The Importance of Fathers to Daughters

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Common sense tells us that parents are essential to a child’s development. Research informs us that, while many of the tasks of child rearing can be accomplished equally well by mothers and fathers, there are some important contributions that fathers and mothers make individually. So let’s put the spotlight on dads.
In what way do fathers affect a child’s development in general?
Beginning in the first years of life, children who have an involved father are more likely to be emotionally secure, confident, develop better social relationships, better verbal skills, intellectual functioning, and academic achievement, as measured by educational outcomes later in adolescence. That’s not to say that mothers don’t contribute these things as well, but studies continue to find that active and involved fathers make a big difference in these areas for their kids.
Another interesting contribution fathers make is in the area of play. The way fathers play with their kids has a measurable impact on emotional and social development. Fathers spend a higher percentage of their one-to-one interactions with infants and preschoolers in stimulating, playful activity than do mothers. From these stimulating interactions, children learn how to regulate their emotions and behavior. In turn, emotional regulation is linked to multiple areas of competency later in life, including future intimate relationships.
Parents are a child’s first experience with an intimate relationship. Consequently, from infancy, girls draw conclusions about what men are like from the men in their life; specifically, an involved father. A father becomes a daughter’s guidepost for what to expect of men and what to expect of men’s attitudes toward women.
A healthy, close relationship with her father shows a girl that men are loving, caring, strong, protective, and always her biggest advocate. This shapes her conscious and unconscious perceptions of what is acceptable in her future intimate relationships as well as influences the value she places on herself in general.
So, many of you reading this may be wondering what a dad can do given the importance of his relationship with his daughters. Here are 5 significant things dads can do to make sure he is a positive influence in his daughter’s development.
1. Show love and respect for your daughter’s mother. This may not always be easy. However, despite the difficulties a father may have in his relationship with his daughter’s mother, it is in her best interest for him to treat her mother with respect and consideration, even if you are no longer, or never were, married. This modeling will set the stage for how she will expect to be treated in her future intimate relationships.
2. Create a solid attachment with your daughter. Spend regular quality time with her in a similar way to how you spend time with your son. Share your interests in sports, hiking, fishing, and more. Then learn about her interests and make time to enjoy them with her. All of these can become part of your common interests and shared experiences with your daughter.
3. Connect with her intellectually. Read to her, show interest in her school subjects, pay attention to what she is interested in learning about and facilitate her experiences. Take time to share interesting things about your work and intellectual pursuits with her. This will encourage her to pursue her dreams in education and professionally.
4. Go to her events. Even if you find little or no interest in what your daughter loves to do (ballet, tumbling, cheerleading) you can connect with her by admiring her achievement in the activity. However, in order to do this sincerely you have to show up. What you do in support of her childhood and adolescent interests will pay significant dividends in her developing self-confidence throughout her life.
5. Be the kind of man you want your daughter to marry. You are the model for manhood that your daughter is likely to look for, or avoid, when she starts to date. If you want her to find a man who is faithful to his partner, who is honest and hardworking, who knows how to have fun, who uses money wisely and who doesn’t abuse people, drugs, or alcohol, then you need to be that kind of man. Your daughter will believe what you do far more than what you say.
So dads, there you have it. If you are one of the lucky fathers who has a daughter remember to be grateful and present. You make a world of difference.

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About Author

Matt Woolley, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor in the Department Psychiatry at the University of Utah. He completed his Doctoral and Masters degrees at Wichita State University in Clinical Psychology, an internship at the University of Kansas Medical School and a post-doctoral residency at the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute. In clinical practice Dr. Woolley conducts psychological assessments, sees patients for psychotherapy, and teaches doctoral students in psychology and residents in psychiatry. He is a regular guest on KUTV Channel 2’s Fresh Living discussing relationships and parenting. He has also been a long-standing weekly radio guest on local radio, podcast host and public speaker.

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