7 Tips for Dads of Daughters
If you’re a father or a stepfather, I’m going to ask you to do one thing today. One. This one thing is for the little girl in your life. Whether she’s a baby, is “toddlering” around the house, navigating middle school, working on a college degree, or has started a family of her own: It doesn’t matter. She’ll always be your little girl.
You know the saying: A son is a son ‘til he gets a wife, but a daughter is a daughter for the rest of her life.
I recently read something by Mat Johnson that was so profound it froze me in my tracks. I had to sit down and let it sink in. (Full Disclosure: I was already seated. But the rest is absolutely accurate.) Mat is a professor and prize-winning author of fiction, non-fiction, and graphic novels. He is also the father of two little girls. Here’s what he said that hit me like a ton of bricks:
A man’s daughter is his heart. Just with feet, walking out in the world.
That’s powerful stuff. I don’t know how much Mat is into family research, but in just 14 words, he encapsulated decades of studies on the impact a father has on his daughter’s life. It’s worth breaking down and looking a little deeper.
A Man’s Daughter Is His Heart…
I’m about to share a bunch o’ findings from a bunch o’ research. (I’ll link to it at the end for your perusal.)
First, understand that you’re always directly or indirectly impacting your daughter. She’s watching, listening, and taking mental notes. (Like, how does Dad treat Mom, me, and other women?) Remember: It’s not about just being around. The goal is to actively engage with your daughter from birth onward.
Daughters who have a dynamic, secure, warm, comfortable, conversational, and loving relationship with their father gain all sorts of advantages they carry throughout their lives. Your life is molding hers.
…Just With Feet, Walking Out In This World.
What dad doesn’t want these things for their daughter?
Actively engaged fathers help their daughters become more:
- Intellectually developed – from IQ to better grades in school.
- Confident and assertive. (And more likely to feel better about themselves.)
- Likely to pursue higher education.
- Likely to have higher career achievement & have a higher-paying job.
- Likely to experience better emotional & mental health.
- Likely to have healthy romantic relationships up to, and including, marriage.
⇨ Your Relationship With (Your Wife) And Daughter Also Provides A Critical Buffer ⇦
Daughters with actively involved fathers are less likely to:
- Develop eating disorders and a poor self-image.
- Engage in “delinquent” behavior as an adolescent.
- Become pregnant as a teenager.
- Experience dating violence or be coerced into sex.
- Be resilient and navigate obstacles & stressful situations.
How do you get started? According to research, technically, it begins with being present and involved in your daughter’s birth. (You’re probably past that.) Check out these pointers on being a great girl dad for an infant or toddler.
Keep these general principles in mind:
- Listen to girls. What are your daughter’s thoughts, beliefs, feelings and dreams? Don’t just focus on how she looks. Make sure she knows she’s beautiful and valuable on the inside, too.
- Encourage her strength and celebrate her savvy. Help your daughter learn to recognize, resist and overcome barriers. Help her develop her strengths to achieve her goals.
- Respect her uniqueness. Urge her to love her body and discourage dieting. Make sure your daughter knows that you love her for who she is. See her as a whole person capable of doing anything. Treat her and those she loves with respect.
- Get physically active with her. Play catch, tag, jump rope, basketball or go for walks. Studies show that physically active girls have fathers who are active with them.
- Involve yourself in your daughter’s activities. Volunteer to drive, coach or host.
- Talk to other fathers. There’s a lot you can learn from each other.
- Help make the world better for girls. One time, while I was walking through the mall with my teenage daughter, I made a point of watching the eyes of the people we passed. It was disturbing. This world holds dangers for our daughters. Overprotection doesn’t work. Make sure your daughter is over-prepared to navigate the world.
So, what’s the one practical thing you’re going to do today to work on bonding and building up your daughter? Even if you don’t live with your daughter, you still make a difference.
Dads, we can’t do it all in one day, but we can do that one thing today, then one other thing tomorrow. Our daughters need us for the rest of their lives.
