Ask the Expert: Your Questions Answered!
CafeMom welcomed Jess Weiner to the Strong Women. Strong Girls Group and she's answered your questions about building confidence and self-esteem in girls.
Jess serves as Dove's Global Ambassador for Self-Esteem. She has spent more than 17 years at the center of women’s and girls' social issues and authored two best-selling books, A Very Hungry Girl and Life Doesn’t Begin 5 Pounds From Now. She is currently working on her third book—helping mothers and daughters create ultimate and lasting confidence in their lives.
Madelaine asked: My oldest daughter is twelve, almost thirteen. This can be a hard age for girls.... what are some ways to keep up her self-confidence, especially with hormones, face breakouts and mean girls to deal with!
Jess answered: Being a tween-age and teenage girl can definitely come with its ups and downs physically, socially and emotionally. But it’s important to remember that during this tenuous times of face break-outs and friend break-ups, your daughter is looking to you to set the example of how to react to life’s pressures, deal with body changes, and handle touchy emotional subjects. Before jumping in with oodles of advice make sure you say these simple words “I’m sorry you are going through this” or “I can see you are really upset by this.” As parents and mentors we should avoid minimizing their experiences and troubles even if we are trying to cheer them on. Saying “don’t worry, it’ll get better” may feel like we are helping root her on – but it doesn’t deal with her immediate concerns. Make sure you are listening to her as much as you are talking to her. During this crazy transition period – a great way to keep her confidence up is to show her how valuable her experiences are!
KaylaMillar asked: My daughter just turned 2. What are some good way to build confidence at a young age?
Jess answered: One of the best things I’ve ever seen a parent do to help their toddler build confidence was to begin having early and often conversations with them about beauty. Even though they won’t catch every word or nuance, now is the time to teach them to be critical thinkers of beauty. For instance – when out on a walk – instead of talking about a woman’s dress or a purse as being “pretty” per se – try talking about beauty as it relates to nature whether it be a butterfly, a spider web oran ornate park bench. There is beauty all around us and when our children can begin to appreciate beauty on the outside they can feel it and see it on the inside too. Explain, too, why you think something is beautiful – it will help create a clear definition for them that beauty is not just about looks – but experiences, emotions, and magical time spent together.
countrygirlkat asked: As all of us get older we tend to have to work a lot harder to keep the pounds off of our bodies. How do we do this without setting a bad example for our daughters where they think that body image is all that matters?
Jess answered: Great question: It’s important that we start a conversation early with our daughters that encourages her to see that health and being healthy looks and feels different on all kinds of bodies. When you are kid – health can be eating your veggies, getting good playtime, and enough rest.. So teach her first to be connected to her body – listening to her needs and learning to honor her own hunger and health practices. Be sure to not obsessive over your looks and talk about dieting in front of her. Just live your life with purpose and healthy behavior. Don’t focus on the pounds but on what your body can do and feel like when it’s at its optimum best.
dusky_rose asked: My youngest dd is 17, and has always been on the heavy side. She has been exercising more by going for walks. For her birthday I bought her a Wii Balance board and a Wii Fit game for her to use also. What are some other ways to encourage her in her goal without seeming like I am pushing her to do more? She doesn't live with me (she lives with her dad), but I always try to listen and support her ideas.
Jess answered: Listening to and supporting her ideas is the one of the best things you can do for her. Have you ever asked her how she feels about her overall health? Not just her body – but also her health? If we can begin to talk to girls about health instead of body size that would be a great step in the right direction. Ask her if she gets enough sleep, feels she eats a balanced diet, handles the ups and downs of teenage-hood well – or if SHE is feeling deficient in any of those areas. You may be surprised at what she shares about her own relationship to her body. Parents always want the best for their children and want to encourage healthy activity, but before you push her towards this, ask her to tell you about her own relationship to her body because it will help you know how best to support her. The goal shouldn’t be only weight loss but longevity of health that will assist her in her adult years, too.
Bob192 asked: My daughter seems to have too much confidence (not sure if it's hiding insecurities) and tends to be too bossy. I'm looking for some ways for her learn to be more compassionate for others, but still have her self-confidence.
