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9 Smart Ways Single & Divorced Dads Can Connect with Teen Daughters

9 Smart Ways Single & Divorced Dads Can Connect with Teen Daughters

Even top therapists admit that their own daughters roll their eyes, sigh, and shudder at them during the teenage years. Rude backtalk also infuriates even the most patient and teen-savvy parent. Add in a divorce, new mates for mom and/or dad, location moves, and parenting teen daughters can seem impossible.

It’s at this time that fathers must step up and re-double efforts to connect in positive ways. If you’re struggling with your temper at this time or feeling tempted to pull away because you can’t seem to connect with your daughter, do not hesitate to reach out to a parenting coach or therapist. It’s the brave fathers who seek insights from experts. These professionals help dads avoid falling into a manipulative teen’s drama or pulling away due to confusion and feelings of uselessness.

The following tactics work well to keep you connected to your teen daughter. Even when some activities or attempts to connect seem to fail, your consistency and determination make a huge difference. Researchers agree that teenage girls who enjoy continued connection with their fathers throughout adolescence end up in healthier relationships, enjoy increased self-esteem, and report fewer mental health issues.

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When your daughter seems hostile or closed off, soothe yourself with the warm memories from when your little girl thought that you knew everything and could fix everything in the whole wide world.

Attitude Tweaks

All teenagers alternate between freezing out and lashing out at parents… unless they need or want something, at which point they revert to the sweet things they did when they were 11. This Jekyll & Hyde behavior helps them go through the necessary emotional work of becoming an individual, or separating to some extent from the family. Psychologists tell us that teens can resemble toddlers, in the sense that they break away from a parent’s reach to explore a new environment. Once the toddler has realized they’ve gone a bit too far, they startle and run back to the safety of familiar legs. Arrange your schedule and your time so your daughter knows you’re always there even when she’s out exploring. Keep tabs on where she is at all times and, just as important, let her know where YOU are.

As you stay consistently in each other’s orbit, this is not the time to be your daughter’s best friend. She needs limits now as much as any time in her life. It’s far easier to be the cool dad/friend who doesn’t enforce limits, but expending this consistent energy now and actually being the bad guy puts your daughter on a far better track.

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Typical mistakes dads can make include:

  • Siding with their daughter against their mother (the primary target for female adolescent angst). No matter what state she is in, insist that your daughter treat her mother with respect. When you treat your ex with respect, your daughter will learn men must treat her civilly as well.
  • Becoming the cool-friend-dad. No matter what she says, she needs your protection and wisdom, far more than approval from her friends. Who cares what they think? They’re immature and clueless for the most part. While she may holler about curfews and other limitations, just put on your ear-muffs and hold the line. You are one of two primary people she’ll have to always provide the supervision and guidance about how to operate in the world and how to treat people. She’ll have lots of friends, but only one father.

Drive Her Places, Even If She Has a License

So, she has her license and can get to her athletic events and other activities by herself, you should still tell her you want to go. In-the-car-time is some of the best times fathers and daughters can talk and connect. Ask her to run errands with you or run her errands with her.

Be Present

Try to spend at least one hour each day fully present with your daughter. This could be at dinner or even television time afterward. Do chores together. Spend time without any laptops, or cell phones for either of you. If there’s a television show on, discuss it. Mindfulness experts encourage us to be fully present by consciously locking out thoughts of the past and future. For this hour, just concentrate on your daughter, the meal, the dishes, or the road ahead. Learning how to be present in the moment can take some getting used to, so practice when you’re not with your daughter. Recent studies from Harvard and others reveal that mindfulness has all kinds of mental and physical health benefits.

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Designate a Doctor or Other Medical Service You Will Handle

While your ex handles the orthodontist, you may handle the dentist. Let grandma get her to her chiropractor appointments, but you go to the yearly physical. Divide these tasks and don’t let another family member or even the mother take all of them.

Keep the Reassuring Hugs and Pats Coming

Even if your daughter stiffens up now when you go to hug her, hug her anyway, especially when she’s sick. Run your hand over her head, pat her back and tell her it’s good to see her or congratulate her for the B on that math test. Tell her you love her before you hang up the phone. If these gestures feel uncomfortable, do them anyway and consider exploring why they make you uncomfortable with a therapist. The American Psychological Association reports that consistent affection has proven to protect children from all kinds of physical and mental illnesses AND especially from peers who don’t have their best interests at heart.

Connect Through Notes and Texts

Find the ways you can connect better with your daughter. Send sentiments regularly, especially when she’s had a test, a special dance, game, or meet. You can simply put encouraging notes in her backpack. Even if you’ve had a recent disagreement, she still has that nerve-wracking oral presentation in chemistry, or her first turn as forward in the field hockey game.

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Ask Her Opinion on Your Work, Friends, or Decorating Matters

Demonstrate that you respect her burgeoning maturity by letting her weigh in on adult matters. You don’t have to take the advice, but asking for it indicates you recognize she’s maturing.

Know that it’s Never Too Late

Even if you have made some mistakes with your daughter and/or her mother, know that it is NEVER too late to tell her you want to work on your connection with her. Lots of great things have come from fathers admitting their mistakes and telling their daughters they are working on their attitudes, behaviors, and efforts. Too many daughters in their twenties and thirties are still waiting for better communication and a warmer bond with their fathers. Start now by using the tried and true tactics parenting experts suggest. We’ve seen it over and over again: IT’S NEVER TOO LATE!

Be On the Lookout for Threats to Your Connection

Hold the line and insist on time with your daughter, even if your daughter resists. When fathers aren’t sure how to spend time with daughters, they may reduce their time with them. Do not fall into this common pattern. Instead, keep seeking out things the two of you can enjoy together. Your local newspaper’s events sections will have plenty of activities. Not all activities have to be full-on fun, however. As mentioned above, grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, and errand running together serve as great activities to share. If she’s doing homework at the table, you can sit with her quietly while you work, surf the Internet, or do your bills.

Do you have a teenager daughter? What are some of your favorite activities to do together?

Featured photo credit: portrait of one sad daughter hugging his father/shutterstock via thumb7.shutterstock.com

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Peter Mueller

Founder of Father's Rights Law Center

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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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