- American Psychological Association: Father-Daughter Physical Activity Programs
- Direct and Indirect Effects of Father-Daughter Relationship on Adolescent Girls’ Psychological Outcomes: The Role of Basic Psychological Need Satisfaction – ScienceDirect
- Father Involvement, Dating Violence, and Sexual Risk Behaviors Among a National Sample of Adolescent Females
- The Influence of a Father on a Daughter’s College Decision
- Talking to Daddy’s Little Girl About Sex: Daughters’ Reports of Sexual Communication and Support From Fathers
- How Dads Affect Their Daughters Into Adulthood | Institute for Family Studies
- Strengthening Father-Daughter Relationships
How To Be The Best Dad For Your Daughter – First Things First
5 Steps I Took to Be a Better Dad – First Things First
What All Daughters Need to Hear From Their Dad – First Things First
7 Ways to Embrace Being a #girldad – First Things First
The Encouraging Science of Fatherhood and the ‘Father Effect’
How to Teach Your Daughters The Importance of Consent
I’m a dad of daughters. And like other parents, I would do anything to protect my girls. Anything. From harm and from bullies. From being taken advantage of. And from pubescent boys with only one thing on their mind (and I’m not talking about video games…).
But I also know I can give my girls greater gifts: the skills and confidence to protect themselves. A big part of this is teaching them the importance of consent. I call it having consent conversations.
Now, I know the term consent is often a buzzword, especially when sexual harassment, date rape, molestation, and other horrible abuses are in the news. And, good heavens, we need to teach our daughters to guard themselves.
I’d like to suggest that consent conversations are more than protection from these sorts of sexual abuses, although they certainly include them.
At its core, talking to your daughter about consent is helping her identify, establish, verbalize, and guard her boundaries. What will she allow to go on around her in a given situation? At what point does she take a stand? And how does she go about taking that stand?
Even further, consent conversations help your daughter recognize and respect others’ boundaries. As a friend’s son said very well, “Consent isn’t just about dating; it’s about respecting people.”
Consent conversations help your daughter develop self-respect and assertiveness as well as respect for others. It keeps her safe emotionally, physically, and sexually. It gives her a vocabulary to use for upholding boundaries. And it lays the groundwork for having healthier relationships in the future.
So, consent conversations are kind of a big deal.
How do you teach your daughter the importance of consent? Here are five questions you can use to engage your daughter in consent conversations.
1. In a given situation with another person, what are you OK with?
And what are you not OK with? Help your daughter think through different scenarios — with friends at school, around other adults, at a friend’s house, with someone they are dating. Ask, what could happen that would be OK or not OK with you?
2. When someone wants to do something with or around you that’s not OK, how will you respond?
Talk about when to be polite, when to be firm, and when to be forceful with her no. What are situations she needs to walk away from? And if someone keeps doing or saying something despite her objection, let her know she needs to separate herself, go somewhere safe, and call a trusted adult.
3. How do you read the situation for danger signs?
Teaching your daughter how to be aware of what’s going on around is a critical skill. How are people acting around you? Can you trust those you’re with to have your back? Be sure to discuss the role alcohol and drugs play in certain situations and how they can break down awareness and inhibitions.
4. If there’s a situation you feel you can’t escape, what’s the plan?
You don’t want to frighten your daughter, but you do want to prepare her. Teach your daughter to always have the means to get out of a situation. Know where the door and a phone are. Where’s the nearest place with other people? What’s the quickest way to get in touch with someone you trust? It might also be worth enrolling her in a self-defense course or a martial arts class (or better yet, do that together). It can boost her confidence and give her some good skills.
5. How can you tell if someone is OK or not OK with your actions? What do you do if they are not?
So here’s the flip side of consent. How can you be aware of your own words and actions and have a general respect for those around you? When should you ask someone if they are OK with something? And when should you back off?
