Credit: Trey Ratcliff on Flickr, under Creative Commons
(WOMENSENEWS)--Andrea Bastiani Archibald, Ph.D., is chief girl expert for Girl Scouts of USA.
She says bullying intensifies during the middle school years, and research shows girls are especially concerned about being liked by their peers. "Girls will frequently downplay their skills, interests and assertiveness for fear that they will seem 'overly confident,' 'too smart' or 'bossy' to others -- they're worried they will be teased and/or excluded," she said.
Here are some recommendations for helping boost a girl's self-esteem:
Listen to her and encourage her to speak her mind.
Help girls gain skills in conflict resolution. Let them know that conflict is inevitable in relationships, but it's how we deal with it that matters. See the "I-Statements" activity in the Girl Scouts of USA Ban Bossy "Tips for Troop Leaders."
Dare her to try new things and let her fail -- just raising our expectations of what girls can do inspires confidence. Protecting them all the time (even when well-intentioned) can often make girls feel incapable or incompetent.
Don't limit girls' choices -- buy them games and toys traditionally marketed to boys, encourage them to explore subject areas (STEM) and sports (baseball, football) that are more frequently targeted to boys.
Get her involved in regular physical activity and sports, since such activities can open a girl up to new groups of friends, can enhance her body image when she sees her body as strong and capable (not just pretty) and can reduce stress.
Watch television with her and talk about how girls are portrayed, what is realistic and how the images can make girls and women (and boys and men) think and feel.
Watch how you talk about yourself, your daughter and others. Don't talk negatively about your own body and don't praise your daughter solely for her appearance. Praise should be focused on taking on a new challenge, persisting and real accomplishments. Consider how you speak about others. Are you judgmental about others' appearances? Do you talk behind others' backs instead of confronting them respectfully when something is bothering you? Girls are watching the messages adults in their lives are sending about how women and girls behave.
Diane Loupe is a freelance writer in Decatur, Ga. She teaches writing and oral communication at the Interactive College of Technology and has a master's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. She is a former Girl Scouts troop leader and is an adult Girl Scout volunteer.
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