25 Failsafe* Rules For Dads Raising Daughters

Marcus Williams and Joanna Schroeder offer 25 rules to help build close bonds between daddies and their little girls.

All daddies with little girls want to raise them “right”, but how the heck are they supposed to know what that means?

If you spend any time on the Internet these days, you’ll quickly learn that pithy numbered lists are the path to enlightenment. It is in that spirit that we have collaborated to develop this list of rules that are guaranteed to guide fathers in the correct way to raise their daughters. This wisdom is universal, proven, and failsafe. *

*Not really.

Marcus is raising two toddler daughters, and Joanna is a daughter (in addition to being a mother) so we feel we have at least as good a chance as anyone at enlightening others. We are colleagues and friends, and while we find we disagree on many things, one area in which we often find common ground is in raising kids.

We agreed on many of these rules, though some only made it in when the other one wasn’t looking. For the tl;dr demographic, here’s the list in a nutshell:

  • Joanna says dads should be girly with their daughters.
  • Marcus says dads should be manly with their daughters.
  • It’s okay to be both.


1. Tell her she’s pretty, but tell her other good things about herself more.

It’s not that telling a girl she’s pretty is bad. It’s not. The point is that it shouldn’t be the only kind of compliment she gets, so she doesn’t feel that only her appearance matters. Compliment her intelligence, her resourcefulness, her imagination, her hard work, and her strength. Don’t pretend that her looks will never matter, but teach her not to judge herself or let herself be judged only on looks.

2. Teach her that handymen don’t have to be men.

Checklist of things to teach her: routine car maintenance, how to stop a toilet from overflowing, how to set a mousetrap, how to use the fuse box, how to turn off the water main. (Marcus’s note to self—learn to maintain car, fix a toilet, use the fuse box, and find the water main.) There’s nothing wrong with needing help to get things done, but self-reliance and confidence are handy if you need to change a tire, fix a toilet, or even squish a bug without needing a rescuer to do it for you.

photo: tuppus / flickr

3. Let her play in the mud.

No need to fill their sandbox with only sugar and spice. Mix in some snips and snails and puppy dog tails, too. Be cautious, however, about giving her any nicknames like “Sugar” or “Spice” while she plays in the mud, as it could lead to some uncomfortable career choices down the road.

4. Remember that the way you talk about and treat women will have a lasting impact.

Your daughter will pick up on generalizations you make about women, whether positive or negative. Intentionally or not, you shape her identity about what it is to be a woman, and how to expect to be treated for being one. Say positive things about women without pedastalizing. If you can’t be nice, at least be respectful and steer clear of the B-word, C-word, and other words for putting down her entire gender. All this goes double for talking about her mother.

5. Teach her the correct names for her genitals, and use them matter-of-factly.

If she wants to say wee-wee, that’s fine, but make sure that as she grows up, she knows her vulva from her vagina. And whatever you do … don’t call it a front-butt.

6. Indulge her imagination.

photo: jk+too / flickr

You be the kitty, she’ll be the mommy, then she’ll be the kitty and you’ll be the baby kitty. It’s going to get boring for you, but it’s good for her. Keep doing it. Meow some more. Don’t forget to hiss.

7. Cry when the family pet dies.

You don’t have to weep if you hated the critter, but the point is to show that it’s okay for men to feel and express emotions when they come up, even hard ones like sadness and grief. Sometimes the most comforting thing you can do with a difficult emotion is to share it.

Pro tip: If she wants to schedule a memorial service for the pet you hated, try to schedule it right after you’ve watched “Brian’s Song”.

8. Teach her honesty and integrity in relationships by demonstrating them in yours.

“Honesty and integrity in relationships” doesn’t mean blind devotion. It means living a life consistent with the values you hold dear, and helping the people you love to live consistent with theirs.

Live the integrity you hope she’ll choose for herself.

photo: wactout81 / flickr

9. Read her books with great heroes – both boy and girl heroes.

Books with girl heroes are harder to find, but they’re out there.  You can find a lot of recommendations at A Mighty Girl. Also, make up stories on the spot—they don’t have to be perfect—starring her as the conquering hero battling the dragon or saving all the kittens in a big thunderstorm.

10. Teach her that she has power over her own body and sexuality.

From when she’s small, tell her that her body belongs to her, and she is the boss of it. As she gets older, teach her that her body isn’t to be used in the effort to win love or approval, or to manipulate others. Teach her that sex is beautiful, and that choices to have and not have sex both carry power and integrity, as long as she is true to herself.

