The Shriver Report – 9 Ways Dads Can Contribute to Raising Strong, Confident Girls

Special Edition

9 Ways Dads Can Contribute to Raising Strong, Confident Girls

Protect and provide for your daughter in a way that will help her reach her highest potential


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On a recent speaking tour in Hong Kong I was thrilled to see the number of fathers in the audience, who were present and eager to better understand and support their daughters. The truth is that the importance of a father’s role in shaping his daughter’s self-esteem is often underestimated.

Some dads are less involved than they could be because they underestimate the important influence they have on their daughter’s development. Others really want to be involved but feel unclear about how to be an effective parent to a girl, especially when she moves beyond the age of 9 or 10. Unlike moms, fathers don’t have their own first-hand experience of the complexities and intensities of girlhood (especially teen girlhood) to fall back on.

Consequently, many fathers find themselves somewhere between flailing and paralyzed in spite of having the best intentions and a genuine desire to participate in raising a daughter who is strong, self-reliant and resilient.

My new book, ‘9 Ways We’re Screwing Up Our Girls and How We Can Stop’ has an entire chapter dedicated to dads because the fact is, a father plays a fundamentally important role in shaping his daughter’s sense of self-value. This makes it essential that he knows just what to do from her first breath right on through the challenging teen years.

Here are 9 ways to get started:

1. Let her know she is unconditionally loved.

Studies confirm that a girl’s self-esteem is directly impacted by her experience of unconditional love and affirmation from her father. Not a day should pass without her knowing, through word and action, that you love and appreciate her. It is always okay to tell her she’s beautiful but at least as much of the time, she needs to hear that you value who she is on the inside and that you support her desire and ability to discover her wonderfully unique self.

2. Avoid ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’ parenting.

One of the most common mistakes I see fathers make (in spite of really good intentions) is treating their daughters like perpetually helpless little girls. Treating her as a damsel in distress will hinder her ability to know she can protect and provide for herself.

If you want your daughter to view herself as strong, self-reliant and resilient, it is essential that you show her that you view her this way. Encourage her to practice using her voice, make decisions and act as the captain of her own ship, every chance you get.

3. On that note…teach her to be a problem solver rather than solving problems for her.

When she faces a problem, take the time to help her name the problem and/or identify the source and then find and implement solutions. When she’s little, this might be as simple as helping her put a toy back together instead of just doing it yourself and then handing it back.

As she gets older, you can teach her the same steps as they apply to everything from math problems to relationship challenges to changing a tire. Celebrate her accomplishments and the opportunity to learn from her ‘failures.’

Knowing she can find a way to overcome life’s obstacles is the key to building a strong sense of empowerment that she will take into adulthood.

4. Break gender stereotypes.

Gender stereotypes can limit the breadth of your daughter’s dreams and development. If you want her to believe she can be anything she desires to be, from professional athlete to astronaut; stay-at-home-mom to scientist, she must know the power of choice and be able to recognize the unnecessary limitations of socialized gender roles.

Whether you take her to work with you, teach her how to cut the grass, make sure you lend a hand with housework, or ensure that she is exposed to female role models who have broken gender stereotypes, these small steps will translate to huge potential in her future endeavors.

5. Model respect for and equality with women.

The way you speak about and to women, and particularly the way she sees you interact with her mother, will directly impact your daughter’s sense of herself as a woman and how she should expect to be treated by men. If you want her to believe she deserves respect from her male counterparts and know that she holds equal value to them, model these realities for her every chance you get. Show her that respect and equality between men and women must be the norm and not the exception. Note: This applies even if you and her mother are no longer together.

6. Cultivate open, non-judgmental lines of communication.

You may have to work a little harder at this one as she enters adolescence but your ability to communicate with your daughter is essential at every age. Often it’s the car rides and dinner table conversations that are the most non-threatening and therefore, most genuine conversations we can have with our children.

Seize these opportunities to learn about her passions, who she is spending time with and what really ‘irks’ her. Most importantly, keep your ego and your over-protective Dad stuff out of the conversation – if she feels you are going to be over-reactive or over-protective, she’ll stop sharing with you, and you don’t want that.

7. Set the bar high.

We all tend to find comfort in familiarity. If what she knows is a man with integrity, warmth, courage and humility, this is what she will ultimately tend to seek in her relationships with the opposite sex, be they friends, colleagues or romantic partners.

8. Encourage her to be physically strong.

It does not serve your daughter to treat her like a delicate flower. Instead, guide your daughter to see the benefits of a strong body. Express your appreciation for women who are physically fit and healthy rather than model-thin.

It’s also valuable to encourage her to participate in sports, be honest with her about the dangers of the real world from which a strong body can help to protect herself and enroll her in a self-defense class. One of my favorites for girls and women is Impact Personal Safety, which has chapters all over the United States and beyond.

9. Remain consistently enrolled in Women 101.

From the moment you hear, ‘It’s a girl!’ start learning everything you can about the female mind, body and spirit. Your understanding of the wonderful and challenging complexities of being female will be your most important guide in becoming an exceptional father to your daughter.

Anea Bogue is a Reporter for The Shriver Report.
Anea Bogue (B.Ed., M.A.) is a highly sought-after contributor to various media outlets and an acclaimed expert on issues of self-esteem with girls and women.
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