By Laurie Hollman, Ph.D.
Praise your teenage daughter with Parental Intelligence. This involves thinking about what your your praise will mean to your daughter. So first step back and think about how the praise will be taken and understood by your daughter. Really think before you speak. Offhanded general comments don’t fly too far but are tossed off as, ‘”Well, he’s my father, so he said that ‘cause he loves me.”
Make Praise Specific
Praise has to be specific to your daughter and detailed to the task, event, or human relations skill. “You’re a great soccer player” doesn’t mean nearly as much as “It was so exciting when you kicked that fast ball past that star goalie and she saw it whiz by and all the parents cheered.”
Or, it doesn’t mean as much to say, “You are such a sweet kid” compared to saying, “When you told Talia her new curly hair looked beautiful, it was really important because we know how sensitive and loyal you are to your shy friend.” These comments may produce proud broad smiles or sensitive blushes, but they shall be heard.
Choose How Often to Praise
Praising every day loses its power, so wait for the right moment. It doesn’t have to be a big coup or special event, just something important to your teen’s values and motivations. Speaking to your daughter’s character builds self-esteem even when mistakes are made and there’s a lapse in judgment:
“When you apologized to the teacher for lying about doing your assignment, I was really proud of you. That took a lot of guts and I’m sure she knew it. That’s why she gave you that extra day to complete the homework and then you worked hard and aced it. Very special, kiddo!”
Nonjudgmental Admiration and Approval
Praise is defined as expressing approval or admiration but it’s best done in a nonjudgmental way or you may overreach what you expect of your daughter in the future producing fear of failure and future paternal disapproval instead of pride. To do this right, think of what makes your daughter proud of herself, not only what makes you proud of her:
“I know you’re proud you got that high grade on the math test because you don’t think of math as your best subject and you got the only A in the class. I think we both know that happened because of all the hard work you put into it. That’s one of your best qualities—persistence when things are tough. That’s hard to keep up all the time though, so give yourself a break now and then.”
Praising persistence rather than the A itself is more valuable praise because it allows for the teenager not to get an A the next time without feeling guilty while highlighting that her persistence is key which can be applied in so many areas of her life.
This example is detailed, specific, value-laden, and important to the teen, not only to the parent. It gets high marks!
Fathers Praising Appearance
The most sensitive area for a teenage girl may be her appearance. How do fathers handle that? This is the one area where detail may overreach and cause embarrassment. I suggest simply telling your daughter that she looks lovely or sophisticated or is wearing a cool color. It’s off base to mention anything about how her figure appears to you or anything specifically referring to her body. Keep a clear boundary as a father but give her a gentle hug when needed!