Tips for Parents: Raising Girls for Resilience and Optimism
Rimm, S.
Daviodson Institute for Talent Development

This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Sylvia Rimm, who discusses a number of characteristics that are crucial for success and some suggestions for parenting daughters for resilience.

While good grades in school were the forerunners of success for over a thousand successful women who were studied for my books See Jane Win and How Jane Won, report cards covered with A’s are not sufficient in themselves. Paradoxically, many of the characteristics that are crucial to success begin with C, and these C’s also need to be taught in our families and classrooms:

Competitiveness balanced with Collaboration

The exhilaration of winning is motivating, but recognizing when competitiveness is appropriate is crucial. As in sports, collaborating as a team member is pivotal for success in life.

Competence, Confidence, and Courage

A variety of new skills and competencies must be learned for every career. Girls who have confidence in themselves can have the courage to admit to knowledge they don’t have and can risk making efforts to learn more.

Caring, Character, and Communication Skills

Kindness, honesty, and careful communication are characteristics women have long claimed as feminine. When women take on challenges that were earlier reserved for men, they should not discard these traditional marks of integrity.

Commitment and Coping Skills

Many high-level careers require extensive education. Even after that education is completed, time and effort demands can be extraordinary. Women often need to simultaneously cope with stresses of work and family. If we are to expect equal opportunities for women, we must also expect to promise equal engagement and perseverance.

Challenge, Creativity, and Contribution

Successful women indicated they valued their careers most when those careers offered challenge, creativity, and opportunities to make contributions to society.


Jane now has many career and life choices. As teachers guide young women toward their dreams, it’s important to encourage passions and interests while helping them balance those choices with the realities of life and the availability of opportunities in our society.

B for Balance
Our final teacher tip begins with neither A nor C. Helping girls and women learn to find balance in their lives is perhaps the greatest challenge. This calls to mind my discussion with my daughter Sara when we were writing our book together. “Remember,” Sara cautioned, “No one should expect to have life totally balanced all the time. But if we can seek balance over our lifetime, we will have achieved the goal of a reasonable equilibrium.”

Factoid—Why Girls Need Resilience
When information is attributed to a male or female, whether it is college essays, job applications, portfolios, or tenure reviews, documents associated with a male consistently receive higher ratings than the very same information with a female name attached.

Research from book Women in Science—Can Evidence Inform the Debate?, Science, Vol. 317, p.200, July 13, 2007.

Raising Resilient Daughters*

Our research on the childhoods of more than a thousand successful women for our “Jane” books concluded that optimism and resilience were critical keys to their success. Your daughters will require both of these qualities if they seek to fulfill themselves in a society where gates are only slightly ajar for women who have high expectations of themselves. Whether your daughters are headed for science, the arts, business, medicine, law, or any of a long list of careers considered non-traditional for women, bias against women continue to provide an unfair struggle. Practicing the optimism needed for long-term resilience begins in childhood, and parents can surely foster those positive attitudes.

Middle school students who met in focus groups with me for my recent book, Growing Up Too Fast, reminded me frequently that peer pressure to fit in with whatever was defined as popularity was incredibly severe. Worries were rampant among this age group about popularity, overweight, the right clothes, self-confidence, being pretty or smart enough, parents and teachers understanding them, alcohol, drugs, and sex. Furthermore, the media has literally stolen middle childhood from our children and initiated adolescence for children before their minds and bodies are prepared for the pressures that used to start only during the teen years. For example, by third grade 15% of the children already expressed many worries about being popular with the opposite sex and a similar percentage believed their parents didn’t understand them. Good family relationships mediated the worries for those children and tweens, so you can teach your children optimism and resilience right now.

*Adapted from Raising an Optimistic, Resilient Daughter by Sylvia Rimm, Daughters Magazine, March/April, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 2, pp. 11. Reprinted, with permission, from Daughters: For Parents of Girls; Copyright Dads and Daughters, Duluth, MN. $27.99/year. 888-849-8476.

Here are some suggestions for parenting your daughters for resilience:

1. Encourage your daughters to enter competitions. Whether they’re involved in sports, writing, debate, music, art or drama, science, math, or the many additional competitions available, they can learn the exhilaration of winning, the advantages of collaborating with a team, and most of all, that no one wins all the time.

2. Cheer for them when they win, but especially cheer them on when they lose. Don’t make the mistake of too much commiseration over losses, and be sure not to make excuses for them. They must learn how to bounce back.

3. Gentle criticism teaches resilience. Criticism and suggestions aren’t heard well in the joy of victory or the misery of defeat, but at a later time, reviewing performance with a coach (that may be you) permits girls to understand how to improve without feeling as if they’re failures.

4. Perfect performances don’t happen. Perfectionism traps girls into never feeling good enough and preventing their taking risks for fear of making mistakes. Be clear that you expect the best they can do, but that may not be the best performance in the group or contest.

5. Perseverance and flexibility help. While girls should learn to work hard and persist, flexibility and changing direction are reasonable and shouldn’t be described as quitting.

6. Be a role model for optimism. Girls observe parental self-criticism and how parents cope with their own failures. If you use failures to learn from and move forward to try new experiences with realistic optimism, you set good examples for your daughters.

7. Humor relieves tension. Laughing at yourself and even gentle teasing by loving family members can dissolve tensions and put mistakes and failures into perspective. Girls who can poke fun at themselves are more likely to bounce back from losses.

8. Your daughters are listening. Whether you talk directly to them or you talk about them to your partner, parent, teacher, or your friends, they hear what you say and are likely to believe you. Describing their performances as extraordinary, best, or brilliant puts extreme pressure on them. Discussing their sadness or disappointment within their hearing causes them to feel sorry for themselves and think they have serious problems or are even depressed. If your chit chat with reference to your daughters sounds positive and more moderate, they’ll be unlikely to feel over-pressured and will feel more positive about their futures.

No matter how talented your daughters are, it’s important for them to experience both successes and failures. While successes can build their confidence, that confidence will not be sufficient to lead them to a successful adulthood unless they have practiced coping with obstacles in the safety of their family environment.

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