If your daughter is struggling with her self-esteem, conversation is key. The only way to help is by knowing what she is feeling and what is going in her life so you need to stay connected. But sometimes what we might mean as a comfort could actually just frustrate her into shutting down. In my haste to ‘make it all better’ I admit I have used all of these phrases.
1. You’re perfect just the way you are
Quite frankly, most kids don’t care that their parents think they are perfect. Most kids just take this for granted (which is the way it should be). While as parents we may actually feel this, it’s a fluffy line and does nothing to help with your daughter’s immediate frustrations. As their world expands, they will continue to look to outside sources for validation. We may think they are perfect, but if their world is telling them that they are not, then they need to reconcile these feelings.
In addition, the overall sentiment is not really true and kids actually know this. None of us is perfect; we all have to learn the positive ways in which we can better ourselves and self-acceptance about things we can’t change.
So, if your daughter is telling you that there is a problem, and you are responding that she is perfect, what she may actually be hearing is that you can’t understand what she is trying to communicate and therefore can’t help.
2. Don’t worry, it will pass
‘This too shall pass’ is a great sentiment and one I embrace more with each passing year. But that’s because I’m older. A 12-year-old can’t view the passing of time quite so sagely. It’s a scientific fact that the younger you are the slower time moves, so this advice could actually seem like the ultimate blow-off to your daughter.
In addition, just waiting for time to pass could actually be doing more harm than good. According to a study conducted at the NYU Child Study Center, “Girls’ self-esteem peaks when they are nine years old, then takes a nose dive.” (by Anita Gurian PH.D). If not addressed head on during these formative years, feelings of low self-esteem can become ingrained at a young age and result in life-long struggles with self-esteem.
3. Who cares what others think? Ignore them
I completely understand the advice to ignore all of the disheartening messages that completely bombard our daughters daily – from insensitive peer comments, to unrealistic advertising ideals, to the non-stop onslaught of social media. Who doesn’t just want to wrap their child up in a cocoon of safety? But this advice is completely impractical and therefore useless. And again, your daughter knows it and will be even more frustrated that you are asking something of her that she just cannot deliver.
Rather than telling your daughter to ignore the things around her, the conversation will open up if you ask her to really open her eyes up to all the influences she encounters in a day so you can begin to discuss together how to process and manage her world.
4. Be grateful for all the great things you have
“You are healthy and loved and very lucky”. Gratefulness was one of my favored strategies until my daughter completely called me out on it. As she put it (and I’m paraphrasing, she was kind of angry at the time) – “just because her problems were not big in comparison to what some people face it didn’t mean they weren’t important to her or that she was never allowed to be sad over something”. And of course, she was right.
While I was trying to teach her perspective, I was inadvertently just making her feel guilty about her feelings. The result being that she didn’t want to tell me things for fear that I would judge them as trivial and that doesn’t just kill a conversation, it prevents it from even getting started.
5. It’s what’s inside that counts
I’m not saying to completely let this one go, but it’s important to keep it realistic. I preach from the hilltops that “if your self-esteem and self-worth is tied to nothing but your appearance then you are setting yourself up for a very difficult life”. But it’s all about balance because feeling good about one’s appearance is important at this age, as it continues to be for most of us through all ages.
This line is a conversation killer because it shames your daughter into feeling like she is vain if she admits that appearance is important to her and so it leaves her no real avenue to discuss physical insecurities with you. And at this age, that’s a lot of conversation time you are giving up.
So while all of these sentiments may be what we believe, I think they limit conversation when they are used as ‘answers’. For example, “Don’t worry, I think your perfect” could be flipped around to “I think your perfect, but I know that what kids say can be hurtful and it can really affect you, so let’s talk about that”. Or “Don’t worry it will pass” could be rephrased as “You might not believe this, but this is a hard time and things do get easier but that doesn’t really help you right now, so let’s deal with right now”. By revising the sentiments, you still get to let your daughter know that she is perfect to you and that things will get easier but you also communicate that you understand that she is facing real problems in the here and now and you are ready to listen.