Let’s face it, Dads often find girls a foreign breed (literally and figuratively). How can it be any other way? You’ve never been a girl yourself, and even if you grew up with a sister, parenting your own daughter is an entirely different ball game!
You want your ultimate aim as a Father to be to raise a girl (and woman), who sees your relationship with her as the ‘gold standard’ of future relationships with men. That’s a big call….but that should be what you’re ‘performance managing’ yourself against as a Dad. With that in mind, it’s critical to form this precious bond early (that means infancy) and maintain it vigilantly through every stage of her childhood and adolescence – no matter how tricky that seems.
Pregnancy is an incredibly surreal time of life – not only for the one carrying the baby, but also for you as a Dad. It’s even more surreal if you choose to determine the sex of the baby before birth. If it’s a boy, you may have a ‘sixth sense’ about how to relate to him, but if it’s a girl, you may find yourself struggling to conceptualise how you’re going to connect with her, and even more so, how to predict and respond to her needs. All you really need to know is that your job in the early months is to relate to her in the following areas: Eat. Sleep. Play. (And Love). Remember there was a movie called ‘Eat Pray Love’? Well, this is your very own adaptation of that. It should become your mantra from day one….
Five tips to relating to your baby girl:
- Respond quickly to her cries by talking gently & melodically (‘hey baby, I’m here’….’shhhhh bub bub bub’) or humming in a soothing way (a long, slow ‘hmmmmmm’ will do) if you can’t find the words. It really doesn’t matter if you say the same phrase every time you soothe her – she’ll just be comforted by your quick response and close proximity. When she hears your deep voice, a calm will set in. Promise. It’s even more hypnotic for her if you make eye contact with her (unless you’re trying to put her to sleep, as that will stimulate her too much and have the opposite effect!) and if you lean in closer so she can focus on you. Doing this, she’ll recognise you sooner and you will be rewarded with a smile earlier than any other dad in your workplace – honest!
- When doing a nappy change, make it an event! Talk about anything you wish (even just a list of things you did that day), but do it in a storyteller kind of way. Yes, really! It’s called a ‘verbal diary’ and babies love it (and learn heaps about narrative / story telling through it). The content doesn’t matter (let’s be honest, even if you’re sleep deprived, you can still recount your day in a step by step kind of way)…
- Hold your baby girl close to your chest (even better if you’re ok to have your t-shirt off as skin to skin is awesome – but totally fine if you’re not into that), and move gently and rhythmically (you could sway, rock, sigh gently or breathe deeply). All the while, she will feel your unique tempo and this will foster your connection.
- The VERY MINUTE she begins to coo, join in the conversations. All you need to do is do exactly the same sound that she does…kapiche?! If she coos (oooooooh), you comment back to her (in your low tone but the same intonation). If she squeals, you can either do a dad-version of that, or if that feels a bit weird, just comment back with an ‘oh really?!’, or ‘I see!’ in an impressed voice. And there you have it! That’s your first conversation started!!! Applaud yourself, because even at her young age, you are building the foundations of relating together and valuing what one another has to say. This will stand you in good stead for the years ahead.
- Find something that makes her giggle. It will usually be something that you do unintentionally (like sneeze or dropping something in the bath and splashing her), but that doesn’t mean that you can’t try out a few moves to see if you can elicit a belly laugh earlier. The tried and true favourites are:
- Making an unusual noise – try changing your voice pitch, slurping or making a raspberry sound;
- Touching or looking at a (friendly) animal – they think cats and dogs are hilarious;
- Older kids (or you) doing crazy moves – dropping things, crazy dancing or pretending to fall over;
- You looking surprised by something – like blowing a bubble and popping it and acting surprised or pretending to cry (in a funny way);
- Tickling – gently tickling you baby’s feet, chin or armpits;
- Playing Peekaboo – try this with a brightly coloured blanket to maximise the effect and make a super high pitched or low pitched (!) sounding peek a boo sound. Keep repeating it to get the giggle;
- Pulling funny faces – stick your tongue out, pretend to sneeze (especially after they sneeze!);
- Blowing raspberries or as we call it in the game…the ZRBTT! – blowing against her skin is often utterly hilarious to them – especially on the soles of the feet or on the tummy (super useful at change time);
- Chasing games – as she begins to crawl, chase her around the floor – especially if you’re crawling too and popping up in unexpected places or doing surprise peekaboo from around a corner as they turn to look if you’re following;
- Pretend biting (I repeat: pretend!) – make out like you’re eating their toes or along the side of their torso. Make some crazy chomping noises too for extra hilarity; and
- YOU laughing – laughter is contagious! Especially if it’s exaggerated and accompanied by funny facial expressions.
