Strengthening Father-Daughter Relationships
By Linda Nielsen
Why should teachers, counselors, and parents pay more attention to father-daughter relationships? Because, throughout her lifetime, a daughter is profoundly affected by the kind of relationship she has with her father—often more so than by her relationship with her mother. The girl who grows up having a comfortable, communicative, supportive relationship with her father generally has advantages over other girls when it comes to:
- Academic achievement and future jobs and incomes—especially in areas related to science, math, and technology;
- Avoiding teenage pregnancy and early marriage;
- Being self-confident and self-reliant;
- Setting long-term goals;
- Avoiding emotionally or physically abusive relationships;
- Resisting peer pressure to have premature sex, smoke, drink alcohol, or take drugs;
- Not being overly dependent on boys in order to feel good about herself;
- Asserting her opinions and standing up for her beliefs;
- Dealing well with people in authority (teachers, employers, etc.);
- A willingness to try new things and accept challenging tasks; and
- Having less chance of becoming depressed or developing an eating disorder.
So what can parents, teachers, and counselors do to help fathers and daughters create more meaningful, more personal, more communicative relationships?
1. Spread the word: Stop demeaning or dismissing dads
Our first step is to get the message across to everyone in the school and in the family that the father-daughter relationship is vital and needs to be appreciated and strengthened. We need to help others recognize the many demeaning, demoralizing beliefs they hold about fathers-beliefs that hurt father-daughter relationships. One way to raise awareness is to distribute the quiz—especially to fathers and to daughters.
2. Encourage more father-daughter time
We can also help daughters and fathers strengthen their relationships by seeing to it that they spend more time alone with each other—time without other family members around. As fathers and daughters spend more private time with one another, they have more opportunities to communicate honestly and comfortably about meaningful, personal matters. Not only mothers and stepmothers must be helped to feel more comfortable with this idea; teachers and counselors must also realize that it's not weird or strange or inappropriate for a father and daughter to spend time alone with each other, even during the daughter's teenage years.
Here is one way fathers and daughters can become more comfortable spending time alone with each other and get to know one another on a more personal level. As a daughter, ask your father to choose 10 pictures of himself from different times in his life—especially his childhood and teenage years. Be sure to ask him to include a picture of his father. Then ask him to spend an hour telling you stories about the pictures—in a quiet place where the two of you can talk privately.
3. Help daughters develop positive relationships with their fathers
As a parent, teacher, or counselor, you are in a position to help daughters understand how important their relationships with their fathers are and to help them recognize the ways in which they may be pushing their fathers away. Suggest that daughters take the quiz in order to see how they may or may not be sharing those parts of themselves that will encourage more open and communicative relationships with their fathers.
Parents in particular—both moms and dads—can strengthen father-daughter relationships in the following ways:
- Be sure dad spends at least two hours a week alone with his daughter.
- Watch movies together about positive father-daughter relationships: Fly Away Home, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries, etc.
- Read books that show fathers being just as competent as mothers in parenting their daughters. Books may include I Live with Daddy, by Judith Vigna; Night Shift Daddy, by Eileen Spinelli; and Two Old Potatoes and Me, by John Coy.
- Watch commercials together with your daughter and talk about the ones that make the father look stupid or incompetent.
Using these tools can do a lot to raise awareness of the importance of father-daughter relationships and help families create these loving and powerful bonds.
Linda Nielsen, Ed.D., is a nationally recognized expert on father-daughter relationships. An adolescent psychologist and college professor for more than 30 years, she has taught the only college course in the country devoted exclusively to father-daughter relationships. Her work has been widely cited in The Christian Science Monitor, on National Public Radio, and in a public television documentary on fathers and daughters released in June 2005. Nielsen is the author of Embracing Your Father: How to Build the Relationship You've Always Wanted with Your Dad (McGraw-Hill, 2004).