Earlier this year I attended the Global Forum on Girls Education in Washington as a guest speaker. It was inspiring to engage in conversation with educators from across the world and hear that they face similar challenges as we do in Australian girls schools, namely; building confidence and resilience in young people.
In saying this, I notice more and more frequently that when a Toorak girl achieves great success, her friends congratulate her, clap fiercely for her and cheer her name. Her friends at this moment are demonstrating feelings of pride, exuding their own sense of confidence experienced vicariously through their friend’s success. This is, sadly, an all too foreign response in our global society.
There is a societal tendency among women to identify one another as threats rather than allies. Jealousy inevitably arises and has the potential to destroy confidence and self-worth within a young person. It gives me much pride to see our Toorak girls engaging in friendly competition and ‘patting one another on the back’ for their achievements. Particularly in an environment like Toorak, where we cater only to girls from Year 5 onwards, we dispel the belief that all-girls schools are full of rivalry.
At Toorak, I have personally noticed a rapid growth in our girls’ wellbeing, confidence, and understanding of gratitude. This growth is due to the School placing an overt expectation on our girls to help them gain a lifelong understanding that achieving success can be done without putting others down.
How can parents teach their daughters how to boost one another up emotionally and mentally at home?
Firstly, it is important to identify the emotional and mental pillars that are required to achieve this kind of genuine appreciation for others who experience success.
Empathy: the ability to feel what others are feeling and listening to what they have to say
Confidence: believing in yourself to be the best you can be without comparison to others
Courage: the desire to be bold and brave in your own decision making
Passion: the desire to achieve your dreams, no matter how big
Optimism: looking at things from a positive perspective
Cooperation: the ability to work well with others in a team environment
Achieving these six psychological outcomes requires some practice in the home environment, as well as a school environment. Parents can open up conversations with their daughters. Young ladies love to feel valued, significant and worthy in all their endeavours - both personal and academic. This is very true at Toorak College as our girls wear their flurry of colourful badges on their blazers with the biggest sense of pride and joy.
Here are suggestions to help boost self-confidence, courage, empathy, passion, optimism, and cooperation in your daughter:
1. Joining a sports team can help girls become team players
Sport can help boost resilience and grit in young women, particularly when a sports team experiences both failure and success. Working in a team environment for many sports brings young women together, forcing them to be cooperative in achieving the same goal. Not only does it teach your daughter technical skills and improves fitness, but sport can re-energise the mind and soul by releasing stress that is associated with their academic and personal life. Women who play sport learn to become goal-oriented, team-spirited, and driven to be the best they can be.
2. Encourage friendships that cheer girls on
Friendships during the middle school years can be difficult to maintain as young women change personally and emotionally, and are also trying to balance the pressure of expectation. It is important to have an open and honest conversation with your daughter to remind them that friendship is a very significant part of their lives. Friends are for support and encouragement; to build each other up and to be proud of one another; they enrich your daughter’s life. Girls who behave disrespectfully towards others can detrimentally affect your daughter’s self-esteem, confidence, and general wellbeing but then they inadvertently damage their own identity in the process.
3. Be a master rather than a winner
When girls enter competition mode - fighting for a leadership role or aiming to beat the other person in a sports tournament - there are those who take a mastery approach and others who take a performance-comparison approach. Mastery refers to the development of one’s craft, which becomes refined when a person focuses on self-improvement. A performance-comparison approach is when they aim to achieve their best by focusing on negative thoughts towards their competition. When we look at professional athletes in the Olympics for example, they are not there to clear hurdles higher than Sally Pearson or swim faster than Leisel Jones. Yes, an athlete is aiming for a gold medal, but they measure their own level of success by looking at their personal best time. If you can encourage your daughter to focus on beating their own personal best - rather than someone else’s personal best - then they will gain a sense of true competition.
4. Practice gratitude at home
Gratitude is a skill that should be practiced and exercised on a daily basis. Toorak College Junior School implemented a kindness initiative where students wrote letters each day to a fellow classmate or teacher they felt deserved recognition. It truly warmed my heart to hear that the letterbox was overflowing each morning. During our Christmas period, I offered the girls an Advent Calendar. To their disappointment, there were no chocolates inside, but rather Random Acts of Kindness where each day poses an objective that has kind intentions for them to fulfil. I reminded them that the feeling they will get from their kind acts will last longer than the taste of chocolate! We can never have too much kindness or gratitude in this world and with the level of support we are getting from the community about our kindness initiatives, it proves that we are all starved of this feeling.
5. Developing empathy can unlock great power
“Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.” Oprah Winfrey.
Empathy is an emotional quality that develops in children over time and is a key characteristic to being a good friend, learner and eventually a leader. As young women, empathy should be developed enough for them to be able to apologise and be held accountable for their actions as well as be able to offer to help someone in need. Ways to help open the floodgate to a teenager’s empathy can include starting conversations with your daughter about how they can better themselves by helping to improve the lives of others through small acts of kindness.
It all starts with communication between parent and daughter, as well as teacher and student. If we can improve the wellbeing, confidence and amount of empathy your children show for each other, then that is a fantastic start on a journey that goes far beyond the gates of Toorak College.