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#LikeAGirl: How To Really Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem

Posted by Jennie Wallace

Have you ever been told you run/throw/hit like a girl? Every woman I know has a “run-like-a-girl story”—a moment when their abilities were undermined and their self-esteem took a big hit. When the #LikeAGirl Always ad played at my Super Bowl party last night, it captured everyone’s attention, particularly those of us with daughters:

As parents, we try our best to build our son’s and daughter’s self-esteem.  But, what we’ve been told about self-esteem is wrong: It doesn’t come from winning a participation trophy or from endless “parent praise” over simple tasks like going down a slide, tying a shoe, and finishing homework. No matter how much we try as parents, our child’s self-esteem can’t come from us.  It can only come from within them. “One of the critical truths you need to know about your child’s self-esteem is that you cannot fix it as a parent,” the renowned therapist James Lehman once wrote.

Parents can make an enormous impact in the way children perceive themselves—not by praise, but by giving our children the tools they need to build their own confidence and self-esteem. I went back to the Empowering Parents archives and found this excellent advice from James Lehman about how to give our children those tools:

  • Teach your children how to name what’s bothering them. You can’t solve what you can’t name, so start by helping them identify and name the problem. What exactly is causing this self-esteem issue?
  • Next, coach your children with the skills they already have. Instead of running in to fix the problem and solving it for them, take this approach: “You’ve solved a problem like this before—you can do this.” Remind them how they problem-solved in the past.
  • If they don’t know what to do, be available to help but give your child the sense of control. Ask, “What can I do to help you with this?”
  • Set limits and stick to them. Kids who don’t know how to problem-solve can get into a vicious cycle of acting out instead of dealing with the problem they’re facing. Don’t excuse their acting out because of their low self-esteem. It’s your job as parents to set appropriate limits and consequences to break this cycle. Tell them, “I’m sorry that you’re feeling upset right now but you can’t take that out on your brother.”

My hope for my little girl is that one day, when someone tells her she runs like a girl, she responds with the kind of confidence soccer great Mia Hamm once did: “My coach said I ran like a girl…I said if he could run a little faster, he could, too.”


About Jennie Wallace

Jennifer is freelance writer for The Wall Street Journal and several national magazines. Earlier in her career, she was a journalist for “60 Minutes.” She lives in New York with her husband and their three children, ages 9, 7 and 4. You can read her other work at

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