It’s never too early to start building self-confidence in our girls. It happened the other day. I caught her looking intensely in the mirror. Scrutinizing her face, concentrating, judging. Assessing her appearance and coming up short.
“Mom, am I pretty?”
I pulled my sweet 8-year-old daughter in to a tight hug. I reassured her she was beautiful, not only on the outside, but inside, with her generous, loving heart. Inwardly, my stomach tightened as I thought ahead to the tumultuous years to come. I wished I could reassure her that her friends would always support her, that strangers wouldn’t judge her based on her clothes, hairstyle, weight and whether or not she smiled.
Like many girls, I struggled. For me, the saving grace was running, and the community I found in track and cross country in middle school. Over the years, I have dipped in and out of my running practice, but ultimately, always come back in some fashion, particularly during times of stress. At 39, I still struggle occasionally with insecurity. There will always be “mean” girls, who build themselves up by taking others down. The way we cope with those pressures – and people – takes practice, guidance and support, particularly during critical formative years.
The statistics are scary. Girls’ self-confidence begins to drop by age 9. More than 50 percent of girls ages 10 to 13 experience bullying. Physical activity begins to decline starting at age 10 and continues to decrease throughout adolescence. So how can we work on building self-confidence for our girls?
My friend Meagan Kukowski is the executive director of Girls on the Run, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping girls reach their true potential and pursue their dreams. The girls meet twice a week in small teams, and learn life skills, thought-engaging lessons, and fun movement activities, taught by certified Girls on the Run coaches. Coaches do NOT need to be runners; just people passionate about helping girls grow in the program. The 10-week program culminates with the girls completing their first 5K, giving them a tangible sense of achievement, and a framework for setting and achieving their goals.
Meagan first learned of Girls on the Run while reading an article in Runner’s World magazine in 2005. She applied to be a coach that first season, prior to having children of her own. The program came full circle this past spring, when she served as a coach for her third-grade daughter at her school. Meagan plans to coach again this spring, rearranging her already busy schedule to fit in something she ultimately finds rewarding for both herself and, she hopes, the girls who participate.
Girls on the Run is still recruiting coaches and sites for the spring season. Visit https://www.gotrmc.org/ to learn more. The spring 5K also is a great way to get involved, and is set for April 25, 2020, at Wesley Bolin Plaza in downtown Phoenix.
For me, I plan to get my own daughter involved with the Girls on the Run organization. At 8, she is on the delicate cusp between little girl and tween. Barbies one day and makeup the next. I want to provide her the tools to navigate, with our support, the next several years and beyond with grace, positive self-esteem and empathy.