8 Practical Tips for Dads to Grow Strong Relationships With Their Daughters

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There is something special about the relationship between a father and his daughter. Brendan Malone gives some tips on how to make the most of that time.

I do not consider myself a parenting expert by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I generally tend to harbor a mild suspicion about people who are labeled as “parenting experts,” because I firmly believe that parenting is more than just a set of technical skills that one can be an “expert” about. Instead I believe that authentic parenting is a vocation and a self-sacrificial act of love for another human person (your child) that gradually unfolds over many, many years.

I also firmly believe that 99% of parenting is “on-the-job training,” and because every child is unique there is no set of magical one-size-fits-all skills that can be applied to every child in exactly the same way—we’re talking about a human relationship here, not a sales pitch or a D.I.Y. furniture assembly.

Having said that, here are eight practical tips that I think the dads out there might find useful for helping to build and maintain strong relationships with their daughters:

1. Start young and keep going

This one is pretty self-explanatory; don’t wait to get involved in your daughter’s life, start the interaction when they are young and then keep at it as the years roll on. Obviously these interactions will change and develop as your daughter grows older, but waiting for a ‘right’ age to start building father/daughter bonds is a surefire path to a future where you end up looking back with regrets about lost time.

2. Give your daughter a nickname

Now I’m not talking about a derogatory nickname, or something that will embarrass her, but a good old fashioned friendly nickname that comes about organically as a result of some shared family moment or other (in other words, it should be tied to something unique about your daughter, or some family moment involving your daughter, and it shouldn’t be forced or a cliched nickname you acquired from Google).

Recently I have taken to calling our eldest daughter “Notty.”

It’s a nickname that came about after she started going through a phase of endlessly protesting about things (“I’m not interested in this”, “I’m not doing that”, “I’m not going to eat that”, etc.). So one night at the dinner table, after several of these protests in a row, I told her I’d have to start calling her “Notty” because she was using the word “not” all the time. She looked at me and said “I do not,” then suddenly a large grin appeared on her face when she realized she’d just done it again (so not only was the nickname a great little father/daughter bonding moment, but it also helped her to realize how often she was needlessly protesting about things).

She then turned to me and said, “Don’t call me Notty dad,” but as soon as I told her I would stop calling her Notty she leaned over to me and quietly whispered, “I really DO want you to call me Notty dad.”

To her the nickname is like a badge of honor that boldly declares to the world that her dad is interested in her, and it is also something special and unique to her and to the relationship that she and I have together.

3. Ask your daughter how her day went

When you get home at the end of the day (or if you arrive home first), make it a priority to greet your daughter and specifically ask her how her day went. I usually follow this up by asking what their favorite moment or thing about the day was as well.

Not only does this show them that you care enough about them to be interested in their experiences, but it also helps you to learn more about your daughter and her individual likes and dislikes, and if there are difficulties they are working through (having a tough time with a friend, etc.) it tends to reveal itself a lot quicker than simply waiting around for them to approach you and tell you about the things they might be struggling with.

4. Go on daddy/daughter dates

Daddy/daughter dates are simply one-on-one time that you dedicate to spending with your daughter. These don’t have to involve expensive trips or spending money. In fact, some of the simplest things, like, when they are younger, a daddy/daughter date to the park, can end up being the biggest highlight of their week.

One other thing I would advise: never use the threat of losing a daddy/daughter date as a punishment. Find other things to deny for misbehavior, not your relationship-building attention to them.

5. Get down to their level

When dads do this they are showing their daughters that they care about what goes on in their world. Our twin daughters LOVE playing dress-up and inventing all sorts of imaginative fantasy worlds and scenarios, so, several months ago, during the regular after dinner/pre-bedtime teeth and pajamas routine, I put on my best robot voice and did everything as the “robot king.” The girls absolutely loved it, and it is something that they have asked me to do with them again several times since.

Not only is coming down to their level good for us dads (it helps us to see and take advantage of the simple joys in life), but it also creates special moments for them too by encouraging them to get the most out of their childhood as possible. This is hugely important in a culture like ours where many things now prematurely push our children toward adulthood at earlier and earlier ages.

6. Regularly remind your daughter that she is beautiful, and why

Don’t just tell your daughter she is beautiful. Always remind her why she is beautiful as well. Just telling your daughter that she is beautiful can inadvertently reinforce bad ideas, like vanity, or the notion that physical beauty is the most important defining characteristic of femininity (two things our culture has massive problems with already).

By telling them that they are beautiful because they are human persons, and every human person is a unique miracle that has profound dignity and inestimable worth, you are grounding the notion of beauty is something deep, something lasting and in a vitally important truth about them and the other people they will interact with in life.

By adding the why into the equation you are helping your daughter to see the errors in the destructive utilitarian tendency of modern Western culture which only ever asks the question, “What is their usefulness?” when evaluating the beauty and worth of human beings.

7. Rumble with your daughters

For those not up with the lingo, a “rumble” is basically any form of friendly boisterous interaction or play fighting. Now I know that the conventional wisdom tends to suggest that rumbling is something more suited to sons, but in my experience my daughters get just as much out of it as well. Admittedly their type of rumbling is a little different to the boy kind, in that they prefer tickle fights, or having me chase them while I pretend to be a monster, rather than shoot ‘em up matches, but they still like a good rumble none the less.

It seems to me that the girls like the attention aspect of having a rumble with dad, whereas boys tend to be more focused on the challenge of beating dad at something (which is a classic and very healthy way of testing their masculine strength, by the way).