Allow her to talk to you about sex without getting squicked, but also leave room for her to have private conversations about sex and sexuality with other people.

11. Teach her about male sexuality without fear-mongering.

It’s tempting to tell her that boys are bad, that sex is evil and that guys only want one thing…

But we know from the last 50 years of Sex Education that this tactic simply doesn’t work, and it damages both boys and girls in the process. Girls learn to fear boys and see them as one-dimensional, or they learn that their parents have been lying all along.

Teach her that respect is key, and both boys and girls deserve it and are able to give it.

photo: flattop 341 / flickr

12. Share music with each other.

Play your favorite music and tell her why it’s great. Let her do the same for you. Teach her why the bridge in the middle of Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic is so crucial and really try to understand what’s so great about One Direction (and then enlighten us when you figure it out).

Teach her the courtesy of headphones and the wisdom of volume control.

13. Dress like a princess if she asks you to… And let her dress like a Power Ranger if she wants.

Yeah, it sucks a little playing dress-up for those of us not theatrically-inclined, but it makes a child feel important when you play the way she wants to play.

Also, playing ‘like a girl’ won’t make you one and playing ‘like a boy’ won’t make her one. So have fun with both.

14. Go with her to the nail salon and each of you get a pedicure.

No, you don’t have to get polish! Just enjoy the time with your daughter and the accompanying foot massage. (Unless you have an aversion to emery boards like Marcus does.)

photo: Andy M Taylor / flickr

15. Include her in your favorite hobbies.

Share with her the things you love, like watching Motocross, cooking dinner or playing the guitar.

Take her with you sometimes when you go to the bowling alley, or for a hike on your favorite trail. Go watch surfers in the ocean. Explain exactly what’s happening. Let her get bored after ten or fifteen minutes and then go do what she wants to do for a while.

16. Let her put on shows for you. Then put on a silly show for her.

It doesn’t take much—a goofy tap dance, armpit farts, standing on one foot—to make a little girl laugh.

17. Let her choose any color she wants for one wall in her room.

Yes, any. Then let her help you paint it. We recommend a very sturdy drop-cloth.

photo: Pink Sherbet Photo / flickr

18. Roughhouse with her.

You won’t break her, and rough play is good for teaching confidence and resilience.

19. Inspire her with women role models who excel in traditionally male-dominated fields or activities.

She’s not going to grow up to be an NFL linebacker, but don’t crush aspirations before they begin by telling her what she can’t be because she’s a girl. The few things she can’t do will become obvious on their own, and the rest become possible if she’s allowed to dream and has role models who achieved great things without a penis.

20. Don’t shame her for what she wants to wear – but exercise the power to modify.

This one gets trickier with age, but most wardrobe choices by a toddler or little girl can be made to work.  If a skirt is too short, leggings are great. If she picks a Spiderman tee for a wedding, try letting her wear it under a dressy top.  If you have to overrule her choice, be pragmatic, not judgmental.

(We couldn’t agree on the right approach to this once your daughter hits puberty, so you’re on your own.)

photo: DVIDSHUB / flickr

21. Look her in the eyes and have a real conversation at least once every single day that you’re together.

Even if it’s just about My Little Pony or Justin Bieber.

22. As she gets older, tell her the truth about drugs. Don’t use scare tactics, be honest.

Drugs are scary enough without exaggerating. But saying, “If you try drugs, you’ll die (or end up homeless, or become a prostitute, etc)” and having that as your “Drug Talk” will fail. Why? Because she will quickly learn that smoking pot doesn’t kill you—either from watching her friends or doing it herself.

Instead, try something along the lines of, “Using most drugs is like Russian Roulette… Five out of six times a person may be fine. But you never know if you’re going to end up as that one person who won’t be okay.”

23. Teach her that “No” means “No”, for both herself and others.

Teach her physical boundaries. Teach her how to say no directly, and that her no is to be respected, and that she shouldn’t be afraid or embarrassed to protect her body.

Make it clear that when someone—a little brother, a friend, or a parent—says no, that she is to respect that … including with boys.

photo: The Finite Monkey

24. Allow her to be girly if that’s her thing, but don’t force her to be if she’s not.

Let her wear dresses whenever she wants, but don’t force her to.  Don’t buy everything in pink—unless she’s crazy for the color pink. If she loves Spiderman, go with that until she’s tired of it.

25. If she’s still little enough, hold her until she falls asleep sometimes.

You’ll miss it when you can’t.



Also read Tom Matlack’s “Raising Boys (A Dad’s Advice for Moms)


Lead photo courtesy of Amie Lee Photography. Reprinted with permission.

