5 Ways to Discourage Your Daughter

You’ve heard of the law of unintended consequences? Basically, it posits that every action has an unintended effect. Some of these unintended consequences are really good—like the discovery of penicillin or showing up at the wrong class and sitting next to your future wife. However, sometimes, with the best intentions, we make decisions that lead to results we would’ve never desired, such as when Ascanio Sobrero accidentally created an explosive compound that led to the invention of dynamite, and when you made that explosive comment that devastated your daughter.

Obviously, no one discourages his daughter on purpose. We all want her to be confident and courageous and know she’s loved. But sometimes our actions have unintended consequences. Here are 5 ways to discourage your daughter and pivots you can make to avoid them.

1. Assume you can’t relate to her.

I know she dyes her hair in ways you don’t love, and her friends are strange to you. The music she listens to isn’t even close to what you find interesting, and the shows she streams on Netflix bore you to tears. What could you possibly have in common? However, where you assume disconnection, she may see disinterest in what she is interested in, and in her personally.

If you want to know how not to discourage your child, assume there’s more there to connect over than first meets the eye. Ask her to share her music, her interests, and her thoughts. And be willing to set aside your preconceived categories and try something new. Maybe you’ll like it, maybe you won’t. But it’ll show her she’s valuable to you.

2. Don’t take her seriously.

When I was 16 years old, I was pretty convinced I was going to be a fighter pilot because…well, I saw a string of action movies I liked that involved fighter pilots. It’s pretty common for teenagers to have visions of the world that aren’t rooted in reality. That’s not all bad. Her imagination fuels creativity and exploration that will ultimately lead her to figure out who she is. A great way to discourage her is to treat her dreams like they’re silly, like what she really needs is to find something practical to do.

If you want to know how not to discourage your child, encourage her to dream. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t point her toward practical realities. I’m only saying that practical realities aren’t the only realities that matter. Listen to her dreams, and be curious about them. Encourage her to pursue her passions while still giving input on how to work those things out practically.

3. Don’t let her take risks.

Parents are increasingly risk-averse. And some of that is good. We are more aware than ever of the dangers that exist out there and we’re better equipped to stave them off. But sometimes, when we protect her, we really prevent her from growing. Not all discomfort is bad. Falling off the bike and skinning her knee motivates her to learn to balance. Conflict with friends teaches her to navigate relationships.

If you want to know how not to discourage your child, encourage her to take risks. Certainly you should be cognizant of the level of risk. Some risks far outweigh the reward. But many times, the risks our kids engage in can actually serve to teach them self-confidence, perseverance, and problem-solving skills.

4. Pressure her to perform.

Why do you care so much about the “A” on the test, the college she got accepted to, or the number of goals she scored in the soccer game? Perhaps you just want her to do her best. But is it possible there’s something else going on? While most of us don’t even know we’re doing it, we can often be driven to see our kids excel for reasons that have to do with our own ego more so than their well being. And by pressuring her to achieve, we may communicate that what we want is not what’s best for her but for her to become what we want.

If you want to know how not to discourage your child, focus on her growth, not her performance. What we want to see is our kids mature and develop. So they may never get a B in calculus, but they ask for help, work hard and get a solid C. That’s remarkable and praiseworthy. Let’s learn to praise growth, not performance.

5. Externalize your anxieties.

Again, there’s a lot to be anxious about. Everywhere you look, some news outlet or social media post is telling you why it’s the end of the world as we know it and whose fault that is. For men, it’s easy for that anxiety to be externalized as anger. We’re angry that “those people” are messing up the world for our kids and we feel helpless to do anything.

If you want to now how not to discourage your child, learn to channel your anxiety into constructive outlets. Serve with her. Learn with her. Get politically engaged with her. You don’t need to hide the challenges and uncertainties, but look for opportunities to engage positively. This will help your daughter have agency and see challenges as opportunities for engagement rather than disengagement and anxiety.

Sound off: How might you actively encourage your daughter today?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What encourages you the most? What discourages you?”