Consent conversations are important. We as parents are responsible for teaching our children how to protect, assert, and stand up for themselves (and others) when someone pushes the boundaries. I encourage you to start age-appropriate consent conversations this week!
Other helpful resources:
Dad, Here Are 5 Things Your Middle School Daughter Needs from You
How Do I Get My Teen To Talk To Me?
What All Daughters Need to Hear From Their Dad
7 Ways to Embrace Being a #girldad
Kobe Bryant’s untimely death brought to the forefront a great conversation about being a #girldad.
Elle Duncan from ESPN Sports Center spoke about meeting Bryant when she was eight months pregnant. He congratulated her; and when he found out she would have a girl, and he high-fived her and said, “Girls are the best!”
Bryant said that he and his wife talked about having more children, but they joked: What if they had another girl?
Duncan said, “Four girls. Are you joking? What would you think? How would you feel?”
Without hesitation, Bryant said, “I would have five more girls if I could. I’m a girl dad!”
Beyond his basketball legacy, Bryant will live in memory for enthusiastically embracing his role as a #girldad.
A healthy father-daughter relationship can give a daughter the self-confidence to deal with challenging issues. However, when fathers are not engaged, research shows that daughters struggle with abandonment issues, lack of self-esteem, feeling unworthy, and vulnerability to predators.
Girls who grow up without a healthy father-daughter relationship are at greater risk for experiencing problems in school, abusing drugs and alcohol, and participating in risky sexual behavior. In fact, adolescent girls without fathers are twice as likely to be involved in early sexual activity.
In Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, Dr. Meg Meeker states that no matter the age of the daughter, she takes her relationship with her father to the grave.
While some dads are quick to embrace having a daughter, others struggle with the father-daughter relationship.
Here are some ways dads can embrace being a #girldad:
- It’s no secret that girls tend to be more verbal than boys. Instead of feeling annoyed with all the chatter, take time to listen to her thoughts, feelings and dreams.
- Find something you can learn to do together or teach her a skill.
- Spend intentional time with her doing things she enjoys doing. Yes, tea parties, nail painting and dress-up count.
- Daddy-daughter dates are a thing. It doesn’t have to be extravagant.
- Encourage her uniqueness and help her know her value as a person.
- Become involved in her education. Research suggests that daughters’ academic successes are closely related to the quality of their childhood relationship with their fathers.
- Show that you believe in her ability to handle challenges.
The father/daughter relationship can sometimes feel very confusing, especially as your daughter enters adolescence. One minute she wants a hug from you, but the next minute she can’t stand to be in your presence. While you might feel tempted to back off, don’t. From birth to adulthood, your daughter can benefit from your healthy presence in her life. You are a #girldad.
Image from Pexels.com
Dad, staying involved matters. Here are just a few reasons why.
Teenage girls who are close to their fathers are far less likely to become sexually active.
Teenage girls are twice as likely to stay in school if their fathers are involved in their lives.
“Fathers dramatically underestimate the importance of themselves in their daughters’ lives. They withdraw much too quickly, doubt their significance and influence, and grossly misunderstand how very much their daughters need and want to have a good relationship with them.” – Dr. Meg Meeker, author of Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters
“Fathers are far more than just ‘second adults’ in the home. Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring. Fathers have a direct impact on the wellbeing of their children.” – noted sociologist Dr. David Popenoe
Even from birth, children who have an involved father are more likely to be emotionally secure, be confident to explore their surroundings, and, as they grow older, have better social connections with peers. These children also are less likely to get in trouble at home, school or in the neighborhood. –Yeung, W. J., Duncan, G. J., & Hill, M. S. (2000). Putting Fathers Back in the Picture: Parental Activities and Children’s Adult Outcomes.
Image from Unsplash.com
Wondering how you can connect with your kiddos? Here’s a list to get you started!
- Plan a regular time for Daddy/Child date to do something fun and adventurous.
