“10 Ways to Guard Your Daughter Against Toxic Relationships” originally appeared on The Good Men Project and was reprinted with permission.
Fathers with daughters, you face some grim statistics. Over 60 percent of marriages end in divorce. Two out of three females will be sexually abused or assaulted in their lifetime. Abused girls are more likely to partner with an abusive person. While fathers can’t change these scary facts on their own, they can help their daughters seek out healthy relationships by embodying and modeling healthy behaviors. This is because dads are templates for their daughter’s future partners.
The following 10 practices can help to inoculate your daughter against unhealthy relationships. They will teach her to love herself and surround herself with people who respect and honor her.
1. Nurture her self-esteem
Girls with healthy self-esteem choose better partners. They are better at setting clear limits and boundaries, standing up for themselves, and are less likely to tolerate injustice or abuse, and to be people-pleasers.
Here are seven key ways you can nurture your daughter’s self-esteem:
- Attention: make time for her. Play with her at home. Include her in your hobbies and teach her new skills. Be present. Put down your phone, make eye contact, pay attention, and listen to what your daughter has to say.
- Acceptance and allowing: love her unconditionally. Give her the freedom to do things her way. Don’t be controlling or manipulative. She will learn to love herself unconditionally, and expect no less from her partners.
- Appreciation: make time to show her and tell her how much you appreciate and love her. Leave her love notes in her lunchbox and on her pillow. Acknowledge her opinions and contributions.
- Affection: your daughter will always need your affection; you can never give too much. If she doesn’t get it from you, she will seek it elsewhere, and perhaps not in the most healthy ways or with the right people.
- Communicate: talk openly with her. Show her all aspects of healthy communication and model them in all your relationships, including: listening, validating, being empathetic, being assertive, and problem-solving.
- Stand up for her: do this, so she can learn how to stand up for herself.
2. Teach her healthy communication skills for relationships
The following four practices will enrich your daughter’s communication and relationships, and will help to reduce a lot of needless suffering in her life. Teach her …
… to be impeccable with her word. Show her how to:
- speak with integrity and to avoid gossip
- not put herself or others down
- say only what she means
- use the power of her words in the direction of truth and love
… to not make assumptions. Teach her to:
- have the courage to ask for what she wants
- ask for clarification when she’s unsure
- communicate as clearly as possible to avoid misunderstanding, unnecessary conflict, and pain
… to not take things personally. What others do or say has nothing to do with her intrinsic worth; words and actions speak more about the person delivering them. If she can become immune to the opinions and actions of others, she will avoid needless suffering.
… to always do her best to avoid regrets and self-judgment. Teach her to understand that her best will fluctuate with her physical and emotional states.
3. Model trust
If you can behave in a trustworthy way, your daughter will learn the essential components of trust, and it will be easier for her to find trustworthy people. Teach her:
- to set clear boundaries
- to be reliable and follow through on her commitments and promises, and to know her limitations and competencies
- to be accountable by owning up to her mistakes, apologizing when needed, and making amends with people she has hurt or let down
- to respect privacy and confidentiality by not sharing what is not hers to share and to avoid gossip
- integrity by always standing by her beliefs and values, and having the courage to be different even when it’s not comfortable
- non-judgment of herself by asking for what she needs, saying what she feels, and allowing others to do the same without passing judgment on them
- generosity by reminding her that we all do our best with the knowledge and skills that we have, and to not jump to conclusions about others’ words, intentions, or actions
4. Teach her to live a life with no regrets
Do this by showing her how to:
- have the courage to live a life true to herself, not the life others expect of her
- not work so hard
- have the courage to express her feelings
- stay in touch with her friends
- always make it a priority to let herself be happy
5. Model “happy people” habits
Teach your daughter that happy people’s approach to life is distinguished by several habits. She will also be attracted to men and women who practice these as well.
- practice gratitude and random acts of kindness daily
- see problems as challenges and as opportunities for growth and learning — don’t have a victim attitude
- accept what you cannot change and change what you can
- embrace the present moment
- learn to let go and forgive
- don’t compare her or yourself to others
- welcome spirituality into your lives
6. Be vulnerable
Show your vulnerability so she can be in touch with hers. Vulnerability allows us to be better equipped to know our limits, set clear boundaries, and stand up for our beliefs.
7. Avoid overprotection
Allow her to experience pain, sadness, frustration, loss, grief, and fear. Allowing her to fail is what will make her strong, confident, and resilient. Let her fail without judgment, without lecture; just be there. Life will teach her the lessons.
8. Live a wholehearted life
Show her how to live a wholehearted life and to expect nothing less of a partner by:
- being authentic
- letting go of perfectionism, self-doubt, and the fear of loss
- letting go of powerlessness by asking for help
- trusting her intuition and faith
- being creative
- getting involved in meaningful and fulfilling work
- finding time to rest, laugh, play, sing, and dance
9. Be zen
Teach her to live mindfully, consciously, and how to meditate. These practices have proven benefits on health and wellbeing.
10. Be a good partner
Show her what a healthy partnership looks like. Model the values outlined above. The way you treat your partner teaches her how her future partners should treat her.
If you can incorporate these practices into your day-to-day life, you will leave your daughter with the greatest legacy. She will have a healthy self-esteem and a solid foundation for healthy relationships with others and herself. She will develop the skills to pick the right partner — someone who will love and treat her as well as she treats and loves herself.
More from The Good Men Project:
- Modeling healthy positive relationships
- 8 things a seasoned dad wishes he could tell every kid in college
- Why theming my days has made me a better dad
- Your family needs support for the journey
- 5 ways to raise confident kids