Women Are Sharing What They Would Say To Give Their Daughters More Confidence, And I Needed To Hear It As An Adult, Too

Recently, u/ibrahim0000000 asked women on Reddit to share what they would say to their daughters to help them grow up with excellent self-esteem. Their replies covered a lot of ground, and honestly, they gave me, an adult, the pep talk that I didn't even know I needed. Here's some of what they had to say:

1."My family is a matriarchy, several generations of powerful women, and one thing we do for our girls that has a huge impact is this: Every time you find yourself complimenting a girl's looks, her appearance, her cute outfit — great, girls need that validation in this beauty-obsessed culture. But then look for the first possible opportunity to compliment her on something else: how brave she is, how funny her joke was, how smart she is, how fast. It's astonishing how often the natural thought is about her looks, even for third-generation feminists."

mother, daughter, and grandmother posing for a photo together in the 1990s
Ronnie Kaufman / Getty Images

2."You can't really give somebody self-esteem. It comes from within. This is why it's important for kids to be involved in things like sports, art, music. They need to learn how to try, how to overcome challenges and keep going. Kids who are just propped up with positive words (the "best," the "smartest," etc.) without any accomplishments to back up these statements can end up with self-worth that's based on external validation. Tell your daughter the truth. Help her figure out who she is as a person and support her through her struggles. Remind her of her accomplishments when she's in doubt. Let her fall on her ass and encourage her to get back up, and be there to help if she needs it."


3."I wouldn't tell her the things that my parents told me. I wouldn't question why she's dressed a certain way. I wouldn't tell her makeup is only for ugly people. I wouldn't make her feel as if being feminine makes her weak or stupid."


4."Give sincere attention to all the ridiculous stuff that’s important to them as they grow. Their pet water balloon breaking when they’re 5. Their socks not matching when they’re 8. Their tiff with their BFF when they’re 12. Listen gravely. Show you’re willing to give their concerns time and attention. Because If you don’t, you show them that you’re not interested in the things that are important to them. And if you're not interested in those things, why would they tell you about sexual abuse or drugs or bullying?"

Parents with their young child and a kitten
Ed Bock / Getty Images

5."Focus on their qualities outside of appearance. Teach them about consent, both explicit and implicit. Teach them to be kind, but also confident in their choices, which I think is so important in the face of peer pressure. Encourage exploration of different types of self-expression. Encourage freedom of expression of emotions. Help them articulate their feelings, thoughts, opinions. Open the line of communication for absolutely everything. Our children will be able to come to us with any question, any concern, anytime. And we will be willing to talk to them about it."


6."Consent is a big one — making sure they know they are in charge of their bodies. I start teaching consent with tickling. I let them know that when they say 'Stop,' I will stop immediately, and I always stop. Sometimes they say 'Stop' and then 'Go' if they want more tickles. I know a lot of adults do tickle torture where they don’t stop because the kids are giggling, yelling 'Stop,' but this is an easy first step for consent. I also offer 'hugs, high fives, or handshakes' and never force a hug or kiss. Sometimes they just do a wave goodbye, and that’s fine too!"


"Thank you so much for this. I am extremely traumatized by nonconsensual tickling. Does that sound silly? Yes. Was it silly? Fuck no. It was torture. My uncle never stopped. He would hold me down under a bean bag and put his full weight on it. He's like 6 feet and 200 pounds, and I was a smaller-than-average girl at 3 to 8 years old. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't get away. It was horrible. Even as I grew up, my friends and random fucking strangers would always ask, 'Are you ticklish?' and fucking touch me without consent. They thought it was SO hilarious, and of course tickling causes uncontrollable laughter, so they think it's funny: 'If you don't like it, why are you laughing?' I had so much of my bodily autonomy taken away, and it stuck with me for a LONG time."


7."I model positive self-talk, even if I don’t feel that way about myself and my body. Children need to learn how to talk to themselves positively or the cycle of crappy self-esteem will never end. My mother talked about me positively in so many ways, but not about herself. So I learned that positive talk comes only from outside sources. Also, I have anxiety, so being heaped with praise stresses me TF out."

Mom and daughter sitting on a bed together talking


"Shiiiiit. I think I just realized why my mom and I are so similar when it comes to our lack of confidence. She also speaks so highly of me but does the opposite for herself. I am the same. I am trying to relearn. It's difficult."


Belinda Howell / Getty Images

8."Let her know that failure is room for growth, and IT DOESN'T AFFECT HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT HER. Teach her to ask, 'What can I learn from this?' instead of only, 'Where did I go wrong?' Both questions are valid, but she needs both to truly grow. And teach her that her worth is not in what she does for other people but how she empowers others, sets a good example, and lives by the standards and values she comes to, and how she feels."