About Marcus Williams and Joanna Schroeder

Marcus Williams and Joanna Schroeder and friends and colleagues who live in Southern California. Marcus is a father of twin daughters and plays beer league ice hockey. Joanna is a mother of two sons, Senior Editor of The Good Men Project and co-creator of sex and dating blog She Said He Said


  1. This is an awesome list. I’m a father of two little girls and I’m blown away by just how real these items are. Good news I’m certainly doing some of these. Better news, I’m reminded of some things to keep on my radar going forward.

    #18 is something that I’ve found to be magic in bonding with my oldest. As a new Dad I handled her like she was a hand grenade. I was terrified coming home from the hospital. Diaper changes looked like I was an explosive ordinance technician trying not to cut the wrong wire. As time went on I thankfully eased up on all that madness.

    We have a pre-dinner ritual as a way of reconnecting when I’m done with work where we basically chase each other around the house at crazy reckless abandoned speeds and have wrestling matches on a big bed. It’s flat out awesome! It’s a real anchor of reconnecting with us and is a special way to make a new memory every day because no doubt I won’t always be able to toss her in the air and throw pillows around with her. We both laugh so hard while doing it and whatever ills of that day have a funny way of washing away with her giggles. Roughhousing is good!

    Thanks for this list!

  2. Not a parent, so take this for what it is. But there seems to be an awful lot of indulgence, and not a whole lot of reality checks. “Clothing” and “no means no” (of course, this comes after a long list of things you’re not supposed to say no to her for) seem to be the only things that might teach her she’s not the center of the universe and won’t always get what she wants. This list would give me concerns about raising a spoiled princess (or prince if applied to boys).

    • And yet, many of the things on the list aren’t said to boys, because “boys will be boys” is a common way of raising them. I don’t think there’s any indulgence here, it’s about learning empowerment and tempering it with common sense–something this article does very nicely.

    • Anonymous says:

      If you utilize things on this list properly, you won’t raise a spoiled child. Until you have some, best to stick to what you know .

    • anonymouss says:

      It’s amazing how much I thought I knew before having children. Mostly but not entirely about children, parenting… I love the comment “best to stick with what you know”, its perfect. I do wonder though why you read the article? But not just read it, commented?! Clearly u can do whatever u want, I just wonder because I wouldn’t have had time to read it, pre-child. Mainly because I could’ve cared less. But that’s just me. I really think anyone offended by the article should ask themselves why and deal with it. To say to a total stranger “you used a photo that disagrees with my family’s past and how could you do that, what poor taste!” Or whatever u said (ha)… Is kinda kookie, eh?

      • I am late to this blog and late to this post, but your comment “It’s amazing how much I thought I knew before having children” resonated with my own thoughts. The truth is, we know nothing about raising children when our first arrives, and then when the second arrives we realize that much of what we learned with the first is thrown out — they are very different. I am a dad of 3 daughters and in fact am launching my own blog about my experience with the greatest teachers I have — my daughters.

        When it is launched within the next few weeks, I will make it more public. I would like to link this blog and have and / all of you participate.


  3. These are wonderful, my little girl has always been into pink, my wife isn’t and it has been interesting watching my wife with my daughter’s style choices, mostly my wife cringes, sometimes she gets into it and buys her the pink dress or top.

    I watch my daughter two days a week while my wife works from home. We have tea parties, though the tea tastes like air. My daughter has my attitude and goofyness which makes for interesting times.

    She asked to meditate with her brother recently which was interesting, but it’s something she sees her brother and the rest of us doing, but she’s only three and wants to be like her brother.

    Wonderful article.

  4. Good article but i would not like if my husband tells her about her genitals or any other man telling his dauhter about her genitals or talk about sex to her. sounds so pedo to me and i will not allow that. the rest is a good write up.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      You won’t allow your husband to talk to your daughter about genitals?

      What if she asks him? He says, “I can’t talk to you about that?” or “Ask your mom?” That is going to teach her same.

      Genitals are just body parts at this age. Unless you think your husband can’t be trusted to talk to her about them, but then you’ve got seriously much bigger problems that him just telling her that it’s called a vagina.

      • Denis Stone says:

        *Genitals are just body parts at ANY age.

        You can do many things with them lol… but they in the end still just body parts.

