by Dianna Flett

A girl’s self-esteem peaks when she’s nine years old. That’s crazy isn’t it?

Girl Smarts focuses on giving girls ways to combat the drop in self-esteem with real skills and tips to navigate life as tweens and teens. The social skills we teach help children feel more confident and reinforce what many of you teach as a matter of course in your parenting.

If you’d consider our input, here are the top five things we teach the children to help them make a great first impression:

1. How to shake hands.

No really, we teach them the steps. We show them where their “perlicue” is and teach them that a woman’s handshake is noted in introductions as an indicator of their personality and strength. Usually about 50 percent of the girls we work with have never been taught how to do a proper handshake. Think about it. How often do we tell little Johnny to come over and shake Uncle Bill’s hand and suggest to Ellie that she give him a hug? Of course it isn’t ill intended but teaching our daughters how to do a firm and proper handshake is a great step toward helping them make a great first impression.


2. How to make eye contact.

Body language is important. It is the focus of our very first workshop “Face to Face”. In “Face to Face” we give the girls a trick on how to make eye contact because looking someone in the eyes creates a connection with them. We get it that so many of our children find direct eye contact overwhelming. Sometimes a child avoiding adult eye contact is a cultural decision. Of course that is any family’s choice. But if you want your child to look people in the eyes and they simply cannot, fussing at them increases their anxiety. In our program we use a small, round, yellow dot. We place it in the space between the eyes and just above the nose. We practice talking to one another looking at that space. It is a trick and it is meant to let the girls conquer their anxious feelings about making direct eye contact. More than any other skill we give the girls, this one comes up time and again as one they remember even ten years later. One of our greatest compliments came from a parent when she wrote and said, “My daughter has never looked us in the eyes and after Girl Smarts she is doing it all the time.” We tell the girls this is an interim step and when they feel better and stronger they can make the move to direct eye contact. Coupling a good hand shake with direct eye contact is a winner first impression.

yellow dot

3. How to say no.

Raising children is hard. We all get that. We have to set boundaries and sometimes have them do exactly what we say. When one of my children would wander astray because they wouldn’t listen to some specific guidance, they’d often start their explanation with the words:

“But I thought…”

Our go to response was:

“Don’t think, it hurts the team.”

Sometimes they just need to use the play in the playbook and do exactly what they are told.

But we have to teach our children that it is okay to sometimes tell adults, and of course their friends, no. As parents we teach them to say “thank you” and “please” so why not give them a way to turn down something firmly and help them embrace their ability to make choices. One of the earliest phrases we taught our boys was, “No thank you, but thank you for offering.” Trust me, they used it A LOT. When our children feel like it is okay to say no respectfully then they gain the strength to say “No” when it becomes critical that they make a tough choice.

By middle school, I also suggest you give them ways to say “no” to other things like alcohol or drugs. There are significant challenges ahead. They will have to know how to navigate those challenges without us.

4. How to order their own food at restaurants.

I have a friend whose son didn’t like hamburger meat. Early on she taught him to order a “plain cheeseburger without the burger”. It sometimes had to be repeated a couple of times but he would get what he wanted to eat. By 4th and 5th grade if your child has a special desire for a certain way they want things ordered, practice ordering with them before you head out to eat. Pull up a restaurant’s menu and help them work through ordering as if you were the waiter. The next step is returning food if it isn’t what they ordered. We can teach them to be polite but firm in getting what they want. Of course this may involve a bit of extra coaching at the restaurant when they discover the order is amiss, but by giving them this simple skill you are helping them find their voice. All of these things take practice and that practice builds confidence.

club sandwich

And finally – and this is a big one for back to school time:

5. How to introduce themselves and you.

Start the year right by having your children introduce themselves first to the teacher and then have them introduce you. Practice how you want that to go:

“Hi, Mr. Rowland. My name is Katie Barnes. I’d like to introduce you to my mother Ellie Barnes.”

You can even set them up with some questions they might like to ask their teachers to start the new year.

“Are there books I can get a head start on?”
“What is the best way for me to be successful in your class?”
“How do I communicate with you after school if I have questions about an assignment?”

Finally give them a wrap up sentence or two.


“Mom, did you want to ask anything?”
“Thank you Mr. Rowland, I’m really looking forward to the new year.”

Does it seem scripted to you? Trust me, by the second teacher they’ll be comfortable enough to make their own script. If you come up with this type of back and forth and practice it before open house you’re sending all sorts of great messages to your children. You’re showing trust and giving them ownership of the event. You’re letting them own their space as a student and as your child. And you are letting them take the lead in their education. As we conclude the first workshop of our program I often bring in my 6’6” son to practice introductions with the girls. He is big and intimidating and every single time the girls are up to the task.

Giving our children new skills IS empowerment. And empowerment makes a difference in how they grow up.