Moving along the chronological line…Tips for raising your little girl and young women.
Raising little girls
- Praise is powerful, and the way you praise your daughter now sets the bar for the way she will hope to be treated within key relationships in the future. Aim to make your praise:
- Accurate (even little kids have a fraud detector!), and
- Girls build self-confidence when they feel their Dads relate to them, and have respect for their emotions, interests and actions.
- Here’s the kicker…you have to get the balance right. Underpraising AND overpraising are both perilous to your daughter’s self-concept.
- Research tells us that the optimal ratio of praise to criticism to achieve growth and deepen relationships is around 6:1 (that’s 6 praise to 1 criticism).
- Make your praise about things other than your daughter’s appearance. Try something like:
- ‘I like the way you’re thinking….’,
- ‘I’m loving how generous you were to Max today…’,
- ‘I’m proud of how you solved that problem with Emma…’,
- ‘I respect your decision on that one’, or
- ‘I’m so impressed by the choice you made’.
- Stretch yourself to learn about your daughter’s interests, so you can seek to understand them (and her!) better on a week by week basis. When you’re interested in what she does, she feels you’re interested in who she is, and this builds your dad-daughter bond.
- Try something like:
- ‘I’m curious about Taylor Swift’s new song….’
- ‘Can you help me understand more about it…what’s she singing about?’
- ‘Which of her songs do you like best? Which ones are not so cool?’
- Be involved in her school work…school is the centre of your daughter’s life. Be as involved as she wants you to be…even just sitting next to her as she does her homework (you can be working too, or even reading the paper). Check in casually throughout the time you’re sitting together. Try something like:
- ‘how’s that maths going? It’s looking pretty complex. You’re amazing for being able to get your head around it! Let me know if you want me to talk you through anything’.
- Be interested in her peer relationships. They too are the centre of her life in many respects. Meet her friends – whether she has a few, close girlfriends, or a whole gaggle. If she’s a social butterfly, drive her to parties and hang out while she’s there (many parties want the parents to stay for crowd control!). Give it a go making friends with other Dads who might also be there. Your daughter will feel pretty proud that her Dad is relating to the parents of the girls she loves most. If, on the other hand, your girl is less keen on group events, make sure that you show interest in who her ‘best friend’ is, and let her know all the incredible friendship qualities that they bring to the equation. Try something like:
- ‘I can see why you like Olivia…she is super kind and likes to include everyone. I noticed that a couple of the other girls were a bit bossy when they were talking and didn’t really share with them’.
Raising your Young Woman
Your daughter is in the very normal process of individuation (becoming an individual that’s independent from the family system).
She’s becoming more of her own person, and this is the very time that you can help grow and deepen her self-concept. When teenage girls authentically believe that their Dads believe in them, their self-confidence grows.
- Although they need their space, teenage girls need to know that you’re on their radar and are interested in what brings them joy. Ask them about their activities, interests and school demands.
- Remember that teenage girls need your approval, even if they’re not actively seeking it. Find whatever you can to praise her regularly (remember the 6:1 ratio!). It can be something that another parent or friend has said about her…pass it on and show that you feel that way too. It could equally be that you like the music she’s introduced you to on the school run…anything that she brings to the equation that you find ok, you can praise. Try something like:
- ‘Amy’s mum mentioned that you were awesome to Amy when she was feeling excluded by the year 10 girls. I’m so proud of you for that. It all comes back to you, when you’re kind and that’s something I love about you’.
- ‘I wasn’t so sure about triple J radio when we had to listen to it on the way to school last week, but I’ve given it a go on the way to work and am finding it really cool. Thanks for the tip…’
- Ask your daughter for her opinions. Teenager’s minds are geared to think deeply about issues and develop firm opinions and philosophies about life – especially in the later teen years. Your interest in her thoughts matter more than you can appreciate. Identify similarities in your thought processes and seek to understand the differences. Try something like:
- ‘What are you thinking about the Syrian refugee situation?
- ‘I was feeling a similar way, but now, I’ve heard some new facts from SBS world news…can I run them by you? I’d really value your thoughts’
- Go places with your daughter – just the two of you. She needs to spend time alone with you, no matter how many siblings she has. This ‘dad-daughter-date’ ritual is not new, but is certainly a powerful tool to help her remember that she is a central part of your world.
This article was written by one of our supporters, Kym, adapting with permission original content from Laurie Hollman, Ph.D.