How to Raise Resilient Girls


By Katie Hurley for U.S. News

I once worked with a 9-year-old girl who was a habitual quitter. 

She was enthusiastic about everything she tried, from sports to acting to art classes. Each time her parents presented her with a new opportunity, she agreed to give it a try. The problem, of course, was that nothing seemed to stick.

She made it through one season each of soccer, basketball and softball. She begged to join the Girl Scouts, but didn’t see it through for very long. She did everything exactly once. Her parents worried that her tendency to quit signified a complete lack of resilience. “The minute something becomes a challenge, she quits,” confided her mother. “She can’t deal with challenges at all.”

Resilience is the quality that allows some people to work through challenging situations and bounce back from failure. Rather than let hardships and failures overcome them, resilient children are able to change course and try again. While some children become anxious and overwhelmed in the face of challenges and setbacks, others pick themselves up and move on.

In simplest terms, resilient kids are “can do” kids. Unfortunately, building resilience isn’t simple. In girls, in particular, it can be a challenge. Research shows that self-esteem tends to plummet for girls at about age 12, and that changes in self-esteem can be attributed to shifts in life events and family cohesion. Bottom line: Difficult times can trigger a dip in self-esteem, and it’s hard to bounce back when you’re feeling low.

This 9-year-old girl, for example, had a number of factors at play. Her mother was, with best intentions, highly focused on achievement. Her mother often described herself as capable and goal-oriented. This hyper-focus on reaching goals and gaining proficiency placed a silent pressure on her daughter that led her to quit activities before she could fail. 

The good news is that research shows both a secure attachment with parents and quality time spent with parents builds resilience. Parents can help young girls become more resilient simply by providing unconditional love and support. Beyond that, parents can help promote resilience in the following ways:

Encourage a growth mindset. When young girls are encouraged to believe that they can overcome obstacles through hard work and trying new ideas (not just repeating the same action over and over again), they learn to turn “I can’t” statements into “I can’t yet, but” statements. In adding those two words, girls can turn a negative into a positive and begin to understand that learning is a process that takes time and practice. Just because they haven’t met a goal yet doesn’t mean that goal is unattainable. That’s a powerful message for girls. 

Tapping into a growth mindset helps to reduce parental pressure and prevent parents from passing on their anxieties about success and achievement to their girls. 

Nurture capability. It’s perfectly natural for young girls to experience frustration when confronted with challenges, just as it is for any child or adult. It’s important to remind girls of their past successes in overcoming obstacles. When girls learn to look to the past to consider how they overcame challenges, it helps build their strength to confront future challenges.

Teach mindfulness. Mindful people are better able to cope with difficult thoughts, emotions and challenges without becoming completely overwhelmed. In fact, one studyfound that people with higher mindfulness – those who are more aware of their thoughts and feelings in the moment, instead of just looking to the past for direction or worrying about the future – experience greater resilience and life satisfaction. 

Fortunately, there are simple ways you can teach your children to be mindful. Try these fun mindfulness games at home:

Breathing buddies: Ask your daughter to lie down on the floor and place a favorite stuffed animal or a small pillow on her belly. Ask her to focus on deep breathing(breathe in for four counts, hold for four and then breath out for four counts) with her eyes closed. Ask your daughter to notice what happens to her stuffed animal as she breathes. Ask her to send her thoughts out in thought bubbles that float away from her head as she tunes in to the sounds around her.

Apple slice: Place a blindfold on your daughter and put a fresh apple slice in her hand. Ask her to use her deep breathing while she considers how the object feels and smells. Focusing on scent and touch can be very calming. Try other fruits, and talk about how different scents trigger different emotions.

Mystery bag: Have your daughter close her eyes and hand her a small brown bag containing a mystery object. (A smooth rock, a cotton ball and a feather are all good options.) Ask your daughter to touch and describe the object as she tunes in to her senses. 

Teach self-care. Self-care is often discussed in the context of adults, but it’s imperative for young girls to understand how practicing self-care helps them become more resilient. When girls are well-rested and less stressed, they are better prepared to handle difficult challenges.

Discuss the basics of self-care:

  • Adequate sleep: Ensure she gets the necessary nine to 11 hours of rest each night between the ages of 6 to 13, and eight to 10 hours for ages 14 to 17.
  • Nutrition: Help your daughter learn to choose and cook healthy meals.
  • Daily exercise
  • Downtime 

Model time management and problem-solving skills. Girls are more apt to be resilient when they feel that they can solve their own problems and manage their own time. To that end, it’s important to stop fixing everything and micromanaging. 

Teach your daughter how to overcome challenges by modeling effective problem-solving skills. Help your daughter learn to manage her own time and complete her own projects by teaching her to use calendars and timers and to set goals. If you model it and talk about it, she can learn it.

Increase meaningful social connections. Your daughter doesn’t need to befriend every girl in her grade for social support, but she does need to make at least one meaningful connection. Building close friendships creates support and increases resilience, because girls know they are not alone. 

To help your daughter strengthen her social connections, focus on empathy, compassion and teaching her how to be a good friend.

Spend time together. It’s no big secret that our girls are overscheduled and running from activity to activity these days. In all of that running, it can be difficult to find time to focus on parent-daughter time. 

Having a caring relationship with a parent not only increases resilience, but it also fosters empathy, compassion and kindness. Slow down. Your daughter will still be able to try new sports and enroll in exciting activities, but right now she needs time to strengthen her attachments at home.