Dad, what would be your first words to your daughter if she lost something important? Or if she injured herself in a minor accident because she was being careless? Or she caused a fender-bender? Or she came to you and told you that she’s pregnant?
What would your first words be? Would they be comforting words, or words of anger, disappointment, and judgment?
This can apply to sons too, but we have heard about this one challenge especially from daughters around the country: They don’t feel comfortable talking to their dads about their problems because they are afraid of what their dads will say or do. They do not sense unconditional acceptance from their dads. If they make a mistake, daughters feel their dads will judge them and be disappointed, first and foremost.
Though high expectations are often appropriate, many times comforting a daughter is more important than driving home a point … or proving that you’re right.
You’ll have many other opportunities to teach your daughter about right and wrong—and it’s very likely she’ll learn a lot from a “crisis” on her own, without your lecture. But if your daughter comes to you with a problem, and especially if she has disappointed you in some way, your first priority should be to comfort her. Here are three ways to do that:
1. Allow her to express her feelings.
Even when your daughter has made a mistake, keeping your cool and refusing to overreact are important steps if you want to build a relationship that encourages your daughter to come to you and tell you whatever is in her heart or on her mind. The secret is to establish a relationship of acceptance during the day-to-day ups and downs of life with your daughter. Then, when a crisis occurs, she’ll be much more likely to reach for you.
2. Actively listen to her.
“Active” listening means that you use your ears, eyes, mouth, heart, and body language. You notice facial expressions and other non-verbal cues; demonstrate that you’re ready and eager to hear what’s on her mind; and you ask follow-up questions to make sure you understand. Your goal is to understand the deeper feelings she may be communicating behind the words she’s saying.
3. Respond with empathy.
Even though angry and judgmental words will likely come to mind, what your daughter really needs from you is compassion and support. Some difficult consequences may be appropriate for her actions, but make sure your first response conveys that your first concern is her physical and emotional safety and well-being.
I like the statement that my friend, NCF blogger Jay Payleitner, suggests in his book, 52 Things Kids Need from a Dad: Be ready for such occasions with a statement like, “I love you. It’ll be okay. We’ll get through this together.” Try it with your daughter next time you get the chance—then follow through and support her through whatever she may be facing. Whether it’s spilled milk, a broken window, or something much more significant, convince her over and over through your actions that you’re there to help her make things better.
When a child misbehaves or gets in a tough situation, a dad’s first reaction is often to try to fix the problem, launching into a lecture about what she should do, or what lesson she should learn. But if you simply express sadness about the situation and concern for what your child is going through, your daughter will know you are there for her. And that’s a great place to start as she faces whatever challenges come her way.
This week’s blog is adapted from our ebook, 5 Things Every Kid Must Get from Dad. (There’s a section about daughters and one about sons.) I urge you to download and read the entire thing right here. It’s filled with more practical ideas that will help you become a better dad, including more Action Points like these:
- Ask your daughter: “Am I a good listener?” If she says that you are not, consider her answer a blessing. You can make some changes and build a stronger relationship with her.
- Then ask: “How can you tell when I’m not really listening?” And, “How can I do better?”
- Give your child lots of verbal affirmation every day. Express your love and point out her positive characteristics. In a difficult and confusing world, make sure she knows she always has you on her side.
- During times when your children face failure or uncertainty, hold them close and whisper in their ear: “It’s gonna be okay. We’ll get through this.”
- View your child’s challenges and behavior issues as opportunities to demonstrate your love for him or her through your comfort and forgiveness—even when there are tough consequences along with them.
What works for you—or what lessons have you learned the hard way—when it comes to comforting and supporting your daughter (or your son)? Please share your ideas and comments below or at our Facebook page.
Carey Casey is the CEO of the National Center for Fathering, a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the culture of fathering in America by enlisting 6.5 million fathers who to make the Championship Fathering Commitment. NCF believes that every child needs a dad they can count on, and uses its resources to inspire and equip men to be the involved fathers, grandfathers and father figures their children need. Subscribe to his weekly email tip by clicking here: “Yes! I want tips on how to be a great dad who loves, coaches, mentors, and inspires my children.