Self-Esteem in Girls: Helping Her Thrive

August 23, 2012 Emily Roberts MA, LPC

With most of our girls headed back to school in the next few weeks, it is important to understand the connection between low self-esteem and girls. Research shows that by the age of 9, a girl’s self-esteem actually begins to decline. There is a shift in focus; outside appearances begin to take precedence over her internal qualities, competition among each other becomes prevalent, and insecurities are created. The girls I work with describe this time as uncomfortable; they feel that they have to “worry about what others think.”

Girls with high self-esteem feel confident about their talents and abilities, regardless of how smart or successful others perceived them to be. They express their feelings and respect themselves, as well as others.

Just this week, I was on KXAN, Austin’s NBC affiliate station, talking about self-esteem in girls, and how we need to start the dialogue about confidence and security at an earlier age.

The workshops my colleague and I have created, start this conversation and provide self-esteem skills to girls starting as early as age 5. The goal is to create more confidence, so girls can withstand the stressors and thrive once in middle school.

How to Build Self-Esteem in Girls

Parents and teachers should be prepared to help girls at even younger ages build their sense of self. Once we hit mid elementary school, this is when the decline in a girl's self-esteem occurs. Why not give our girls tools and skills to combat this so that when faced with challenges in confidence and self-esteem, they feel educated and empowered. Most young women I speak with say they have never had this education. They can solve an algebra equation but cannot seem to talk themselves out of feeling “not good enough.”

Empower Her

From toddler to teenage years, here are some tips for parents of girls.

  • Let her fail. Try not to fix every problem. Girls who have to learn from their failures, say forgetting her homework, are more likely to creatively come up with solutions so that they don’t fail again. When your daughter comes home and is upset about this, it is an opportunity to talk about her feelings and ask her about how you can help her to remember next time. Solving her problems for her will not give her the insight or recall to do it differently next time.
  • Praise her appropriately. Parents can over-praise, which is actually unhealthy. Telling your daughter she is good at everything or over-complementing her outside appearance creates a set up for low-self esteem. Instead praise her for her efforts, rather than her achievements. Studies show that girls who are praised for their grades actually have lower self esteem than girls who are praised for their effort in achieving that grade. “I am so proud of your hard work on the book report, you really gave it your all.” Versus “I am proud of you for making an A.” Praising the process helps her to continue working when times get tough.
  • Watch Yourself. You are a role model and she is picking up on most of your behaviors. The girls we talk with tell us that they want to be like their mothers. They are your biggest fans. When they hear you discredit your body by saying something like “I feel so fat today, I need to diet.” or you talk badly about others, “Oh my, did you see what she was wearing,” your daughter is more likely to pick up on this and have it play back in her mind. Most of the girls I worked with, who struggled with body images issues in adolescence, said that they heard their mothers bashing their bodies at a young age. Be a good role model.

This is just the first part of the conversation on raising girl’s self-esteem. It is imperative to lay the groundwork for a healthy relationship with herself at an early age, as it helps to prevent future self-esteem challenges, mental health disorders, and interpersonal relationship problems. Next week, the second part of this important topic will be discussed.

Take Good Care,

Emily is the author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Being Who You Are.You can visit Emily’s Guidance Girl website. You can also find her on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

APA Reference
Roberts, E. (2012, August 23). Self-Esteem in Girls: Helping Her Thrive, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 28 from

Author: Emily Roberts MA, LPC

Emily is a psychotherapist, she is intensively trained in DBT, she the author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Being Who You Are. You can visit Emily’s Guidance Girl website. You can also find her on FacebookGoogle+ and Twitter.

September, 21 2017 at 11:59 pm

this is called women empowerment. women are now equal in every field . i respect women.

September, 8 2017 at 8:23 pm

Great insightful piece, Im a single mother of 2 elementary school I can use all the help I can get.

