Girls With Grit: Building Confidence

September 24, 2019

“You must share with her some of your mistakes, failures, and struggles …”

Confidence is elusive, but how can girls build and maintain it?

Part of growing up is realizing confidence is not always innate. It must be built and then nurtured, even for those who have become strong female leaders of today, like Ruth Bader Ginsburg or the late Cokie Roberts.

These women were once young girls with big dreams. How did they build enough confidence to eventually become a marriage equality advocate as a Supreme Court justice and a leading voice in journalism and political commentary? We asked Katye Irwin and Tricia Newton, guidance counselors from the Academy of the Sacred Heart, about building confidence in girls.

What does confidence mean for girls?
Katye Irwin: It is believing in yourself and knowing that you are going to be okay no matter the outcome of a particular situation. When a girl feels loved, supported, and capable, she feels confident.

Katye Irwin is the counselor of Sacred Heart’s high school and is a coordinator of its Peer Support Program.

When does one know they have confidence?
Tricia Newton: When a person takes appropriate risks, fails, and gets back up and has the gusto to try again. Confidence is walking into a room and feeling that you matter, that you are enough, and ready to tackle the challenges ahead of you.

What’s the most common self-esteem issues that girls come to you for guidance?
Katye Irwin: Not being good enough.

Tricia Newton: Comparing themselves to peers or other external standards of success (not smart enough, not pretty enough, comparing grades and other achievements). Also, relationship or social changes and the challenges associated with feeling accepted.

What’s usually the first step in addressing those issues?
Katye Irwin: Recently, I started asking girls to tell me about a time when they were truly able to be their most authentic selves and felt happy. What is it about that time? What is different now?

Tricia Newton: Educating girls on healthy communication skills and the different roles each plays in their friendships/relationships.

Where does confidence come from for girls?
Tricia Newton: We gain confidence by doing, feeling challenged, taking risks, and believing in ourselves no matter the outcome. Confidence does not come from a one-time event. Confidence is also built by a growth mindset, not a fixed mindset, and in feeling that there are always solutions to issues. Confidence comes from within; it is not a superficial or an external feeling that comes from the outside or from our appearance.

As the middle school counselor, Tricia Newton has implemented numerous local and national programs for Sacred Heart students.

What should parents know about instilling confidence in their daughters?
Katye Irwin: Start allowing them to do age appropriate tasks independently and do this early and often. When they accomplish a task, that once made them nervous, they are proud of themselves and become more confident in their abilities. By allowing them to do for themselves, it also sends the message that you believe they can do it. Maybe your 5-year-old can’t cook eggs for breakfast, but can she pour a bowl of cereal. This not only helps you, but it also helps the child in the long run.

Tricia Newton: You are parenting the child now for the person you want her to become in the future. You must share with her some of your mistakes, failures, and struggles, so that she knows that you are also a resilient being who makes mistakes yet continues to persevere. Modeling healthy coping, communication, and problem solving skills is also extremely important — we can’t preach what we don’t practice.

What must every confident girl know?
Katye Irwin: That it isn’t always easy. There will be times when people try to strip you of your confidence. It is usually out of jealousy, but hold your head up high.

Tricia Newton: Continue to try and to take appropriate risks. Be humble and do good with your confidence. Women should support other women.

How can girls help each other build confidence?
Tricia Newton: Girls can help each other by supporting one another, celebrating each other’s victories and successes, and not compare or cut one another down. Do not look at another female as a threat, but rather as an ally. Have empathy and compassion towards yourself and for others.

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