Jess answered: You’ve hit on an important distinction. There is a difference between being entitled and arrogant and being confident and full of healthy self-esteem. Having a solid sense of self will also include having compassion for others and sensitivity and empathy. If she is just being “bossy” with you then it may be a relationship issue for you both to work on – talking deeper about respect. But if you find she is using her “confidence” as a way to mistreat people or boss them into doing things they don't want to do – then it may be a great time to talk to her about true leadership and confidence. Perhaps she doesn’t know the difference between the two and is just looking for her identity. Sometimes we all need to be reminded that it doesn’t take the loudest person in the room to be a leader nor does the person with the most confidence always have to flaunt it.
slw123 asked: I worry about the middle school years so much. My daughter is 9 and I already see how mean the girls are starting to be. I just don't want her to become mean or become a victim of the mean girls. Short of homeschooling her, how can I keep her sweet and nice?
Jess answered: Here’s the bad news: You can’t keep her sweet and nice. She is going to grow up and develop a personality and identity that will be based off many factors: life experiences, family experiences, and emotional experiences. But, here’s the good news: There is a lot you can do to help fortify her life skills against mean girls and middle school drama. You can do your absolute best to give her a wide variety of role models to look up to and engage with, a space to talk honestly about ANYTHING that is going on in her world (without judgment) and most of all – model the behavior you are hoping she will take on. Be kind – watch your own level of gossip (even amongst friends), be forthright and bold in conversations, try not to be afraid to speak up and speak out. When she sees you exhibiting those traits she will try them on herself. We can’t protect our girls from having tough experiences. But we can be there for them as they go through it.
kirbymom asked: What would you consider to be good dating advice for a teen who is about to graduate?
Jess answered: Dating do’s and don’ts are so subjective and best to be set within a family dynamic based on your own principles, history, and values. A good rule of advice for any relationship or friendship is to ask yourself: “Am I a better version of me when I’m with this person?” – because if you are feeling afraid, intimidated, out of control, or uncomfortable it’s definitely a sign that you aren’t being respected or you are in something emotionally over your head. Let her check within herself for that. Encourage her to talk about it with you or someone she trusts. This is the best way she can get a gut check on how a relationship impacts her self-esteem. Dating is no different – if she can go slowly into any dating relationship – focusing on friendship first, mutual respect, and a feeling of safety – then encourage her to explore her relationships with those values in mind. We need to encourage our girls to look forward to healthy relationships and to not always be afraid of all the negative things that could go wrong.
Bmat asked: I wonder about the idea that girls aren't interested in cars or vehicle repairs. These would be good skills for girls.
Jess answered: I agree. They would be great skills for any girl to know. I personally felt inspired when I learned how to change a flat. What it taught me and teaches all girls is self-reliance and a set of life skills that equip her with the confidence to handle things life may throw her way. The more we can challenge traditional gender stereotypes like “girls hate math” or “girls don’t know anything about cars” the more we can begin raising and encouraging well rounded girls who know and care about a variety of issues and whom will be on the road to reaching their full potential.
TheJerseyGirl asked: My 15 year old is blessed with a beautiful figure, face, mind and personality...I feel her self esteem should be at the top but all it takes is one ugly word from another girl or guy she may have her eye on and it's all over. How do we build our daughter's up when something like that happens?
Jess answered: It’s important to remember that during this time, she is looking for more validation from her friends than her family. That’s why one word from a peer can seem to undo a lifetime of sweet advice from a parent. It’s important that instead of focusing on the negative interaction she’s had – try talking to her about all the things she knows to be true about herself. Sometimes even keeping a running list of all her great achievements or moments can be a wonderful thing to look back on and celebrate. She needs to know and discover who she is outside of someone she likes or a compliment she may receive. So try when you can to remind her that someone’s opinion is just that. And that her opinion of herself is what matters the most in the end.
MissyB1011 asked: My daughter just turned 9. She is a still a little overweight despite having a growth spurt. How do I keep her positive about her body image and not be so self-conscious?
Jess answered: It’s really common for girls to gain and lose weight during various times of their growth spurts. If you think about it – during puberty – our organs can double and triple in size. We are literally growing bigger in all areas or else we can’t become an adult. So remind her that she isn’t alone and that her body is doing what it can to grow up into a healthy young woman. Sometimes when we have so many physical changes going on it’s hard not to obsess about them. So perhaps try creating a new ritual with her every time she has a growth spurt – so that she begins to associate her growth as something positive. Now is a great time to build out other areas of her life she can feel confident in – cooking, soccer, horseback riding, anything that keeps her focused on all the great things her growing body can do for her!