Hardiness Skills for Girls

Here at the Institute we often speak of “hardiness” and “hardiness skills.” What do we mean by “hardiness” anyway? The word itself suggests strength and sturdiness, the ability to endure during difficulties, and the capacity to grasp hold of opportunities – qualities we probably all wish for the girls in our lives.

In fact, hardiness is a concept that originated in health psychology. It encompasses our inner strengths and resources as well as our outside relational support. It’s a term that moves us beyond resilience. Yes, resilience is a popular concept and buzz word these days. The drawback is that “resilience” tends to over-emphasize the individual’s own capacity to bounce back from challenges, neglecting the fundamental role of relational support and growth-fostering relationships in our capacity to survive difficult times. The neat thing about hardiness is that it is a concept that embraces both.

The cutting edge research on girls’ development tells us that girls benefit from “hardiness zones,” environments that help them connect with their own value & strengths and connect with others who know them, believe in them and encourage them. Hardiness zones also provide girls with opportunities for empowerment, gaining first hand experience in making a difference in their world. Finally, hardiness zones provide girls with a positive belief system, guiding them in optimistic thinking, finding solutions, and looking to the future.

As we head into the busy academic year, here are just a few ideas that parents have found helpful in building hardiness:

Helping girls connect with their own value and strengths:

We rejoice when we have the opportunity to praise and acknowledge the girls in our lives. We know that it’s important for girls (and boys) to hear more praise than criticism and correction. In fact, some behavior specialists suggest that if we can balance about 65 – 70% praise and affirmation with about 30 – 35% correction, we’re doing great!

However, sometimes we worry about girls becoming dependent on external praise or reward. And besides, is praise and acknowledgment enough to help girls feel good about their own strengths and accomplishments? No, there are many other factors that contribute to a girl’s sense of competency and value.

Here’s one conversational tool. Hold off on the praise until you’ve asked your daughter how she feels about the exam, the game, the play date, the performance, or the way she handled a problem. This gives her an opportunity to reflect on her strengths, talent, contribution, and challenges. It will give her a chance to voice her feelings about her own value and hopefully to praise and acknowledge herself for what she did well. It will give her a chance to evaluate herself, to think about how she’d like to grow or do things differently next time. Listening gives us a chance to learn about her inner experience of herself. It helps us refine the kind of feedback that will be most helpful to her as she builds a clear sense of her strengths and value.

Offering opportunities for connection:

Try out the “who loves you?” game for children. A friend and colleague of mine told me about playing this game with her elementary school-aged daughters. It’s a good car ride game (although it can be played other places as well). The participants say the names of all the people they can think of that care about them. My friend’s daughters, being playful, would often make sure they “forgot” mom and then named her at the very end of the list. This game reminds children that there are multiple caring adults that they can turn to for support and problem-solving.

Promoting empowerment and leadership:

Research and experience tell us that when girls have a chance to influence social change, it makes a big difference in their sense of self and empowerment. If girls express concern about an issue, find a way to support their efforts to make a difference. Is your daughter distressed about the ravages of the recent disaster on our planet? Does her heart go out to stray animals? Is she concerned about the use of drugs and alcohol among her classmates? Help her think of things she can do to turn her compassion and concern into a contribution of caring. She might want to make a donation to the Red Cross and encourage others to do the same. She might want to volunteer at the local animal shelter. She might want to become a Peer Educator and Advocate regarding substance abuse. Her contributions can make a difference.

Encouraging a positive belief system:

Many girls (and women!) struggle profoundly with what I call the Inner Critic. The Inner Critic definitely interferes with a positive belief system. The Inner Critic is harsh, cruel and often relentless, haranguing us for not being good enough, thin enough, popular enough, accomplished enough, athletic enough, etc., etc., etc. Model for your daughter the capacity to say – out loud – words that refute the Inner Critic. Compliment yourself. Acknowledge something you like about your appearance.  Find words inside yourself that talk back to the Inner Critic. Help your daughter find her words, inside herself, to talk back to her Inner Critic as well.

May you and your daughter enjoy the hardiness that comes with a celebration of strength and value, with the effort of making an empowered difference, and with meaningful growth-fostering connections for the journey.


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Please note: Nothing in what you find here should be construed as medical advice pertinent to any individual. As is true with all written materials, and especially information found on the internet, you must be the judge of what appears valid and useful for yourself. Please take up any questions you might have regarding the content of this website with your psychotherapist or physician.

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