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The most powerful ways to help girls build confidence




February 19, 2024

We want to raise girls who feel confident in their skin, comfortable using their voice, and know their inherent self-worth. But how do we help our girls build lasting self-esteem when they're living in a world full of injustices and unrealistic standards? 

The team at Bend is here to help you advocate for and guide the girl in your life so that she can build unshakable confidence that will last a lifetime. Read on for evidence-based tools that you can use to help her love and accept herself, exactly as she is. 

Building a healthy body image

As women, many of us have been conditioned that we should spend our whole lives chasing impossible beauty standards. Be smaller, taller, smoother, thinner…. You get the idea. 

And if you’ve ever struggled with accepting your appearance, you know how difficult it can be to build a positive body image — especially when we’re being bombarded with heavily filtered social media content and digitally enhanced advertisements. 

These painful experiences can make it so difficult to watch your child make negative comments about their body. Research shows up to 50 percent of teens are self-conscious about their bodies. For young women, body image is considered one of their top concerns, with one study reporting that at age thirteen, 53% of American girls are “unhappy with their bodies.” 

Here are ways you can help your child build a healthy body image so that she can grow to appreciate, honor, accept, and respect herself.

  • Start a healthy narrative surrounding body image. You can begin to proactively teach your child that people naturally come in many shapes and sizes and that there are no “bad” bodies — all bodies are good bodies. Discuss why many things we see in the media are unrealistic, and remind them of all of their talents and positive attributes that have nothing to do with their bodies. One great tool is to help your child or teen create a body positivity journal.

  • Get curious. The next time your child makes a comment about their body, open up the dialogue and ask them more about what they’re feeling or thinking. As much as you may be tempted to jump in and correct them or tell them that they are perfect as they are, try to take the time to simply listen and hold space for what they’re going through. Validate and normalize their feelings along the way.

  • Teach media literacy. Watch TV, flip through magazines, or scroll through social media with your child and talk about what you see. Discuss what types of bodies are shown, what types aren’t shown, and how images have been airbrushed or manipulated to sell things like clothing or makeup. Help her to develop a critical eye so that she can learn that the images she sees in the media aren’t representative of real life.

  • Model self-love. Kids learn so much from watching the adults around them, so let your child or teen hear you practicing self-love. Instead of putting down the way your body looks or talking about wanting to change your appearance, give yourself a compliment like, “This outfit makes me feel super confident!” It may feel strange at first, but it’s one of the single most powerful actions you can take to improve your child’s self-esteem and body image.

  • Teach empathy. It’s important to make it a household rule that treating other people with respect is non-negotiable. This includes avoiding talking about other people’s bodies without their permission. You may need to set firm boundaries with people close to you, like relatives who comment on weight, by gently explaining that this type of commentary can have a negative effect on kids.

  • Focus on strengths outside of physical appearance. Give consistent, positive praise for all of the wonderful things that your child is outside of how she looks. Compliment her for being a good friend, for working hard at school, or for using her creativity. This sends the message that she is so much more than her appearance.

  • Encourage sports and movement. Research shows that girls who move their bodies for health and enjoyment foster a more positive body image. Team sports also encourage girls to build healthy, supportive relationships and give them a sense of belonging. Always encourage movement as a part of overall wellness, and not for weight loss or improved physical appearance.

  • Promote healthy eating. When making meal choices, talk to your child about how the nutrients in foods can help them to be strong and healthy. Instead of focusing on calories, discuss the ways different foods can affect the way we feel and avoid labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” Encourage your child to make intuitive choices about how much and what they eat, while providing nutritious options and not shaming them for wanting to have occasional treats like chips or a cookie.

  • Normalize puberty. Talk about puberty early and often. We know it can be awkward, but try your best to explain and normalize puberty for your child and give her the message that puberty is nothing to be ashamed of. Keep things matter-of-fact to show there is no shame in this game, and check in to see if they have questions along the way.

Encourage your child to find her voice 

Helping a girl tap into her passion and power can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Here are tips for helping her thrive:

  • Teach her about boundaries. Talking openly about boundaries, consent, and body autonomy can help your child to better respect themselves and their needs, as well as the needs and limits of others. This simply starts with learning that when someone says “no” to something, it should be heard and stopped. Empower your child to articulate their needs and limits and open up about a time when someone crossed one of your boundaries and how you navigated it.

  • Talk about healthy vs. unhealthy relationships. Let your child know that a healthy relationship is when both people feel emotionally and physically safe, accepted as they are, and respected. Signs of a healthy relationship include honesty, trust, open communication, equality, safety, and ongoing support. Explain that there are red-flag behaviors that she should never tolerate in relationships, including any form of physical or emotional abuse, harassment, ignoring of boundaries, or disrespect.

  • Introduce female role models. Read books or watch movies about female role models who have overcome obstacles or adversity. Expose her to leaders within your own community that she can look up to.

  • Encourage her to speak up. Find ways to help the girl in your life stand up for causes she cares about. Seek out leadership training or opportunities that help her tap into her passion and sense of power.

  • Learn to label and regulate emotions. We all lose our cool sometimes, so it's understandable that your child might slam doors or scream out in anger when they’re experiencing a difficult situation. Remember that something like not getting invited to a birthday party might not seem like a big deal to you, but to a kid or teen, it can be all-consuming. Instead of dismissing how your child is feeling, try to help them articulate what they are going through.

  • Build resilience. Instead of swooping in and fixing problems for her, find opportunities to help her build resilience or “bounce back” when difficult things happen. Letting her sit in moments of discomfort while offering support can show your child that she has what it takes to navigate even life’s trickiest moments. 

Spotting signs of girls who are struggling

We know that our girls are struggling right now. In fact, a recent survey by CDC found that 57% of high school girls reported experiencing “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in the past year,” up from 36% in 2011. Nearly 1 in 3 high school girls said they had considered suicide, a 60% rise in the past decade.

We don’t say that to scare you. Instead we want to empower you to consistently check in with the girl in your life and watch for someone who may be struggling but feels too ashamed, scared, or embarrassed to reach out for help. Here are signs you can look for to spot girls who are struggling:

  • Changes in eating habits or sleep patterns
  • Changes in mood, feeling less energetic, or acting anxious 
  • Less interested in doing the things they usually enjoy 
  • Prolonged anger or frustration; acting moodier or more easily upset than usual
  • Isolation or a withdrawal from friends and family
  • A change in academic performance
  • Increased references to violence, death, or self-harm behaviors
  • Physical complaints (such as stomach aches) 

Every child is different, so know that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all list of warning signs. That’s why it’s important to keep an open line of communication with your child and take notice if they experience any changes in mood or behavior.

You should be proud of yourself for helping to empower the girl in your life. We know that it’s not always easy, so remember that the team at Bend is here to support you along the way.