Women Share Something Dads Should Know About Raising Girls
Raising children is a tough enough challenge on its own. But, when dads step up to the plate with their daughters, the challenge may only get tougher. It’s natural to get overwhelmed or clash heads, which is why it’s important to have some good tips on how to raise daughters the right way.
#1 “Boy” Skills
Make sure to teach us “boy” stuff, too! I was an only child and my dad still taught me to drive a tractor, change a tire, hang drywall, and fix things around the house. These skills have come in handy many times in the years since and especially when I was living alone. Plus, it was a great bonding time for me and dad.
#2 Listening With Empathy
The moment you dismiss her thoughts and interests is the moment that wall starts going up between. Make an effort to remember some names and details and it’ll mean everything to her. Don’t laugh at her or get mad when she bursts into tears over something that you perceive as insignificant. Not only is she young and her world is smaller, but if she’s above the age of 10, her emotions are running wild.
Basically, you really should just aim to treat her like her thoughts and feelings are valid. It’s so easy to forget about how big your emotions feel when you’re young. And the reason that I, as a 26-year-old woman, still talk to my father weekly and greet him with a big hug is that he listened to me with empathy.
#3 Being Independent
Honestly, you should try not to be too overprotective. How long can you honestly expect to protect her? One day, she’ll be on her own and she’ll not know how to stick up for herself. Teach her how to be independent instead. Teach her to do things on her own and basic self-defense. You should also teach her to be safe.
#4 Whatever She Needs
I was raised by a single dad. When I started my period, he made it clear to me that my period was not something to be embarrassed about and he would get me whatever I needed to take care of myself. Also, if there’s not a “mom figure” around, please consider asking some friends how to manage your daughter’s hair.
#5 Speak Kindly
If you do nothing else right, speak kindly. I don’t have the best dad, he was always fighting his own demons, and therefore not all that present. But he has literally only ever been kind to me and that sticks out more than anything. He praises everything we do, compliments us endlessly, and always made us feel like we were obviously capable of anything. It has always been easy to feel his shortcomings really didn’t have anything to do with me and were his own personal issues.
#6 Keep Things Private
Regarding periods: make her believe that telling you things will be held in confidence. Don’t let her think you’re going to blab her personal business to the whole family. It’s either that or you end up with a kid who hides having her period for two months to avoid the, “Guess who’s a woman now?” shame at Thanksgiving and Christmas events.
#7 The Size is Right
Don’t start acting as though she will turn into a raging monster the second she hits puberty. It’s a weird expectation to have placed on you. On that note, don’t blame everything she feels on her hormones. Don’t lose your mind when she starts needing a bra. A father freaking out or being weird about it will just complicate how she feels even more.
If mom can’t take her shopping, have her sized, take her to a store, get her a fitting room. Done. Don’t make her feel weird or bad about needing one. Also, it isn’t hard to have her sized. My store won’t size you, but they will teach girls how to do so properly and provide you with a room, measuring tape, and advice.
#8 Respect the Space
When your daughters are teenagers, respect their space as it’s a tough time for them. Honestly, it’s really difficult to talk to your dad about certain stuff. We have mood swings and you might think we hate you, but we love you dearly! Something else to keep in mind is to be there for her when she needs it too.
#9 She Deserves Better
Do. NOT. Focus. On. Her physical looks. Teach her good hygiene. Encourage her to eat healthy and to exercise. Teach her context for why certain clothes are more appropriate than others. But, for the love of God, never tell her she’s too fat or too skinny. Never tell her she’s “lucky she’s pretty” and never prioritize her beauty over her personality. Never tell her she should wear different clothes for her body type (e.g. “Your legs look better in long pants than in shorts”).
If she makes an effort to look nice, comment on specifics, like, “You did a good job on your makeup,” or, “That dress is a nice color on you,” or “I like what you did with your hair.” That takes the focus off her inherent looks and puts it on her effort and attention to detail. She will get enough self-esteem blows and unrealistic expectations from society at large. She deserves better from you.
#10 Personal Boundaries
If they say they don’t want to be touched then they don’t want to be touched. This should be done with both genders, but for girls saying they don’t want to be touched and then their dad does it anyway really sucks. It also winds up leading to mixed messages about what your personal boundaries are allowed to be.