8. Bring them into your world

Often if I am doing D.I.Y. projects around the house I will invite my daughters to help me out (where appropriate), or if I am taking a trip to the hardware store (or any errand really) I will usually ask them if they want to tag along as well. Doing this is obviously another opportunity to spend time with them, but it also helps your daughter to get to know about you, and what makes their dad tick. Girls really love being helpers (well, ours certainly do), and inviting them to be part of your world in this way is often a truly special and rewarding moment for them.

Last year I took our eldest daughter with me to buy my wife’s birthday present. She took great delight in helping me choose the right gift, wrapping it, and then keeping it all a secret for several days. When mum finally opened that present I’m not sure who was happier—my wife Katie, or our daughter Lucy, who was beaming with pride and constantly pointing out to everyone that she had helped daddy to choose the gift.

So there you have it, eight simple ideas for dads who want to build strong relationships with their daughters. If you have any others you’d like to add, feel free to share them in the comments section below!

This post originally appeared at The Leading Edge.

Photo: John Westrock/flickr

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About Brendan Malone

Brendan Malone is a married father of four from New Zealand. He runs his own organisation called LifeNET, which focuses on leadership, values and ethical concern. As part of this work he regularly speaks to groups of men about the importance of living authentic masculinity. In the days after the devastating February 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand he and a friend started a successful citizens' initiated earthquake relief effort that drew together thousands of volunteers and ended up suppling several hundred tons of food, water and other essential items to the hardest hit ares of the city via helicopters and road convoys. True to his Irish heritage, Brendan plays semi-regular Irish music gigs and boxes three nights a week for the fitness and challenge of it. Find Brendan blogging at The Leading Edge Blog, or on Twitter @LifeNETnz

Comments

  1. I think telling your daughter she is beautiful (frequently) reinforces the idea that her beauty is the only thing that is important for women. Tell her she is smart or funny, comment on her qualities that make her who she is, not about what she looks like. It’s like when I hear about a girl/young woman/woman dying tragically they always say “she was so beautiful” and usually near the beginning of the statement. It makes me cringe. I know my dad thinks my three sisters and I are beautiful, and has acknowledged it, but not every day or anything. As an adult sometimes he would tell me I looked nice as I was leaving for work. I think it’s kind of creepy for dads to constantly commenting on their daughters’ appearance. Daddy/daughter ‘dates’ seems a little creepy as well. If my dad called when him and I went to a store or out to lunch, to the park, wherever a “date” I would have been legitimately creeped out.

    • I agree with this – or rather, I agree in the sense that I don’t understand the focus on “beauty”, even in the all humans are beautiful sense. I find it just as important to tell my daughter that I think she’s smart, clever, strong, a great friend, a great person, and so on. And I do tell her all those things, just as I tell her I think she’s beautiful.

      I think it’s important that we help our children develop a positive and self-loving body image. Doing so takes much more (and mostly something different) than saying “you’re beautiful”.

      About the “date” thing, I guess I just don’t get this American focus on dates. I also don’t believe kids (esp. young kids) need you to set plan one-on-one time next Wednesday; they need one-on-one time right now, they need you to make yourself available as things develop. I take my children to the park, to the playground, out shopping, to brunch at a neighborhood café, at the drop of a hat. Or we make time to cuddle with a book, watching a movie, whatever. It’s not a date – it’s just time together. Frankly, making it a “date” make it sound as if having your dad be there for and with you is somehow special, a treat, something exceptional. I don’t want my children to think of time with me that way.

  2. Wonderful post, takes me back to the days when my girls were young. I can now enjoy them more as they are older because of the special memories we made. Thank you.

  3. Atypical obviously didn’t read the paragraph that was written underneath the title of the suggestion.

    • I obviously DID read the paragraphs. If I hadn’t I wouldn’t have formed the opinion that I did based off my own experiences, nor would I have felt the need to share my opinion. Did you read it?
      Regardless of “why” you’re telling your daughter that she is beautiful, you’re STILL doing it….and therefore reinforcing the idea that her “beauty” is the most important thing about her.

  4. Brad Brock says:

    Great article! I do many of these with my daughter, great tips

  5. Brendan, I like you post – thinking about how to be involved with your children is always a great thing. I particularly like your #8. If you bring your kids along in day-to-day activities, you achieve two things: you find you have much more time to be together, and you find that many of the chores are things you can enjoy doing rather than having them be chores. I do all the cooking in my family, and I always had a great time with the kids in the kitchen. And you’re example of shopping for presents is a great one. Ditto more mundane things like shopping for a new dishwasher or a lamp or whatever – kids love feeling they can contribute.

    Some of the things rub me the wrong way (nicknames? Not so much. Dates? No, thanks.) but the things is,you should find what works for you and *do* those things.

    About #3, it’s my experience that kids quickly come to resent questioning by adults, and take to answering “what did you do today” with “nothing much” or “I don’t remember”. Why? Because such questions have a sense of being superficial, unless they come from a place of involvement. It’s often works much better if you already have a general idea and can talk about specific things. I’ve also found that if I tell them about *my* day (something funny that happened at the supermarket, a big dog I saw, a cool new gadget a co-worker bought, all depending on age), they will reciprocate and tell me something in return. It’s all about being engaged rather than going through the motions. Because none of these things work if you do them to get the items ticked off you checklist.

    • John A. Kennedy says:

      Amen Lars. We are not gadgets and checklists don’t work on any of us, especially children. I think Brendan does a good job of reminding us to regularly make time to fully engage with our children. Conciously or unconciously, children are excellent B.S. detectors and they know when our minds are elsewhere.

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