9."As it's often been said, 'There will always be someone better than you, but they can never be you.' And you can think of it in so many ways. Like, someone can look better than you, be smarter than you, but they never got to be who you are."


10."I would raise a daughter much the same way my parents raised me. They got me involved in activities that built my confidence, rather than focusing on looking good and acquiring things. I was involved in sports, music, and art growing up, all hobbies I loved that helped me express myself in creative ways and built strong self-esteem. Also, I was praised more for my efforts in these hobbies rather than the outcomes, which sometimes were not always positive. Learning to tolerate failure taught me resilience and strength and to never give up."

Girl kneeling with a soccer ball
Chuck Savage / Getty Images

11."My daughter's nearly 3, and I've taught her words to repeat to herself. So I will look at her and say, 'I am.' And she will say (about herself), 'I am kind.' I'll keep saying, 'I am,' and she comes out with words like 'funny,' 'happy,' 'loved,' 'cheeky' 😂. I really want to teach her to love herself to avoid growing up feeling how I felt."


12."I would say to her, 'You’re super smart, you can figure it out yourself. You don’t need me. But if you do get stuck and you need help, I’m here, just call me. And if you make a mistake, well, that’s just how we learn, baby girl. We’ll clean it up and move on, wiser.'"


13."Less saying, more doing. Using life lessons as prime examples. Showing her WHY I’m choosing to make conscious decisions and my thought processes. Making sure to teach her to communicate well, express emotions healthily, and recognize when something is not right, and how to navigate these scenarios."

Mom teaching her daughter how to use a drill
Maskot / Getty Images / Maskot

14."Get her into sports so that she learns to appreciate her body for what she can do with it, rather than her appearance."


15."Model standing up for yourself so that your daughter knows how to set good boundaries as she grows older. My mom was always very supportive of me but let my father walk all over her (and us), so I didn’t know how to stand up for myself as an adult and struggled to value my own autonomy. I’ve really struggled with feelings of low self-worth because of this."


16."No one is thinking about you the way YOU are thinking about you. Didn’t do well on that test or stumbled over your words? NO ONE else thinks you’re dumb. Smudged your lipstick or have a pimple? NO ONE else thinks you’re ugly. People are more focused on themselves, same as you. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself."

Serious little girl looking in the mirror in a dance studio
Fluxfactory / Getty Images/iStockphoto

17."'I'm so proud of you.' 'You were amazing.' 'I really admire the person you're becoming.'"


18."I would tell them they are enough just as they are. They don't have to hustle for worthiness — it is a given. They are worthy and deserving of kindness and love, and that first has to come from within themselves. I'd say they need to talk to themselves as they would to their best friend, as shaming and bullying yourself will never turn you into someone you love. I would tell them that regret and guilt are helpful emotions as they relate to behavior, but shame — as in 'I am bad' rather than 'I did bad' — will keep them stuck rather than help them grow. I would warn them that people can be unkind, but their behavior has everything to do with them and nothing to do with you. They are dealing with their own shit."

"I've had to learn this stuff the hard way, and it's taken me a lot of time and therapy to heal, so I look forward to trying my best to give my children the best foundation I can, while understanding that I will still make mistakes."


19."Your worth has nothing to do with what anyone else thinks of you. It has everything to do with what you think of yourself. Did you do your best? Did you stay true to yourself and the people you love? If the answer is yes, you're going to be okay, even if people are mad at you. If the answer is no, your worth is STILL invaluable. You just know you can do better, and next time you will. Set right what you can and forgive yourself for the rest."

Photobooth strip photo of a mother and daughter hugging
Jena Ardell / Getty Images

20."When I was a kid, I excelled in a lot of things. I was athletic, cute, and smart. My nana used to brag about me all the time because of dance. And my parents would brag about my grades. I realized later that I only got attention if I did something worthwhile in their eyes. And the first time that I went against what THEY thought I should do, it was traumatic to be out from under their positive attention. So first, I’d make sure that I was giving my daughters attention even if they were in last place. Make sure they knew I was proud of them even if they weren't the best. And second, I’d make sure that they got to make their own choices and were equipped to do so safely. That’s the only way I got self-esteem as an adult."


21."Don't talk about their lives revolving around men. 'One day you’ll get married and have kids' is a toxic phrase."


"Agree. Telling daughters that being single and unmarried equates to failure is just toxic too."


22."Trust them to make most decisions for themselves, such as what to wear, so they gain confidence in their ability to make decisions."

Toddler girl walking around in her dad's shoes


"When my kids were preschoolers, I used to let them be 'Boss of the Day' once a week.