    • What? You will not *allow* your husband to talk to your daughter about sex? There are two major problems here:
      1) you appear to believe you somehow have authority to decide all things child-related, and that you can tell your husband what is “allowed”. As a father and a husband I certainly would not accept that attitude. I’m my partners equal and as much a parent as she is. We may disagree and then we talk to either find common ground or agree to disagree. But anything that start with “I will not allow” would be refused.
      2) you appear to believe that women (mothers) are better placed to talk about sex than men, and that only men can be pedophiles. It’s a terrible view of men and mens sexuality. Talking to your children about sex and about bodyparts is not only perfectly natural, it’s every parents responsibility to do so, in a way that make children comfortable with their own body. If your construct a reality where your kids can talk about these things with only women and actively exclude your husband, you run the risk of giving them an unhealthy view of sexuality. Kids are observant – they will sense right away that there’s something going on there with their father, and that whatever it is is *wrong* and “bad*.

      You may have som bad hangups – it sounds like it. Please do no pass them on to your children.

    • I agree. Its one thing to take to the 3 or 4-year-old girl to the bathroom, but there are ways to deal with , that without having to say “vagina”to your daughter. I don’t know why that seems weird to me, maybe some of us were raised differently. I also don’t really think he needs to be talking to her about sex ed or sexuality…

  5. casualconversationalist says:

    I couldn’t even think of a criticism for this if I tried, it’s become one of my favorite articles I’ve read recently. Well done.

  6. I felt a little smug reading this, as I had done most of them without thinking twice about them — though one can’t be good at everything, I learned, I could support her endeavors when her skill or enthusiasm exceded my own for a particular task or adventure.

    Once my daughter asked if I’d rather have had a son. This was a relevant question since she was adopted and, presumably, there might have been a choice. I told her that she was worth 20 boys to me. Now she is married to a great man and I’m looking forward to being a grandfather in a couple months.

    Where once I thougt being a gay dad was exciting and new, now, being a part of the first generation of gay grandparents finds my amazed that there are, in fact, so many of us.

  7. As a 30 year old father of 2 little girls, the one thing I relearn every day is that I have no clue as to what I am doing. I love articles like this that not only give sound counsel but also gives me comfort that there are folks on the other side of the country in the midst of the same battle

  8. Some great tips here! I wholeheartedly agree with tip 13, (about dressing up like a princess)…although one time I needed to answer the door and I’d forgotten to take off the princess tiara! Thankfully the postie understood. I guess he has daughters too!

  9. #18, the accompanying picture is exactly how my dad ended up dislocating my aunt’s arm when they were kids. At the time, my grandparents weren’t well off and a trip to the doctor was out of the question. The injury caused a deep rift between them for years to come and my grandfather took out a mistake made during innocent play on my dad for decades to come. Seems like the editors of the article could use a little more common sense in picking which photos, is all I’m saying.

    • Melissa says:

      Funny you should say that. My mum had hers dislocated by an uncle, me by my dad and the baby of the family by my other sister. It has actually caused many chronic shoulder and arm problems for u the three of us. Funny how we only made that connection this year. I also always cringe when I see parents doing this. Not a judgement just a wince from memories.

  10. Great advice, even if I don’t agree with them all. Nothing is ever 100% one way and zero the other. I appreciate ANYONE sharing what works for them. As an older father to an 8 year old daughter I find raising her the biggest joy in my life and so far so good.

  11. Tom Brechlin says:

    Better tell Oprah that there is no such thing as a “vajayjay” :)

  12. Very helpful tips for me to be a good father for my daughter, thanks.

  13. Wonderful piece. Thank you.

  14. Fantastic piece that’s good for parents raising girls in general!

  15. roy moreno says:

    i am a 30 year old father of 2 girls (8 &9) whom i am raising singlehandley and no matter where our lives take us i know that my life will always be enveloped in theirs. My younger one is not from my blood but she has my last name and i have been there since the moment she was delivered and is my daughter no matter. I aquired full custody2 years back but have always been an active role in their lives. This is by far my greastest reward in life, but the road we took has not been an easy one. I read these lessons in life and i know they will serve us well!! Thank you for your words of wisdom and thank you to all of the other dads out there who continue to prepare our girls to enter the world as smart women who are capable and self reliant because they had strong fathers:}

  16. Excellent list! Just wish we could amend #23 to read “yes means yes” and touch on the idea of enthusiastic consent. We absolutely should be teaching our daughters (and sons) to have a powerful “no” that they aren’t afraid to you, but we should also be helping them learn that not everyone has the power to say “no,” and that we should be aware and cognizant of body language, silence, and other less clear signals of no. Personally, I’m going to try to teach my daughter to ask, “can I hug you/kiss you?” or at least not assume that everyone is okay with close contact. Hopefully, by starting at a young age, she’ll have a good sense of bodily autonomy AND respect for others’ bodies by the time adolescent sexuality rolls around.