- Write a short message to them on a stick-it note and hide it in their lunch.
- Let your child help you wash the car or fix something.
- Play a game with them—one that they want to play.
- If you like to cook, let them help you.
- Take them to the park.
- Teach your child how to do something like build a kite, a soapbox derby car, a paper airplane, etc.
- Tell them what life was like when you were their age.
- Listen to them—learn about their favorite things, who their friends are, their favorite game, etc.
Greg Vaughn lost his father to Alzheimer’s years ago.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” says Vaughn. “I know my dad loved me because he made sure our family was taken care of. But he never could say ‘I love you,’ or ‘Son, I am proud of you.’ That void left a hole in my soul.”
As Vaughn was going through his father’s things, he kept looking for something left from his dad to him. The only thing he found was a rusty old fishing tackle box.
“I was mad at my dad for dying,” Vaughn says. “I was mad at myself for not trying harder to connect with him and started to throw that old fishing box in the trash. Then I decided to see what was inside. There, I found the remains of my father – fishing lures.
“As I felt myself getting angrier, a question popped into my head, ‘Hey big shot, you are out here mad at the world. If you were to die here in the garage, what would your wife and children hold in their hands tomorrow that would let them know they were the treasures of your life?’”
The answer caught Vaughn by surprise. He had always told his children and wife how much he loved them. Additionally, they made it a point to go on family vacations, which brought great memories. However, when it came to something tangible they could hold in their hands and treasure forever from him, he couldn’t think of anything he had given them. That’s when he had the idea for Letters from Dad.
“I called 12 of my closest friends and asked them if any of them had a letter of love and blessing from their father – not counting cards,” Vaughn says. “Not a single one of them said yes. Then I asked, ‘What would you give to have one?’ The answer was always, ‘More than you could imagine.’ Then I asked each of them if they had ever written a letter like that to their children. None of them had. I looked at each of them and said, ‘Don’t you think we should?’”
That was the beginning of a very special journey for these men. They decided they wanted to leave a legacy of faith, hope and love through the lost art of letter writing.
“Men hate to write letters,” Vaughn states. “But we decided to write four letters, the first being a letter of blessing to our wives. We had some divorced men in the group. One guy chose to write a letter to his ex-wife of 10 years thanking her for making him a father. It was a healing experience for both of them.”
The second letter the group decided to write was a blessing to their children. Since Vaughn has seven children, that was a real stretch for him.
Vaughn’s daughter, Brooke, shared that until her dad gave her a letter of blessing, her most-prized possession was a coat hanger from age 10 where her father wrote, “Hey Beck – I love you – Dad.” On her 22nd birthday, she got the letter with 15 reasons why she was a blessing as a daughter. Now she says, “I have more than a coat hanger to remember my dad.”
“The third letter we chose to write was a blessing to our parents,” Vaughn remembers. “Some of us had parents who had died so we wrote letters of tribute. The fourth and final letter was by far the hardest to write. It was for our families to read after we died. Most of us leave wills and trusts and rusty old stuff. What do we leave for our families to treasure forever?”
After they finished writing their letters, the guys decided to continue meeting monthly just to stay in touch and walk the fathering journey together.
Letters from Dad has increased in popularity as fathers seek to leave a legacy to their wives and children. If you hate to write or find yourself at a loss for words, the book has lots of samples. Plus, the author is happy for you to use some of the words yourself.
Whether your children are young or old, live near or far, are estranged from you or considering never leaving the fold, you can still leave a legacy. So, consider writing a letter… or two.
A young girl was touring the social worker through the home she shared with her father. When she came to her bedroom, she proudly showed the woman everything in her room. With big eyes and a huge smile, the little girl asked, “Would you like to see bombs away?”
Hesitantly, the social worker said yes. “Come on Dad, let’s show her,” said the little girl.
Dad came over to the bed, grabbed his daughter’s arms and legs and started swinging her. Finally, he let go as she yelled, “Bombs away!” and landed on her bed. Loud, gleeful laughter followed.
