DADs Tips for Disciplining Daughters
Discipline is often hard for a stepfather or a father to do effectively with daughters. As Fred Rogers said, “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” Even when she makes a mistake. Here are some things for you to consider when approaching discipline with your daughter.
1. Pick your battles. Ask: “How important will this issue be one year from now?” Put her misdeed into perspective, especially when tension is high. When you start getting super-angry, take time and space to breathe and think things through, rather than jumping into a battle that may end up making more work for you both over time.
2. Catch her being good. Positive reinforcement is very powerful, so be sure to notice (and acknowledge) when she is respectful, stands up for herself appropriately, thinks of others, and displays the diverse qualities and values that make for a good person.
3. She hungers for you attention. Focusing your attention on her is like training a growth light on a plant—it can help her blossom in the most positive ways. Never underestimate the power of your fatherly attention to steer her in the right direction.
4. “Punishment” is only one gizmo in the discipline toolbox—and often the least effective. Agreed-upon expectations and routines—with natural consequences for mistakes and missteps—are the most successful strategies. With younger daughters, try “playful parenting.” Be direct and respectful, but try to offset her embarrassment and help her learn with humor. Remember the ultimate goal: to learn self-discipline that will serve her well after you’re out of the picture.
5. Listen to her. That increases the odds that she’ll respond positively to you. “Misbehavior” sometimes results from feelings your daughter hasn’t processed or figured out. Your listening can help her do that, and thus drain away the distress fueling her misbehavior!
6. Demonstrate emotional intelligence. Everyone (including you and her) feels angry, happy, sad, loving, grateful, afraid, safe, confused, regretful, proud, and loved. So make sure you are feeling and expressing all of those emotions responsibly. That sets a powerful example for your daughter, and gives you solid experience in how to understand and help her manage her own range of emotions. Remember that discipline is about love, not about asserting power to make one person feel better by putting down another.
7. Respect mistakes (yours and hers). It’s a good thing everyone makes mistakes, because many of life’s most important lessons come from screwing up. If you mess up, set an example by making amends--work to “mend” the tear in the relationship, instead of just quickly apologizing to paper over the immediate discomfort. When she screws up, hold her accountable, and calmly help her work through the lessons she learns.
8. Follow through. Disciplining is sometimes uncomfortable, but we have to do it anyway. If you set a consequence and she doesn’t respond, don’t brush things off by saying: “Well, I know she meant to” or “I know she’s sorry inside.” Kids don’t want to admit they were wrong anymore than we do, but we all have to learn that skill. When you respect her for admitting mistakes, you show the kind of unconditional love she craves and needs from you.
9. Father the best you can when she is with you. If you’re a live-away dad, don’t let her off the hook or try to “make up for” family problems by suspending expectations and limits. As one dad put it, “Playing ‘Disneyland Dad’ only makes me a Mickey Mouse parent.” You can’t change how her mother raises her or make up for what her other parents do or don’t do. You can’t correct their excessive leniency with excessive strictness on your part, or vice versa. Father her calmly; give her choices; and be patient and loving, not a demanding perfectionist. Be the dad she can talk to and trust to support her--even when she makes mistakes.
10. Enjoy each other! The most effective discipline grows from a foundation of trust. Trust can’t come if the majority of your father-daughter interactions center on discipline. Dedicate time to spend together having fun, talking, being with family, or just quietly enjoying each other.
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DADs: Making the world safe and fair for our daughters