A (Not So) Surprising Factor in Raising Confident Girls

Much has been written recently about women and their rise in corporate America. One theory suggests that one factor holding women back is their lack of confidence. How does that get fixed? Obviously, women were girls first. It starts there.

In my own petri dish of raising a girl, I see that my daughter is one overconfident kid - she seems to do well on many fronts and is very happy with herself and her results. In fact, try to tell her she is not the best at any activity, and she will recite a litany of all that she does well in that activity.

Secretly, I want her to fail occasionally. I know this is good for her growth and her humility; however, some experts suggest that girls’ self-esteem peaks at age nine – unbelievable. At age 11, my daughter still brims with confidence, but I see the cracks coming as middle school approaches. How fast will her confidence crack as the rites of middle school torture take hold? Will she start to downplay her intelligence so that other kids like her? Will she let a boy win just to impress him (right now, at age 11, no way)? Will she stop leaning in and standing up for what’s right just to be part of the crowd?

While these life challenges will confront her and shake her confidence from time to time, there are several simple things I must do to help ensure she remains confident into adulthood.

According to both a Forbes article and a parenting tips blogconnecting with nature is an essential part of raising confident girls. Getting outsideplaying in the dirtcamping and learning about bugs raises girls’ sense of autonomy and confidence. Who knew? Although I often read these kinds of articles for third party parental affirmation, I also dread them because I think, no, not one more thing I do not do but should to fit in. So, I often dismiss them. But luckily, these tips are relatively easy to do.

My daughter loves nothing more than finding “roly polies” and slugs (gross to me, but to her father and her – sheer delight in our garden. Gardening, not so much). Climbing a tree provides endless hours of fun, challenges and puzzles for her to solve. Lucky for us, we have kind neighbors who do not mind her climbing their tree. We camp and hike (or at least take a lot of walks) during our vacations; these are all activities that boost confidence. Free play in the backyard is also a great way to stay grounded to nature and raise self-esteem. We are not so good at that. Being an only, over-scheduled child, finding free play time is a constant struggle for me and for my daughter. I am working on it.

We do a fair amount outside, and I am no tree hugger. It takes time and effort to fit nature in to our lives regularly. This must sound fairly funny, but with school, homework and activities, it is. These articles point out that we have to fit it in if we want our girls to really break the glass ceiling, or just to be confident in themselves and their choices.

Making sure my daughter remains the confident child who believes she can be anything she wants to be is vitally important to me. If the statistics I read about women not leaning in are true, and lack of confidence plays a role in that, I want to be part of the change that helps girls believe in themselves.

Surprisingly to me, being in nature is one easy way to help girls build that confidence.

I believe it.

How will you use the outdoors to help build your daughters’ confidence?

Image: My daughter Kareena climbing a tree near our home.

By Sarita Bhargava, Director of Marketing Programs and Promotion for The Nature Conservancy.


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Teresa W.
Teresa W.about a year ago

As a child, I was often sick and had to stay at home, but I don't think my lack of self-confidence is due to that alone, there are other factors too.

Danielle S.
Danielle Schulzabout a year ago

Nice to have a concrete "doable" action instead of just more talk talk talk about "kids these days". My daughter has just started to be old enough to send out in the backyard by herself, and it's why we built a fence. Now if only I could keep her from eating the slightly under-ripe grape tomatoes...

I would add that sports are a big factor in girls confidence!

We need to teach our kids to not only resist the negative media messages, but the even more impactful messages from their peers that come at every age. So far my tactic is constant reminder, and giving my daughter scripts like "that is your opinion" and recommended actions, like find someone else to play with, or walk away for a while... All we can do is keep trying.

ScoTT S.
ScoTT S.about a year ago

One key is maintaining a sense of that childlike approach to all things being new - far too many feel that adults must be adults. In the senior community I live in, someone at the office said I had the most childlike mind of anyone here. We agreed it was not only the greatest compliment she could pay me, but also a rather somber and sober indictment of the rest of the community. Lose that sense of playfulness and you've pretty much lost who you really are.

Mauvette Joesephine
Catherine Fisherabout a year ago

Most girls I know are confident.

Mauvette Joesephine
Catherine Fisherabout a year ago

It's not that unusual for an 11 year old to have a boyfriend (this is roughly when the "liking boys" phase starts).

Mauvette Joesephine
Catherine Fisherabout a year ago

I know an 11 year old girl who made out with her boyfriend.

Fi T.
Fi T.about a year ago

Love and communication

Elena T.
Elena Poensgenabout a year ago

Thank you :)

Jane R.
Jane R.about a year ago

Very important subject. Developing citizenship, leadership and team participation skills is extremely important. Girls need to be offered numerous and varied decision making situations to become a leader.

Cheryl Mallon-Bond
Cheryl Mallon-Bondabout a year ago

I do not have human daughters...only furry ones..but I passed this article on to my sister-in-law who does. It is vitally important for our society to find the ways to keep a girls self esteem strong. It is a sad sad fact that is plummets after age 9; for this to be so in 2014, means we have seriously digressed as a society & our culture is more &,more mirroring negative messages to females from a younger &,younger age, & this has got to stop.