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Is your low self-esteem hurting your daughter?

Sherri Kuhn writes about raising teenagers, the perils of a clean home, wistfulness over babies, and anything else that makes her laugh (or cry) in the years between changing diapers and wearing them. With a son just starting college and...

Silence your inner critic for your daughter

We are all guilty of over-analyzing our faults and shortcomings. Our daughters may not listen when we want them to, but they are listening to our inner critic. What you say about yourself portrays how you feel about yourself to your daughter.

Do you look in the mirror and complain of looking old or fat? Change your message while your daughter is forming her own self-esteem.

Raising strong, confident daughters is no easy task. Parents are constantly bombarded with the message that they need to boost their daughter’s self-esteem and empower her — but what about the moms? Many of us grew up in the generation before self-esteem was a big thing, and our inner critic has been quite vocal ever since.

What they hear

Remember when your kids were toddlers? The quickest way to get them to repeat something was to say it yourself. “Parents of toddlers often joke about silly little things that toddlers say at inopportune moments,” says Katie Hurley, licensed clinical social worker. “More often than not, the toddler is simply parroting the words of the parent — words that were not intended to be repeated. As toddlers become big kids and big kids grow into adolescents, it becomes imperative that parents watch what they say in the presence of their children,” Hurley adds. They are always listening, whether we realize it or not.

If your daughter constantly hears you exclaiming about how fat you are, how old you look or how wrinkly your face is, she hears two messages — how much you value physical appearances and how little you value yourself. “Older children and adolescents are likely to internalize the messages that they hear at home,” shares Hurley, “whether or not the messages are intended for them. They hear the complaints about weight, wrinkles or wardrobe and start to question their own appearance.” Adolescents with low self-esteem are at a higher risk for a number of issues, including depression, substance abuse, poor school performance, anxiety, eating disorders or self-harm.

What do your daughter's clothes say about her personality? >>

Change the message

Parents have a unique opportunity to encourage healthy, positive body image and confidence in their children from an early age. “Want your daughter to have a good body image? Do not talk about your own (or her) weight or dieting,” says Alexandra Kuykendall, mom and leader content editor for MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) International, who speaks frequently to groups all over the country about the messages mothers send their daughters. “Make the goal a healthy lifestyle, rather than a clothing size or number on a scale. Help her see you work toward a goal, i.e. running a 10K race, where the emphasis is on health.”

As your daughter moves into her tweens, take advantage of opportunities you have to get physical together. Whether it’s a weekend hike or an organized bicycle tour, showing her that your bodies can do incredible things gives her a body confidence that’s not at all based on the number on a scale or how she looks in a bikini.

What if you could run a 5K with your kid? >>

What we say matters

It may be hard to change the message you send about yourself, but it’s worth it for your daughter’s sake. “Parents have the opportunity to instill a healthy sense of self in their children simply by taking a strengths-based approach to parenting and focusing on their own positive attributes,” says Hurley.

The next time you hear your inner voice making a negative comment, make a change. It may make all the difference for your daughter.

More on raising daughters

The importance of the father-daughter relationship
Reduce your stress by reducing your daughter's stress
Raising a daughter with high self-esteem

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