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As the aunt of a young niece, I'm obsessed with the topic of girls and self-confidence. If there's anything I can do to help her avoid what I went through—fear of looking bad while learning something new, self-doubt, and reluctance to try new things—I'm determined to do it. But is it possible to build someone else's self-confidence?
Get the Facts
To answer this question, I went to the parents of the most confident kids I know. I asked if they had a secret formula. All the parents agreed that while parents (or aunts) can't give their children self-confidence, they can create opportunities that can. Kids need:
Chances to Succeed
"Kids need opportunities to experience success," says Harriet S. Mosatche, Ph.D., senior director, Research and Program at Girl Scouts of the USA. Mosatche is a developmental psychologist, author of Girls: What's So Bad About Being Good?: How to Have Fun, Survive the Preteen Years, and Remain True to Yourself, and the mom of Elizabeth—a very confident high school senior and contributor to that book.
"As a parent, you can set up opportunities every day, where your kids can feel successful," Mosatche adds. "But remember, it has to be a real success—something that's a challenge for them. Once that challenge has been met a few times, it's time for a new one."
"Children can develop their sense of competence in a variety of areas—sports, the arts, school, social situations," Mosatche says. Patty Furino, a parent, agrees. She and her husband, Marco, helped provide the settings for their daughter Kim to feel successful.
In addition to diving competitively since middle school, Kim, now a college student, raised and trained dogs for Canine Companions for Independent Living while she was in high school. Her work with Canine Companions included public speaking for the organization, a true confidence-builder. "Raising and training two dogs—and speaking about it to others—taught Kim that she was good with both people and animals," Furino says. As a result of her experiences, Kim was able to choose a college major confidently: She is now studying marine mammal science at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
Experiences that Build on Success
Parent Louise Heck sees that early success has been important for building confidence in her two sons. "We started with simple things like having the boys decide what to wear," she said. At first it was a choice between two or three things she or her husband had picked out for the boys. "You want it to be a real choice," she explained, "not one that you're going to overrule because of the weather." Now at 5 and 8 years old, Louise's boys pick out their own clothes and help choose after-school activities. "Having control over what he wears has helped Michael make the adjustment to 'real school' from day care," Louise added. "He may not be sure he wants to go, but at least he's sure of what he'll be wearing when he gets there."
The Girl Scout Program Offers Built-In Activities
The Girl Scout program boasts numerous awards that girls can earn at each grade-level. A girl can try all kinds of activities—from those centered on family and friendship to science and sports.
Girl Scouting also gives girls a safe place to fail—and to recover from that failure. "If a girl feels she is not good at something, that's okay," says Mosatche. "It's okay not to be the best at everything."
Girl Scouts gives girls in grades K-12 the courage and confidence to succeed at many things, so they can make the world a better place. To find a Girl Scout council near you, search our Council Finder.