As educated at Harvard school counselor and parenting coach, I meet many fathers who feel lost and unrelated when it comes to raising daughters. They often wonder if they just have to sit on the sidelines.
That’s why I’ve spent much of my career helping fathers improve their communication skills, maximize their parents’ influence, and cultivate smart, confident and strong-minded daughters.
Authoritative parentingwhich includes supportive and in tone with the needs of your children, provides a strong foundation for meaningful conversations. The goal is to discuss important topics with your daughter, hear her thoughts, and offer guidance when possible.
Research has shown that creating even the smallest moments of a father-daughter relationship can have positive benefits, including positivity of the body, romantic relationships, social media, mental health and academic achievement.
Making the most positive impact on your daughter will take countless conversations, even when you feel like you’re not drilling.
Here are eight things good fathers do to set the stage for healthy, productive conversations with their daughters:
1. Do not be afraid of awkward topics.
Great fathers touch on as many topics as possible with their daughters, even the awkward ones.
It is not just about teaching lessons related to the problem at hand. It’s about showing, sharing your views and listening so that she feels loved, seen and supported.
When it comes to young daughters, talking to a parent who differs in gender, age and experience will prepare her for high-stakes conversations in her personal and business relationships later.
2. Be physically there.
Even if you don’t say anything sometimes, just by reading a book near her or bringing her a favorite breakfast when she’s studying, you signal your presence in her life and make yourself available to talk.
3. Create moments of connection.
Choose something to watch or read together, plan a dinner for father and daughter, or take a vacation with just the two of you.
If you live apart from your daughter or are traveling for work, register by calling, emailing or video calling. You can also play games together online or stream a sporting event at the same time.
Some of your best conversations will take place against this background. And when your daughter grows up, she will remember and appreciate these special moments.
4. Take advantage of the moments that can be learned.
A learning moment is any occasion in which you have the opportunity to express your opinion, set out your values or ask your daughter about her point of view.
If you’re watching a TV show together, for example, look for things you can comment on, like two characters who have an unhealthy relationship. Or if you drive your daughter and her friends and hear them talk about a challenging problem, take the opportunity to ask questions and offer wisdom on how to deal with a difficult situation.
“Children are very sensitive about whether their parents will go crazy over something.” Mitch Prinstein, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina, tells me. “If they know that their parents will not overreact or judge, they are more likely to talk to them openly.
5. Repeat the habits you want him to adopt.
“Don’t take drugs.” “Don’t write while driving.” “Don’t give in to the pressure of taking drugs.” Your chances of spreading your message about healthy habits are much higher if you have a consistent communication model.
Successful parents do not see this as a “lecture”; they know that the more they repeat their values and disclose their positions, the more likely their children are to accept these beliefs in adulthood – even if they seem to reject them in adolescence.
6. Limit multitasking.
These work emails and calls can wait. Get as far away from your computer as possible and leave your phone away when you spend time with your daughter.
You can also ask her to put on her phone away. In our increasingly distracted world, we all need to be 100% present.
7. Pay attention to the little things.
My father always orders me water with a straw when we go out to dinner. He’s been doing it for decades, but he only recently told me he had no idea why I liked them. (That’s because I have very sensitive teeth!)
This may seem like a small gesture, but it is a thoughtful reminder that it recognizes my unique characteristics and trends.
What are your daughter’s favorite foods, books, groups or hobbies? Pay attention and look for opportunities to show that you support and appreciate her personality.
8. Don’t wait until the weekend.
We prepare to be stressed from Monday to Friday, then relax – or collapse – when the weekend comes.
But your daughter may need a break from worries about school work during the week. Go watch a movie together. Visit a night exhibition at a museum. Have dinner at a restaurant.
When I was in high school, my father took me to basketball games on school nights. At first glance, he was just taking me to a game. But it also helped me learn how to manage my time.
This tradition has not only benefited our relationship, it has enhanced my happiness and taught me the value of work-life balance.
Kimberly Wolfe is a lecturer, lecturer and educational consultant with degrees from Brown University and Harvard College of Education. She is the author of “Talk to her: A father’s basic guide for raising healthy, confident and capable daughters“Follow her on Twitter @KimmySWolf.
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