Ask a psychologist: How can I help build my 12-year-old daughter’s confidence?

A tween girl lays in the grass with her head propped in her hands
8:30am, Fri 18 Jun 2021
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My 12-year-old daughter has no confidence and rarely speaks or allows herself to stand out in social situations. How can I help build her confidence?

Clinical psychologist and neuroscientist Profesor Ian Robertson, author of  How Confidence Works, says: “Not speaking and not wanting to stand out is pretty common behaviour – and perfectly understandable – in girls and boys as they enter their teens.

“Your daughter isn’t quite sure whether she’s a child or an adult. Because of this uncertainty, she has to think about how to respond and what to say, as she doesn’t have the sort of habitual ‘scripts’ that adults develop in their interactions with others.

“Nor does she have a heedless unselfconscious childlike frame of mind which allows her to blurt out her thoughts without having to scrutinise and self-censor them for their appropriateness.

“Imagine yourself suddenly dropped into a gathering of people from either a much higher or much lower socio-economic class than yours. You’d probably feel and behave much the way your daughter does now.

“Of course, there are many different things that might be going on in your daughter’s mind that we don’t know about, and there could be worries or problems holding her back. A warm, accepting and unthreatening relationship with you that communicates unconditional love, and leaves lots of space for her to unburden herself, will help.

“But any worries may well be the normal ones of girls of this age. So, how do you help her build her confidence?

“Ask yourself whether you’re anxious about her failing, either academically or socially. If so, this fear of failure may breed anxiety in her and make her worried she’s lacking in some way, academically or socially.

“Research shows parental fear of failure by their children tends to create a ‘fixed mindset’ in their offspring. If you think your intelligence, personality or emotions are a ‘thing’ fixed by your genetics or upbringing, this makes it very hard to cope with setbacks, failures or mis-steps. This makes you anxious, and anxiety makes you avoid things – like speaking out in company.

“So, take the pressure off – accept her for who she is, silence and all. Don’t worry about her school ranking or social life. Enjoy your daughter’s company, have fun with her, find things she enjoys and forget about any notion of achievement in school or socially.

“Do stuff with her for its own sake, not for some self-improvement goal. Help her find things she enjoys – doing enjoyable things for their own sake is the best mood-lifter, anxiety-reducer and confidence-builder.

“Finally, encourage your daughter to follow The Female Lead ( on social media so her feeds are filled with confidence-inspiring female role models.”

How Confidence Works by Ian Robertson is published by Bantam Press, priced £20. Available now.

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