As a Harvard-educated school counselor and parenting coach, I encounter many fathers who feel lost and out-of-touch when it comes to raising daughters. They often wonder if they should just sit on the sidelines.
That’s why I’ve spent much of my career helping fathers improve their communication skills, maximize their parental impact, and raise smart, confident and strong-minded daughters.
Authoritative parenting, which involves being supportive and in tune with your kids’ needs, lends to a strong foundation for having meaningful conversations. The goal is to discuss important topics with your daughter, hear her thoughts, and offer guidance whenever possible.
Research has found that creating even the smallest moments of father-daughter connection can have positive benefits, including on body positivity, romantic relationships, social media, mental health and academic achievement.
Having the maximum positive influence on your daughter will take countless conversations, even when it feels like you aren’t breaking through.
Here are eight things good fathers do to set the stage for healthy, productive conversations with their daughters:
1. Don’t be intimidated by uncomfortable topics.
Great fathers touch on as many topics as possible with their daughters, even the uncomfortable ones.
It’s not just about teaching lessons related to the issue at hand. It’s about showing up, sharing your viewpoints, and listening so that she feels loved, seen and supported.
When it comes to young daughters, talking with a parent who differs in gender, age and experience will prepare her for high-stakes conversations in her personal and business relationships later on.
2. Physically be there.
Even if you say nothing at times, by simply reading a book near her or bringing her a favorite snack when she’s studying, you are signaling your presence in her life and making yourself available to talk.
3. Create moments of connection.
Pick something to watch or read together, plan a father-daughter dinner, or take a vacation with just the two of you.
If you live separately from your daughter or you’re traveling for work, check in via calls, emails or video calls. You can also play games together online or stream a sporting event at the same time.
Some of your best conversations will happen against these backdrops. And when your daughter is older, she’ll remember and appreciate those special moments.
4. Capitalize on teachable moments.
A teachable moment is any instance where you have an opportunity to voice your opinion, make your values known, or ask your daughter for her perspective.
If you’re watching a TV show together, for example, look for things that you can comment on, like two characters who have an unhealthy relationship. Or if you’re driving your daughter and her friends and you overhear them talking about a challenging issue, take the opportunity to ask questions and offer wisdom into how you might handle a tricky situation.
“Kids are very sensitive about whether their parents will freak out, over something,” Mitch Prinstein, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina, tells me. “If they know their parents won’t overreact or judge, they will be more likely to talk openly with them.”
5. Repeat habits you want her to adopt.
“Don’t do drugs.” “Don’t text while driving.” “Don’t give into the pressure of doing drugs.” Your chances of getting your message about healthy habits across are far higher if you have a pattern of consistent communication.
Successful parents don’t see this as “lecturing”; they know that the more they repeat their values and make their positions known, the more likely their kids are to adopt those beliefs into adulthood — even if they seem to reject them in adolescence.
6. Curb multitasking.
Those work emails and calls can wait. To the best of your ability, step away from your computer and put your phone away when you are spending time with your daughter.
You can also ask her to put her phone away. In our increasingly distracted world, we all need practice being 100% present.
7. Notice the little things.
My dad always orders me water with a straw when we go out to dinner. He’s been doing it for decades, but it wasn’t until recently that he let me know that he has no idea why I like them. (It’s because I have very sensitive teeth!)
This may seem like a small gesture, but it’s a thoughtful reminder that he acknowledges my unique characteristics and tendencies.
What are your daughter’s favorite foods, books, bands or hobbies? Take notice and look for opportunities to show that you support and appreciate her individuality.
8. Don’t wait until weekends.
We brace ourselves to be stressed Monday through Friday, then let loose — or collapse — once the weekend comes.
But your daughter might need a break from worrying about schoolwork on a weeknight. Go see a movie together. Attend a night exhibit at a museum. Have dinner at a restaurant.
When I was in middle school, my dad would take me to basketball games on school nights. On the surface, he was just taking me to a game. But he was also helping me learn how to manage my time.
This tradition didn’t just benefit our relationship, it boosted my happiness and taught me the value of work-life balance.
Kimberly Wolf is an educator, speaker and educational consultant with degrees from Brown University and Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is the author of “Talk with Her: A Dad’s Essential Guide to Raising Healthy, Confident, and Capable Daughters.” Follow her on Twitter @KimmySWolf.