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6 ways to help our daughters live 'the confidence code'

Award-winning journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman talk to NBC News’ Know Your Value about their new book, “Living the Confidence Code.”
Award-winning journalists Katty Kay, left, and Claire Shipman, right.
Award-winning journalists Katty Kay, left, and Claire Shipman, right.Courtesy of Katty Kay and Claire Shipman.

Research shows that when girls reach puberty, their confidence takes a hit. From second-guessing themselves to raising their hands less in class, the teenage years are when girls are often at risk of falling off the so-called “confidence cliff.”

It’s part of the reason why over the last decade, award-winning journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman have published a series of bestsellers exploring how women can harness confidence to bust self-doubt at work, in life, and in school.

And on the heels of the success of “The Confidence Code for Girls,” their first book geared toward younger readers, the two have teamed up with author JillEllyn Riley to publish “Living the Confidence Code,” which features the stories of more than 30 trailblazing young women and their own tips for living confidently.

“We know that the best role models for girls can often be not their parents, but other girls,” Shipman told NBC News’ Know Your Value.

In the book’s pages, we meet Melati and Isabel Wijsen, the Indonesian sisters at the forefront of an international campaign to remove plastic from the oceans; Gitanjali Rao, the teen who invented a device to detect lead in water using a smartphone in response to the Flint, Michigan water crisis; Aaron Philip, the disabled and transgender rights activist who became the first trans Black disabled model to be signed to a major agency; and Yekaba Abimbola, an Ethiopian girl who cultivated the community support to get out of a marriage her father had arranged for her at age 12.

The book, which came out this week, is filled with the stories of young women around the world who are doing things big and small to change their own circumstances, their communities, and the world — and most importantly, how they grew their own confidence and resilience to overcome challenges along the way.

“Some of the struggles that we [write about] from around the world are not struggles obviously that girls in America have, but the process of dealing with those struggles, whether you're in Indonesia or Ethiopia or Nepal or Afghanistan or the U.K. or America — that process of taking a risk and overcoming a hurdle, and sort of carrying through fear, that's the same wherever you are,” Kay said. “And that feeling of satisfaction and growing your confidence is the same, too. The result is equally powerful.”

Here are Kay and Shipman’s top five takeaways from “Living the Confidence Code”:

1. It’s OK to fail

“We wanted to make sure there were girls in the book who were honest about how they had failed in their ventures as well [and] we wanted to show other girls that this is normal and it's part of how you build your confidence and how you have success,” Kay said.

“And I think if you can normalize failure by showing your daughters and our daughters, our girls, our own failures and the moments when we haven't been perfect, and the moments when they’ve had a struggle, but have come through it and survived it and gone over the hurdles, I think all of that is really the most helpful thing you can do for your daughter,” Kay said. “Stop them from catastrophizing and get them used to the idea of having failures and hurdles, because if they get so terrified, as our research has shown that girls become terrified of the prospect of failing, then they won't take action, then they won't take risks, then they won't ever grow their confidence because they'll stick in a very, very narrow comfort zone, because just the fear of failing is so great. So let’s try to normalize failure as much as we can.”

2. You don’t have to be a superhero

“These girls are incredible, but they’re not superheroes,” Shipman said. “We were very deliberate in finding girls who would articulate the struggles they have, who sound like my own teenager in expressing their vulnerabilities and their concerns about things. But then something would click, and they just managed to — with whatever confidence tricks they used or an ability to get over a fear of failure or the fear of a risk they were going to take — they would just do it and take that next step.”

“We really tried to detail the struggle and get into the nuts and bolts, [and] there was a hidden how-to message in each of these stories,” Shipman said. “I learned little tricks and tips from some of these girls, some of them would talk about looking in the mirror and telling themselves something. Some of them would talk to each other to boost themselves up. Some of them would hide in their room for two days after they had a failure. I guess it was a feeling of connection, really, and thinking, ‘Okay, well, If Anahi can do that and she's in high school then, I guess I could send that email today.’”

3. Shake it off and just do it

“What we really learned is that to build resilience in life, and the feelings of positivity and accomplishment, you have to be able to do things,” Shipman said. “Confidence is just about doing, and it is that kind of virtuous circle where the more you do, the more confidence you create, the more risk you take, the more you fail, the more confidence you create, and therefore that lets you do more.”

“We all often as women and girls have a propensity to think and live in our heads and balk sometimes at ‘doing’ because we think the risk is just too great,” Shipman said. “And so our overarching theme is just how do you kind of shake some of that off and do things? Because the more we do it helps us on every front: it helps you battle perfectionism, overthinking, living in your head — it's sort of like ‘just get on with it and do it.’”

4. Ask yourself, 'What’s the very worst thing that could happen?'

“When you're looking at taking a risk of doing something that is hard for you and getting outside of your comfort zone, often what happens is that the downside of that risk can just loomso huge,” Kay said. She recommends helping girls assess the downside of the risk they’re thinking of taking, whether it’s auditioning for the school play or asking a new friend over, by asking “What's really going to happen? What’s the very worst thing that could happen if you do x?”

“Well, nine times out of 10 the very worst thing that could happen is so much smaller than how your daughter may imagine it in her head,” Kay said. “I think helping them work through that process is really good.”

5. Rock the boat

“The biggest thing that changed in terms of my daughters is trying to discourage perfectionism and people-pleasing and realize that when they do things that are outside of the boundaries of what girls often do or they don't color in all the lines or they don't follow all the rules or they're kind of not being perfect — actually, that's great,” Kay said.

“When you get from sort of that wonderful cozy world of school where you get rewarded for dotting every ‘i’ and, you know, only raising your hand when you're asked for; and then you get into the world of work and the rules have changed and you need to be able to promote yourself and talk about your accomplishments and be a bit more sort of savvy and political maybe, and a bit more assertive, we're not teaching our girls that when we're telling them just to color in the lines all the time and follow all the rules,” Kay said. “For me, encouraging my daughters to rock the boat a bit — that's really what I've learned from it.”

6. Know you’re not alone

“Everybody's experiencing this, and people don't talk about it,” Shipman said of the confidence crisis. “I think encouraging that and encouraging friendships where they can lean on each other in that way, is something I've been trying to do.” She and Kay are launching a call to action on Instagram reels where girls are encouraged to post a 15-second video documenting "A Day In Your Confident Life” showcasing what they’re doing to get over their fears and tackle their goals.

“A part of our book which I really like at the end of each chapter [is] the ‘just asking’ [section] where we talk about sort of ‘what's your favorite comfort food, what always makes you laugh, what do you like to do on a lazy day,’ and it really helped me to see just how much in common all these girls around the world have,” Shipman said. “You get a little glimmer, even as we're talking to them long distance, of their personality or how they like to be goofy or what frightens them and what the ‘girl-ness’ of it all is. Especially being the mother of a 15 year old, I just liked that, there is this common bond among of all these girls, and sometimes it's a common bond of a lack of confidence or catastrophizing or being too perfectionistic and having to overcome it, but ultimately I think the stronger element is that there's this awesome desire to do stuff and make change and this deep compassion and focus on humanity and other people that I think young girls have and share.”

Disclosure: Delmore worked for Kay and Shipman while researching their first book, “Womenomics” in 2008.