What would be your first words to your daughter if …
… she lost the new smartphone that you just bought for her?
… she caused a fender-bender?
… she got a ticket for texting while driving?
… she was caught skipping school to hang out with her boyfriend?
What would your first thoughts be? What would your first actual words be to her? Would they be comforting words, or words of anger and judgment?
Throughout history there is tons of anecdotal evidence to suggest that our daughters do not feel they can communicate with their fathers. They are afraid of what their father may say or do. They wonder; Will he get red-faced and blow up? Have they observed their father respond in less than positive ways when their mother puts a dent in the car while pulling into the garage?
Stay with me here. I am not suggesting that as fathers we should relax our values or our standards. And car repairs are not cheap. (That is why we have car insurance, right?) But sometimes the greater good is to be a comforting and consoling father to a daughter who is hurting – even if it is because of her own poor choices.
So, Mr. Tough Guy, how do we do that? How do we demonstrate comfort and compassion?
Allow her to express her feelings before you start talking. She really needs the freedom to express what she is feeling. She feels things very deeply. And she feels them very differently than you would in the same circumstance. Staying quiet for a while and letting her express what she is feeling will go a long way to building a relationship based on the expectation that when she comes to you, you will listen. Doing this in the little things will set the expectation that when there is a real crisis in her life you will be able to listen to her side of the story.
Actively listen to her with your full attention. This is closely related to her expressing her feelings. It then becomes all about how you respond to her. Allowing her to express herself won’t make a difference if you don’t demonstrate that you were listening by asking some clarifying questions. As fathers, we need to clear our minds of the preconception that sometimes can be associated with young girls.
Actively listening to your daughter means that you use your ears, eyes, mouth, heart, and body language.
- With your ears you can listen to her words.
- With your eyes you can look for facial expressions or non-verbal clues to what she may be feeling, but may not be able to express fully.
- With your mouth you can ask those important follow-up questions to make sure you really do understand.
- With your heart you can sense the feelings that your daughter is feeling.
- With your body you can demonstrate through your own facial expressions or your own non-verbal clues that you are interested and ready to hear more. And by all means, give her a hug and let her feel your love.
And finally, respond with empathy when consequences are necessary. If your daughter has misbehaved, consequences are necessary. But you are doing her no good if you respond like an executioner. But instead of showing anger, try showing empathy and sorrow for her choices.
So, what can we do this week that shows our daughter that we have the ability to be a comforting influence in her times of trouble?
- Actually ask your daughter: “Am I a good listener?” If she says that you are not, consider what you can do to make some changes and build a stronger relationship with her.
- Then ask: “How can you tell when I’m not really listening?”
- Follow this up with: “How can I do better?”
And if you are really interested in communicating comfort to your daughter consider the following guidance:
- Face your child squarely. But don’t assume a confrontational posture. This says, “I am here and I am focusing on you.”
- Adopt an open posture. If you cross your arms you say, “I am not interested.”
- Put yourself on your child’s level. If your daughter is young, kneel or squat down so you are at eye level. This says, “I want to know more about you.” Remember, we can seem like giants to young children.
Try to stay relaxed as you listen. Learn to read your daughter’s nonverbal behavior. Her posture, her body movements, and her gestures speak as loudly as your posture. And actively give your daughter continuous nonverbal feedback. Nod to her. Smile at her. Raise your eyebrows. These small signals mean you “get it” and they encourage her to open up even more and let you into her life.
The last step to listening is speaking. But before you give a response, say, “Let me make sure I understand.” Then restate in your own words what your daughter has just told you. This shows her that you really were listening.
I really wish I could say that I was always the father that I describe so eloquently above. But that wouldn’t be truthful. One of the things about writing in such a public form as a blogger means that occasionally your grown children will read what you write. And they can call “Buffalo!” in an instant if you are not genuine and truthful.
But here is the deal. It is never too late to build or rebuild the kind of relationship that you both want.
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