Looking horrified, the social worker said, “Stop! No! You should not be doing that.” Both father and daughter looked at her with troubled and quizzical faces and said, “We shouldn’t be doing bombs away?”
Fathers and Mothers Parent (and Play) Differently
“This is probably one of the best examples of the difference in how men and women view play with children,” said Dr. Ron Klinger, founder of the Center for Successful Fathering and author of The Common Sense No-Frills, Plain-English Guide to Being a Successful Dad.
“Researchers tell us that children of all ages from infants to high school prefer play with dad over mom because it is unpredictable, physical, rough, dad cheats, and it’s fun. It is a test – it stretches you. You find yourself doing things you would never do. Most importantly, it is a playful form or preparation for the challenges our children will face in the real world.”
Klinger contends that what the father was doing with his daughter was totally appropriate. While mothers are the initial primary caregivers and continue to be the nurturers and protectors, it is the father’s job to engage his children in rough and tumble play and to encourage them to take risks.
However, the challenge for many is that nearly 80 percent of dads today did not grow up with an actively involved father in their lives. When moms say, “Don’t play so rough,” most guys don’t know to say, “But this is what I am supposed to be doing.”
“The bonding with a child and their father is based on this rough and tumble play,” Klinger said. “This playful interaction turns out to be very powerful in teaching independence, self-reliance and courage. It also encourages children to become more tolerant of frustration. The father is introducing the child to a world that is defined by adventure and adversity, not comfort.”
There are other benefits of rough and tumble play for children, too. They include:
- Building a bond of affection and trust with their father;
- Exposure to personal challenges such as riding a bike;
- Learning to be a successful risk-taker;
- Building self-confidence;
- Girls growing up to be unintimidated by competitive men; and
- Becoming resilient.
“When a mother approaches her child, the infant’s heart rate begins to slow down,” Klinger said. “When a father approaches his child, their heart rate begins to race in anticipation of excitement and action. Babies need this to stimulate brain activity.
“I can remember when my own son would climb our spiral staircase and leap out to me below. The space separating us was only a couple of feet, but he was jumping from seven feet high. He was investing a huge amount of trust in me. Admittedly, this is the kind of thing that drives mom nuts, yet it’s exactly what dads and children should be doing. Play is the antidote for anxiety.”
Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!
What is a dad’s role in his daughter’s marriage? Sometimes the closeness of a father/daughter relationship can interfere with the couple relationship.
For example, one couple was arguing over purchasing a $600 set of dishes. According to the husband, they could not afford them. As a result, the wife was furious.
When she told her father that her husband would not purchase the dishes, her dad purchased them for her. Some might say, “Why is this a problem? He was just trying help.”
But most relationship experts would say the dad crossed a line when he got in the middle of something the couple needed to figure out for themselves.
If she thinks she can run to her father and get what she wants every time there is a disagreement about spending money, two things will eventually happen:
- The husband will grow to completely resent his father-in-law, or
- The daughter will stop discussing these things with her husband and go straight to her father to get what she wants.
Neither of these outcomes is good for the marriage.
Couples need to openly discuss these potential pitfalls of dad’s role in his daughter’s marriage and agree ahead of time about boundaries and expectations within their marriage.
While it may be difficult, it is important for you to step back emotionally once your daughter is married. Even though you enjoy doing things for her, it is better to ask yourself one question: Is if what I am about to do going to be helpful to their marriage?
If the answer is no, don’t do it. OR, ask them how they would feel about you helping. If both aren’t in agreement that it would be helpful, then don’t do it. Let them figure it out.
It’s hard to believe that any guy will ever measure up and be good enough for your daughter. If you want their marriage to be successful, however, guard against criticizing your son-in-law.
Recognize it is not your job to control things. And while she will always be your daughter, her husband comes first.
Image from Unsplash.com