As a troop leader, you know the importance of teaching girls to use kind, uplifting language when speaking to one another. You prevent and stop bullying and help girls build strong, healthy friendships.
Showing girls how to be a sister to every Girl Scout is a big task, and in the process, you might overlook the less-visible dialogue that’s going on—the words that girls say to themselves in their own heads. Internal dialogue shapes how we see ourselves and the world around us, and has a big impact on our self-esteem.
Self-talk can make the difference between, “I will never accomplish this!” and, “I’ll keep trying until I succeed!” Negative self-talk often shows up in girls as comments relating to appearance, friendships, and school.
Here are a few ways that you can help foster healthy self-talk and self-image with your Girl Scouts.
Girls learn how to talk and think about themselves through observation. The, “I hate how I look,” “No, I hate how I look, at least you don’t have hair like mine,” exchange between women and girls is so familiar that it saturates everything from movie screens to fitting rooms. Introduce a different norm by engaging in positive self-talk around your Girl Scouts. Share exciting accomplishments and use phrases like “I’m really proud of myself for _____ this week!” It might feel strange at first, but it’s good for them and for you!
Additionally, be honest with your struggles and failures. Sharing stories like, “On my last camping trip, we were never able to get a fire going, but we still had so much fun!” Or, “I was really nervous about canoeing the first time,” helps them to see that you aren’t “perfect” and they don’t need to be either!
Girls receive a lot of messages that tell them they shouldn’t like themselves. In fact, girls who do like themselves are labeled as self-centered or overly confident. Buck these assumptions by intentionally and regularly building up your girls’ confidence. Ask them questions like, “What are you proud of today?” and “What are you good at?”
Encourage girls to talk to themselves the way they would talk to a close friend. It may even be helpful to remind her of a specific situation, “Remember when your friend was having a really bad week and you said/did X, Y, and Z to help her out? Are you giving yourself the same kind of kindness?”
When girls do engage in negative self-talk, or if you suspect it’s building in her head, help her reframe the situation. If she says, “I failed my math test, I’m so stupid,” help her move toward, “I am still learning and I know that I can do better on the next test!”
If her negative self-talk is appearance-related, try to direct her attention to more meaningful traits. Avoid simply responding to these kinds of comments with “That’s not true, you’re so pretty!” or similar. Of course, every girl is beautiful, but to counteract a culture that is extremely focused on girls’ appearance, it’s important to focus on the traits that matter most like her kindness, dedication, and intelligence. Have her make a list of the qualities that make her who she is, or have the troop brainstorm a list about each girl. Note that (likely) none of the traits/characteristics listed are physical attributes. Ask her what she loves the most about her friends or family members, then flip it around and ask what she thinks others love most about her. Reiterate again that these most important qualities make us who we are, have little or nothing to do with physical appearance.
Girls face a lot of pressure at school, from peers, and from the activities they are involved in. There are real reasons to feel sad, overwhelmed, or stressed in her life. Make sure to validate her concerns and worries, before gently redirecting her energy. Responding with, “I bet it is really hard to not get the grade you wanted after studying so hard,” before reminding her of how capable she is, let her know that you heard her insecurity and that you don’t think it’s unimportant.
Additionally, make sure to understand the context. Is she worrying about her appearance because of a bully at school? Does she display signs of depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder? Negative self-talk can be a sign of other concerns, so make sure to ask questions and respond accordingly.
Want to work on positive self-talk in a troop setting? There’s a badge for that! Brownies can work on the My Best Self badge, Cadettes can tackle the Science of Happiness badge, and Seniors can venture on their Mission: Sisterhood Journey. Or, try one of these ideas below:
- Discuss and practice meaningful compliments. We frequently compliment others on new clothing or haircuts but far less frequently on what we actually like most about them. Have girls practice “real compliments” with one another (e.g., I appreciate how you always include everyone, you are such a great canoe partner, you always think of such creative solutions to problems.) Challenge girls to give at least one meaningful compliment to someone else every time your troop meets. They can also practice giving meaningful compliments to themselves!
- Reframe a movie or book scene. Notice a scene in a movie or a book where negative self-talk is presented as the norm. Show or read the scene to the girls then invite them to create their own script to change the narrative to positive self-talk OR to a scenario when a character steps in to call out the negative self-talk. Act it out or film it!
McKayla Murphy – McKayla is a program resources specialist at Girl Scouts River Valleys. She graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and a minor in dance. McKayla is passionate about racial equity, critical media studies, and art education. She enjoys dancing, trying new food, and seeking adventure (including winter camping and travel). Staples in McKayla’s life include dark chocolate, her hammock, and plenty of reading material.