Ask The Expert: How can I help my daughter gain confidence?

Author of The Confidence Code For Girls says it's all about getting used to taking risks and not fearing failure

Girls desperately need more risk in their daily diet
Lisa Salmon

MY 11-year-old daughter has no confidence: she won't ask questions in class and won't play sport or join groups because she's scared she'll say or do something wrong. How can I help build her confidence?

Katty Kay, co-author with Claire Shipman of The Confidence Code for Girls (Harper Collins, £10.99), says: "We see this happen to girls all the time. For tween and teen girls, confidence can be elusive – we commissioned a poll this spring of girls between the ages of eight to 18 and found their confidence dropped by 30 per cent at puberty.

"In part, the oestrogen flooding into their minds and bodies helps foster impressive emotional intelligence, but also puts the brakes on risk. And that's the single biggest threat to confidence.

"To create confidence – whether they want to stick a hand up in class or try out for a team – girls desperately need more risk in their daily diet. Risk, not perfection, not racking up achievements, builds confidence.

"Confidence hinges on action. It's the quality that literally turns our thoughts into action, taking them from random mental impulses to actual deeds.

"Of course, it's a risk to do, to try, to potentially fail. Failure is scary and contrasts 'good girl' expectations. And that's where we have to help our daughters make that leap, put aside the pressure to be perfect, and just risk it. That might be easier said than done.

"How can you encourage your daughter to test the waters of risk-taking? Take small steps – help her break down a big challenge that can seem overwhelming.

"Visualise her dream outcome. This helps athletes and performers achieve their goals, and if she's still scared, let her know it's OK to do it afraid. All these risks will lead to failure, but there are some strategies for the inevitable dismay.

Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, co-authors of The Confidence Code For Girls

"Change the channel. Get her to read a book or walk the dogs or watch TV for an hour or two to give the fear centre of her brain a break. Have a laugh together as you create an 'It could be much worse' list. Imagine the silliest things possible to defuse her anxiety.

"Strategise about diving back in – maybe not immediately, but at some point. It will help her see that she's learned from whatever happened."

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