"They had responsibilities to do, but they also got to make decisions. Their power had natural limits. For example, even though they were my boss, they couldn’t make me spend my money if I didn’t want to.

"But I also tried to say yes, as I would with any boss. If they wanted an ice cream at 8 a.m. on a cold, wet morning, they got it. If they wanted to watch TV, they could. But they also had to make sure lunch was happening and that their siblings' nap time happened at the right time, etc.

"It was great for self-esteem and for making decisions."


Don Mason / Getty Images

23."I'm begging, screaming, crying: Don't comment on your daughter's body. Sexual or not; man, woman, or anything else. It's fucking weird, man. It weirded me out every time. She knows her body is changing. She's 12, and she's mortified by this fact. You don't need to draw attention to it."


24."One thing I’ll say is to not be fake or dismissive. Any time I ever said, 'Kids are making fun of me! I’m so embarrassed about my acne! They called me pizza face!' My mom always said, 'Nobody thinks that. You are so beautiful; maybe they are jealous.' Although that seems kind, it was completely dismissing my actual experience. And I ended up ignoring other compliments, like, 'I love you, I’m proud,' because she was fake once, won’t fool me twice. So it’s not all about positive words. It’s about listening."


25."I raised her to think that normal is a setting on a washing machine — to be unique is so much more valuable than to be like everyone else. We all struggle. We all fall short of who we think we are supposed to be. My girl is the one thing I've done right in my life. I think that showing you are human, and not some mythical parent person, matters. Always apologize. Always be accountable. Teach them respect by respecting them. Love is what matters. Nothing else."

Girl painting a picture in her bedroom
Mixetto / Getty Images

26."There are so many ways that shaming children is normalized in our culture. I can’t tell you how often I hear parents talking negatively about their kids, in front of their kids. 'He behaves so bad all the time!' 'Your little sister can act better than you!' I strongly believe that kids will internalize the messages they hear about themselves. So I think it’s so important to just speak about kids in empowering ways. Focus on their strengths. If they do something bad, focus on how they can act better in the future rather than how they choose to act poorly in the present, and how everyone makes mistakes, and the important thing is to try our best to make up for them. Don’t drag things out past the moment that it happened; just make the correction and move on with life."


27."Women are often instilled with this idea that if they only got along with everybody, their life would be better. So if they have anxiety, for example, they think that if they just make sure that everybody loves them, surely their anxiety will get better, right? Wrong! So I want to make sure she actually has the confidence to occasionally displease people, if that is what is needed to make her grow as a person. Not the same as telling entitled people to be assholes and just exploit others."


28."You are not less of a woman or girl or human for feeling the full range of emotions. You are not always supposed to be pleasant. Sometimes you will be angry, and sometimes you will slip up and hurt others' feelings. But being angry is not inherently criminal. Never let anyone invalidate your emotions simply because the women and girls they grew up around were always suppressing them."

Two moody girls eating snacks in a car


"I think too many girls are raised to be 'good' or 'sweet,' meaning quiet and obedient.

"I plan on telling my daughter to always be her most authentic self. Period. Be loud. Be outrageous. Be angry when someone pisses you off. Cry when you’re sad. Tell people off. Say what you want to say. Love the things you love. Don’t let anyone keep you from being you, and don’t let anyone silence you."


Jena Ardell / Getty Images

29."It’s very important to teach kids that it’s okay not to know things. I was shamed for not knowing everything when I was little, so now I’m anxious almost every time I have to engage in a conversation, just in case I won’t know something. And when I don’t know what people are talking about, I usually act as if I do know because I am scared to admit that I don't."


30."Encourage your daughter to speak, whether it's just random chatter or giving opinions regarding serious issues. When I was growing up, my brother would tell me, 'You're young, your opinion doesn't matter. Don't speak unless spoken to. You're better off seen and not heard.' That shit is so belittling. I never felt comfortable enough to express myself or join conversations. He continued this into my early adulthood, to where I just automatically imagine no one is interested in what I have to say. Going to uni and being heard for the first time was so scary and thrilling, but every time I'm about to speak, I hear his voice saying, 'Your opinion doesn't matter; you're better off seen and not heard,' and other things he used to say."


31."As my mother did for me, teach them how to live independently. Cooking, cleaning, bills, transport, jobs, education. Just knowing that I'm able to stand on my own gives me incredible peace of mind."

Mom teaching her daughter how to cook
Zlikovec / Getty Images/iStockphoto

32.And finally, "I don't have kids yet. But my mom did the best thing with me when I was growing up that I think has gone a long way. At night, when she'd tuck me in, she'd say, 'I love you. And I love me.' And she'd have me repeat. We still say it to each other from time to time."


Now I'm curious: Is there anything you would add? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Note: Some responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.