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Let’s face it: speaking up can be hard for anyone, but if your girl is on the shy side, speaking her mind might feel as far-fetched as meeting a real-life unicorn. That said, just because she’s nervous about it doesn’t mean she shouldn’t try to flex that speaking-out muscle. Throughout her life, she’ll need to know how to stand up for herself or others and share her point of view.
Whether it’s defending a peer from a bully or sharing an answer in class, her ability to speak up is an important skill to master—and it’ll be way easier if she gets in the habit now. Here are some tips on how to teach her to raise her voice.
Talk with her. A lot.
The safest place to start her future of public speaking? At home! Talking to people about how she feels in a safe and loving environment is a great, low-risk place to start. Engage her in conversations, and invite her to offer her opinion regularly. Avoid yes/no questions, and really urge her to tell you about her feelings.
If your girl often answers questions you ask about her preferences with, “whatever” or “I don’t care,” explain to her that nobody can read minds, and that the only way she can make life better for herself (and others!) is by speaking up and communicating her feelings, ideas, wants, and needs. If she doesn’t tell anyone about her big idea, her perspective, how she’s feeling, or what she needs, how can others help?
Acknowledge that things won’t always go her way, even when she does speak up, but that by communicating her thoughts and desires, she’ll at least have a better chance. And the more she does it, the more automatic it will become—and probably her confidence in doing so too. She’ll also likely notice that people listen to her more and take her more seriously. If there’s something coming up at school, like a debate or class discussion, practice with her at home first. Having her thoughts organized will make it easier for your girl to feel comfortable.
To some extent, she can fake it till she makes it! Teach your girl that the tone of her voice and her posture all send different messages too. If someone slouches and speaks too softly, they might appear less confident. However, speaking in a calm, clear voice and standing up straight with her shoulders back are all ways she can project that she’s confident and in control of her thoughts and feelings. Ask her to think of ways of standing and moving that make her feel more powerful. Maybe it’s standing with her hands on her hips or jumping up and down a bit to “warm up” before speaking. Take time to point out how some of her favorite role models stand or carry themselves so she can follow their lead!
Be a role model
Guess who she learns from the most? You! Yes, that’s right. Whether you think she notices or not, your girl is watching and listening to you when you’re speaking to your friends, negotiating a deal with a colleague, or having discussions with your partner. Showing her it’s OK to speak your mind in a respectful and direct way models confident behavior for your girl. Do your best to stick up for what you believe in and to not be timid about speaking your mind. If you also have a hard time with speaking up, tell your girl about it and how you overcame it. It will bring the two of you closer together and show her that being shy doesn’t have to stop you from saying all the things in life you’d like to.
Take a step back
While your first instinct when you see your girl struggle might be to jump in and fix everything or speak on her behalf, try to avoid doing that unless it’s completely necessary. While you can absolutely listen and advise, she has to take the action to change a situation and finally stick up for herself. Tell her about times when you’ve realized you needed to take action and decide what to do next—perhaps a time when you were treated with disrespect or saw another person being disrespected. What went through your mind, and how did you find the courage to take the next step and act? Telling her about your own experiences will help her think through these kinds of situations when they happen in her life.
Give her a chance to be a leader
She can’t step into a leadership role if she doesn’t have an opportunity! When your girl is young, or as soon as you can, talk to her about signing up for activities, clubs, or something like Girl Scouts. By placing her in a situation where she’s excited and collaboration with a team is built into the experience, she’ll naturally gain leadership skills and her confidence in speaking up will blossom. That positive experience will make her feel more comfortable taking on a leadership role with friends—and inside the classroom too.