals what she’s going through to you will pay off down the road.

Children generally hear far more negative words than positive ones. As parents, it’s all too easy to get in the habit of picking at our kids in a critical way as we try to direct them toward doing what is right. However, if you stops to think about how your tween daughter might interpret your words, you can choose phrases that build up rather than tear down her self-esteem. By choosing words that tell your daughter you respect her thoughts, feelings and choices, you will encourage her to come back to you time and again. Plus, you’ll build confidence that will last a lifetime amidst adversity in a critical world.