  17. I CANNOT stop laughing at the end of #5!!!
    But I’m also thrilled at the point of that one – people think it’s weird that I taught my girls vulva, even though that’s *precisely* what they’re talking about.

  18. I’m 28, and wish desperately that my dad had read this article, or would even read it now. Too many things were “guy” things and I wasn’t allowed to join in. I’m still not. It breaks my heart to see the kind of relationships my friends have with their dads and knowing that I will never have that. It’s never too late to change, but you have to be willing to change.

  19. I thought you said don’t use scare tactics.. “But you never know if you’re going to end up as that one person who won’t be okay.” THAT is what is called a scare tactic. Teach moderation and teach preliminary research. Send them to Erowid. Teach them to ignore peer pressure and do what they want to do. Show them this chart: http://www.aei-ideas.org/2013/10/what-does-science-say-about-the-relative-dangers-of-drugs-alcohol-is-by-far-the-no-1-most-dangerous-drug/ – But don’t compare drugs to Russian Roulette. That’s just stupid.

    • Tom Brechlin says:

      Doop, I agree with you. I would say that at least 98% of the adolescents I’ve worked with, that have used heavier drugs, started by using marijuana. Marijuana in and of itself appears to be harmless. Adolescent and now pre-adolescent kids start with an occasional joint but progress to excessive use.

      When people think of drug use, they don’t think as much about alcohol which in reality kills more kids then all other drugs combined. I say this without even looking at the chart. Honest discussion of harms, nothing wrong with it.

      • Yep. Although the gateway theory has been widely discredited. There are too many confounding factors, and it probably has more to do with marijuana’s illegal status than anything else. Nobody blames alcohol or tobacco for being a gateway drug. Or caffeine, or sugar. Correlation =/= causation. Also I would bet that most of the “heavier” drugs you say they progress to fall at the more harmless end of that chart.

        Even with alcohol, the deaths from it have more to do with the culture surrounding it than the drug itself. Given that your kid is going to drink, teach them how to do it responsibly. Abstinence-only education does not work.

  20. A great foundational list for any father who is committed to be the best he can for his daughter (and son). ~ great reference list to keep us all on track. Thank you.

  21. David Tindell says:

    As to discussing drugs with your daughter, or with your son, how about simply saying, “In my opinion you shouldn’t need an artificial stimulant to get high or smooth out the rough edges or whatever else they’re supposedly good for.”

  22. Nice list. I didn’t read it before raising my daughters. Mostly I just used common sense and sensitivity. It worked.

  23. Larry Schuba says:

    My 2 wonderful daughters are both now grown, happily married women with children of their. I admire their own parenting skills, in spite of my own conceived shortcomings as a divorced Father. In some areas I see I could have done a better job, yet I’m thankful for the outcome as it is.
    Thanks for this informative article!

  24. anonymous says:

    I’ve raised 2 daughters pretty much by myself without much help or influence from their dad. He said was a parent by just “being in the house”. That being said, if he’d read this article he would have felt justified having his 6 yr old daughter help him sort his beer caps for his beer tasting review (his hobby). I think there needs to be some filtering here on what’s appropriate in terms of hobbies to share with ANY young child.

  25. There is no such thing as a too short skirt on any girl under 10 – any girl really. If you start thinking a 3 year old girl is dressing provocatively in skirts too short – where are you going to be when she’s 13? So stupid. STOP SLUT SHAMING.

    • Denis Stone says:

      Yet boys can go almost naked and they are never “provocative”. For real, America has a real deep problem with women’s bodies.

  26. anonymouss says:

    Everyone attacking the author for your personal hardships needs to relax. They don’t know you nor are they claiming to be an expert. Good grief, you can’t blame and attack everyone that somehow has your brain recalling unpleasant memories. Why not seek help for that instead of reading beautiful, harmless articles trying to help people that can actually use it. Don’t like it? Close the page and move on. I’d also recommend talking to someone about your issues. And yes I know that makes you upset. And no I won’t feel bad for saying it. And yes you seriously need some professional guidance.

  27. I absolutely loved this article. Great job to the authors! I totally agree with it all, I have two daughters of my own. One is 13 and the other is 1. So, I can see both sides of the spectrum from toddler to teenager, lol.

  28. I totally agree with it all. Great job to the authors. I have two daughters, one is 13 and the other is 1. So, I can see both sides of the spectrum from toddler to teenager.


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