Courage Over Confidence: Six Ways to Raise a Brave Girl


“Speak the truth even if your voice shakes”  –Maggie Kuhn

Confidence is overrated. Sure, the “feeling of self-assurance” is great when you have it. But like all feelings, confidence may disappear without the slightest warning. And is usually not around when you need it most – like when you are trying something new or stepping out of your comfort zone.

Brave is different. You can be brave even when your voice is shaking (which doesn’t project confidence at all). Brave doesn’t require you to feel anything in particular. That’s because being brave is about taking right action – even when we are afraid or insecure or tired.

Whether it be standing up for a friend who is being picked on, defending an unpopular opinion, or taking a positive physical risk to step outside of their comfort zone, girls develop a stronger sense of self when they are brave enough to do the right thing or courageous enough to try something new even though they are afraid. Here are five ways to help a girl that you love get her brave on:

  1. Surround her with support. It is hard to be brave alone and the truth is it rarely happens. Whether walking into a classroom again after you have been teased or taking a risk to try-out for an athletic team or a school play, knowing that your people are with you, waiting in the wings or right by your side if possible – and that they love and respect you no matter what the outcome can make all the difference. Rachel, a middle schooler, remembers being able to confront bullies in her math class by making sure her friends walked her to class and  met her right after too.
  2. Take interest in who she is. As if figuring out who you are isn’t tough enough during adolescence, girls are  often encouraged to be nice and agreeable, rather than to think for themselves. But, of all the ways girls defined brave from our interviews, being who they really are on the outside and standing up for others who are being picked on for doing the same, most often comes out on top.
  3. Practice at home. Help your daughter be courageous enough to state her own opinions by asking what she thinks on topics from her favorite color to global warming, feminism and world affairs. Respect her opinion, but don’t be afraid to disagree with her so learns to defend her stance. Be sure to ask your daughter why she believes what she does. Try not to correct her on the “tone” that she uses to deliver unsolicited opinions. Girls are given a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle messages that she should be smart, just not TOO opinionated or direct. So it’s important that she knows stating what she believes is a good thing.
  4. Name courage when you see it. Girls (and humans in general) often believe that you have to feel brave to be brave. The truth is that courage is taking right action even when you feel afraid. So whether it is your daughter being brave, a character in a movie, or you, walk her through what happened. For example, point out how afraid she was before she walked on the field for the try out last time and how courageous it was to do it anyway.
  5. Remind her that courage is not a perfection pursuit. No one is brave all the time. Girls are pretty tough on themselves when they feel like they have missed the mark or not done the right thing. But no one is brave all the time. It is important to honor and be kind to yourself even when you aren’t as courageous as you wanted to be in a particular situation. (And to recognize the you may have just been braver than your thought.) Ellie shared how she regretted not standing up for a friend. An adult recounted the same situation but noting how Ellie always stood quietly by her friend when others teased her or distance themselves from her.
  6. Model being brave by trying new things. Most of us develop courage muscles by experiencing mastery of a new skill that we were initially afraid to do or were simply unfamiliar with whether it be rock climbing, a challenging scientific theory, or meeting new friends. Step out of your own comfort zone and encourage your daughter to do the same. Name your own struggle and how you stuck with it. When she is struggling with a new skill, remind her of the other times she’s learned something new.
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