How to Boost Girls' Confidence in STEM
We learn a lot about the world (and well-being) through science, math, and engineering. We have fallen behind, however, in encouraging young female students to pursue career paths in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). According to recent research, as girls get older their confidence in STEM plunges. Girls who seem enthusiastic and undaunted by STEM through most of elementary school tend to lose that confidence starting around puberty.
Boys' and girls' confidence levels in STEM are about the same until estrogen and testosterone waves start flooding their brains. At this stage girls tend to start worrying more about grades and trying to please others, so they begin to get discouraged by an ingrained (but erroneous) belief that they would be better at a “softer” or a more “helpful” profession (or subject) than STEM.
Confident girls become confident women, and we want to encourage young women to grow up believing in their abilities to become whatever they want, encourage them to step out of their comfort zone, and embrace their limitless possibilities.
Tips for Increasing STEM Confidence in Young Girls
Positive Self-Talk: Pejorative statements like: “I can't do math and science” would decrease anyone’s confidence level, so teaching young girls to speak confidently to themselves is important. We can teach girls that they have the ability to change any statement from a negative to a positive. Use 'can' instead of 'can’t’ and turn their attention to the positive. Getting rid of "should" statements, like: "I should be better at math" is important as well. Helping girls take time to value what they have already achieved and set attainable goals (that don't include negative or disparaging self-talk) is crucial.
Take the fear out of failure: Sometimes when taking risks failure will strike, but that is no reason to quit what you are doing. Teaching young girls to learn to move through it, normalize it, and rebound will help them be ready for it the next time they make a mistake. Teach them to learn from their mistakes - after all, no one succeeds the first time at everything.
Set an Example: Parents are powerful role-models for their children when it comes to any subject, but especially to young girls when learning about STEM. Setting an example of how to move through adversity is important, so talk to your daughter and let her know when you’re worried about a new challenge. Include her in your process and ask her advice about it. This will show her that she is not the only one who is afraid of something new! You'll prove to her that being afraid of a new task is scary, but it is normal. Show your daughter what it means to make a mistake and then recover. If we are obsessing about being perfect, our daughters will absorb that unhealthy standard, no matter how many books on confidence we hand them.
Here are a few steps from the book “Confident Code for Girls” to help young women through mistakes:
Change the channel. Immediately after a disaster, do not analyze what went wrong, or assure her that you can fix it, or tell her that it doesn’t matter. Her amygdala (fear center) is on fire. Before rational thought can ensue, she needs a break. Have her take 30 minutes, or three hours, to do whatever will allow her brain to switch gears and take a breather. She can read a book, watch a show, play with the dog, kick a ball, or take a walk. Even looking at pictures of nature on her phone or computer can reduce stress, or looking at pictures of cute animals can help her focus on something else.
Take a virtual hot air balloon ride. When she’s ready to put things in perspective tell her to imagine herself floating way above her problem, looking down above her house, her town, her school. Talk about how she sees her situation from up there, compared to what she usually sees. This will help her pull her brain from the fiery center of the drama and go wide.
Next steps. Help her make a plan to study differently for that next exam, or to practice dribbling to get the ball down the court, or to come up with language to use in a confrontation. Learning from failure allows her to move forward, rather than retreat.
Encourage Confidence and Passion: By encouraging STEM subjects, you can give young girls something to be confident and passionate about. Work together to show them (both by example and through their own experiences) that they can do anything they set their mind to! Helping young girls value the responsibility they have to bring their own talents to the world - whatever they may be - is the best confidence builder out there.