April, 3 2017 at 3:56 am

this is called women empowerment. women are now equal in every field . i respect women

February, 20 2016 at 7:22 pm

The "Watch Yourself" part reminds me of a personal experience from my teen years and as an adult with my teen daughter.
When I was in my early and mid teens back in the 1980's, I attended a sleep-away summer camp for girls.
The shower room at the camp had nothing but shower-heads lined up along a couple of large walls. There were no stalls or curtains, the showers were completely out in the open in the room.
Everyone at the camp would use that one shower room at the same time of the day and night since there was a camp rule that everyone had to take at least one shower per day, and there was a scheduled time of the day for showering. There was not any rule that you had to be nude while you showered. We could have showered in bathing suits if we had wanted to. But no one ever wore a bathing suit as they showered. All of the teens who were campers, the female counselors (there were only female counselors) the nurse and a couple of administrative workers all used the same shower room at the same time, and no one would have ever even considered showering in a bathing suit. Even immediately after swimming everyone would remove their bathing suits to shower. I know that I myself would have felt silly showering in a bathing suit.
About ten years after I last attended the summer camp, I was hired as a counselor at the same summer camp that I had attended when I was a teen. On the first day at the camp I noticed that maybe 70% of the teen campers were showering in bathing suits, the other 30% were showering in the nude. All of the adults were still showering in the nude. But there was that large group of teens that would never dare shower without a bathing suit on.
After a week or two, the nurse started receiving complaints from several of the girls that they were developing rashes around areas like the breasts and groin.
The nurse determined that the girls were not properly washing because of them showering in bathing suits.
We counselors decided that we would make it a rule that showers were to be taken in the nude, not in bathing suits.
When I had been a teen camper there, we would talk while we showered, and even dance around if someone had a radio going while we showered. There was no embarrassment what-so-ever about being seen nude by anyone else.
When we counselors made it a rule that showers were to be taken in the nude, the teens would always make sure that they were facing the wall during the whole shower. They would never talk or have any of the fun that we had while we showered when we were teens.
We adults came to realize that one of the reasons why nude showering was never embarrassing to us when we were teens is because we had grown up showering in gym class in middle school and high school. The teens that were now campers ten years later in the 1990's were no longer showering in gym class like we had. Locker room nudity was a completely new experience to those teens, and some of them were uncomfortable with it.
A few years later I gave birth to a daughter. I would take my daughter swimming at a YWCA a couple of nights a week starting at age 5. At the YWCA the showers were also all out in the open with no stalls. After every swim my daughter and I would shower in the nude like most of the other women and girls using the Y pool.
On one occasion when my daughter was around 13 or 14 years old we took two of her friends swimming with us one night. As we always did, my daughter and I showered in the nude after the swim. However, my daughters two friends showered in their bathing suits, and even changed in and out of their bathing suits in toilet stalls.
The next week we took the same two friends with us. On our second time swimming there with my daughters friends we noticed that whereas they still showered in their bathing suits, they decided to change in and out of their bathing suits at their lockers, allowing themselves to be briefly seen nude.
On the third time that we took my daughters friends swimming with us they not only changed at their lockers, but they too showered in the nude.
From that point on, any time that the two girls went with us, they too showered nude.
I was hesitant to say anything, but one night I eventually pointed out to my daughters friends that the first two times that they went swimming with us that they had showered in their bathing suits, and had even changed in toilet stalls. I asked them what had made them decide to start showering in the nude. They both basically said that they had felt silly showering in bathing suits the first couple of times seeing as not only my daughter and I were showering in the nude, but that so were most of the other females in the locker room, but that they had never really been nude in front of anyone other than maybe a doctor since they were little. They said that they never even saw their own mothers in the nude. But that seeing how comfortable my daughter and I were with showering and changing in the locker room, and seeing the other women also doing the same, that they realized that we were all female with the same parts, and that it was silly to feel any need to hide their bodies from other females in a locker room.
That served as a perfect reminder to me that as an adult female I have a responsibility to be a good role model to girls, especially my daughter. And to lead by example.
If daughter see their own mothers or even non related females hiding their bodies in shame, then the teens get the message that there must be something shameful about their body too.

January, 11 2015 at 2:12 pm

thank you for raising the issue. Weldone

September, 5 2012 at 4:08 pm

Great insightful piece, Im a single mother of 2 elementary school I can use all the help I can get.

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