Self Esteem

How to Raise a Self-Confident Daughter

The tween years are rough on almost every child, but few feel the pain more strongly than young girls with ADHD. Defeat self-doubt — and lay the foundation for the strong woman your daughter can become — with these confidence-boosting strategies.

Rivers Dale/Getty Images
Rivers Dale/Getty Images

“Sarah, do you have your homework?” Sarah looks up at her teacher with a blank expression. Her teacher repeats the question.

Sarah looks through her backpack for her English folder, which is empty. “Sorry, I did it, but don’t know where it went.”

“Why am I so stupid?” Sarah thinks. “Why am I the only one who always loses her homework?”

Too many girls with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) believe they are less capable than their peers and question their ability to perform in school and maintain friendships. This lack of self-confidence stems from the fact that they don’t know how their ADHD brains work, and it leads to a steady stream of harsh and unhealthy criticism.

Why do some girls with ADHD maintain their belief in themselves when challenged, and some do not? What can we do to empower our girls — and raise strong, self-confident daughters, ready to take on the world?

[Self-Test: Does Your Daughter Have ADHD?]

How Can I Help My Daughter Feel Better About Herself?

Helping your daughter gain self-awareness will guide her to discover her best qualities. If she can shift from focusing on her challenges to working with her strengths, her self-esteem will grow.

Here is an activity that will increase her confidence. Fold a piece of paper in half, lengthwise. Ask your daughter to write five challenges she faces on the left half of the paper. On the right half, work with her to list solutions to address each of the challenges. If your daughter writes, “I have the worst memory,” help her counteract that with some solutions. Maybe she means that she is forgetful. Remind her that she can put a sticky note on her bedroom door, listing the things she needs to take to school.

Capitalize on strengths. Your daughter may have lost sight of her strengths due to the pressures of school or failed social interactions. Ask her to tell you about her strengths. Emphasize that they don’t have to be academic skills; being a good listener or a good friend counts! Recognizing different facets of her personality will remind your daughter of her many gifts.

Reframe the negatives. If your daughter says, “I am not good at math,” add the word “yet!” This implies that the challenge is not insurmountable. While your daughter may be struggling with math at this moment, there will come a day when her hard work will pay off.

[Not Ditzy. Not Lazy. And Definitely Not Dumb.]

1. Listen and watch for teaching moments. Help your daughter begin to “catch” negative self-talk. Give her positive words to use instead. Rather than say, “I can’t believe I forgot to study again,” she should try, “Next time I am going to write down the due date in my planner and set reminders on my phone.” Even if your daughter rolls her eyes at your comments, she is hearing them. If you help her catch the negative comments, she will begin to do it on her own.

2. Foster friendships. The middle school years are socially hard for all young girls, and ADHD will negatively affect self-esteem. Young girls beat themselves up for interactions that didn’t work out, or they shy away from social interaction. Your daughter may have trouble keeping up with the rapid back-and-forth communication of young girls. She may be drawn to the excitement of tween drama, and impulsively text something that starts a firestorm of group responses.

If your daughter has a phone, ask her to pick two girls whom she would like to become friends with in her class. Suggest that she fall into step with these girls on the way out of class and walk to lunch with them. She might say, “I think I missed the homework assignment in class. Can you text it to me?” This is a natural way to exchange phone numbers without feeling awkward. After this interaction, help your daughter initiate other text talks and find opportunities to get together outside of school.

If your daughter tends to be an impulsive talker, give her scripts to use when she feels she has been overstepping: “Sorry, that’s not what I meant to say.” Her friends will move on if she clarifies her mistakes.

3. Build a wall of success. Ask your daughter to draw a brick wall with a permanent marker on red paper. Have her draw horizontal lines, then short vertical lines at brick-size intervals. Make sure that she staggers them in each row, so that the drawing looks like actual bricks, not a grid. Discuss the successes you have observed and write one success in each brick.

Now have your daughter add more successes to the bricks. The key is that each success is a building block to another, and these successes add up to a remarkable person!

[Stop the Cycle of Shame for Girls with ADHD]

Empowerment Exercise: Uncovering Your Daughter’s Strengths

Objective: To highlight your daughter’s strengths, interests, and unique traits.

Materials needed: Paper; crayons and markers; magazines; glue; scissors.

  1. Have your child draw the basic outline of her head. This drawing can be a side view or front view, and should be large enough to fill the page.
  2. Discuss her characteristics that you notice and ones she recognizes. Discuss physical features, and also personality, strengths, interests, values, and experiences. Help your child understand that all of these qualities go together to make up an individual.
  3. Ask your child to fill in her self-portrait with the unique qualities from your discussions. She may draw representations, write words and phrases, or cut and paste representations from magazines — or she may create a self-portrait using all three!
  4. Frame the completed portrait to showcase the importance of this unique piece of art.