#11 Where They’re Coming From
No matter the gender, if you want your child to be your friend as an adult, treat them with respect as a child. Children are children. They don’t understand the world. They will be emotional. Girls can be the extremes of this. But if you belittle her, refuse to understand what she’s trying to tell you and don’t respect her interests, you’ll hear from her maybe once a month after she turns 18. Making an effort to learn and listen helps you manage both and be a wonderful, understanding dad. You don’t have to agree, but just understand where your child is coming from.
#12 It’s Okay to Cry
Don’t tell your daughter off for crying. My dad would always shout at me for crying and it always felt (still does) like a terrible thing to do. I’m older now, but I still find it hard to process my emotions and feel 100x worse whenever I do cry. It’s almost as if it feels like I’m doing something that I shouldn’t do.
#13 Golden Rules
Treat her like a fully capable human being, and absolutely don’t infantilize her. Don’t grow possessive. No scaring off boyfriends, unless they absolutely deserve it. Don’t shame her for liking girly, “superficial” things and for masculine things. Teach her how to fight and defend herself. Treat it as normal if she gets a girlfriend.
#14 Delicate Flower
Don’t treat your daughter like she’s nothing more than a precious, delicate flower. The world won’t and she’ll then have a hard time learning that when she’s older. It’s the same with boys. Don’t treat them like they’re indestructible. Someday, they’ll want to feel vulnerable and won’t think they have a right to do so.
#15 Demanding Better
Don’t excuse the behavior of men “because they’re men.” Girls are victimized early. I was grabbed for the first time at nine years old. My father not excusing that as “boys being boys” is why I have always been able to recognize that behavior as unacceptable. But, I know so many women whose dads didn’t teach them this way, who just expect that this is how all men will act because they’re men. Some have even been attacked, but won’t report it because “maybe they did something to cause it.” Teach your girls to demand better.
#16 Don’t Be Embarrassed
Just buy her the tampons and don’t be embarrassed about it. My dad raised my sister and I alone after my mom passed away when I was 11 and he was always so weird about this. Guys, it’s not a big deal! The cashier knows it’s not for you. I just want to make clear that my dad is not a bad person. He always did his best and we made it through this stage just like any other and I’d like to think I learned a lot from it.
#17 Outside Gender Norms
Don’t try to stick with traditional gender norms when it comes to spending time with your children. Sure, my mom is more along the lines of a “tomboy” as well, but I got a good chunk of my interests and hobbies from my dad. He introduced me to video games, nerd culture, cars, and world history. Both he and my mom introduced me to rock and metal, took me to concerts (and still do), and supported me wanting to learn guitar and drums.
#18 Take an Interest
My dad traveled a bunch for business and he related to my other siblings through sports or Legos (differed depending on the sibling) but for me it was books. When Harry Potter first came out, he bought us both copies and then we would talk over the phone about the chapter I was on and what would happen next. As a 31-year-old, I still swap book lists with my dad. It is awesome.
#19 Talk About Things
She’s going to get hit on so much earlier than you think. I started getting whistled at walking past construction sites when I was 11. Teach her the skills to deal with rejecting someone politely but firmly and sticking up for herself. It’s not easy advice, but I think the biggest thing is “raise her to respect herself.”
If you’re 14 and think you’re ugly and horrible and nobody will ever love you, you’re more apt to let stuff go. You’re more apt to interpret something as a compliment, you’re more likely to fall prey to “this guy six years older than me is telling me I’m really special so it must be love.” Teach her to talk about it! Even if it’s not “asking for help,” knowing other women go through this can help. Knowing other people have felt those same feelings can help. The idea that you have your crew around you emotionally to protect you from whatever words fall out of a creep’s mouth.
#20 Be Smart About It
My dad has an eye for fashion and was so careful about how we went shopping, which I appreciated as a chunky girl with a body shaped like a log. Instead of saying, “Those pants are too small,” he would say, “Let’s try a few different cuts and styles to see what works the best.” When I was a tragic goth kid and wanted to wear micro mini plaid skirts, he’d say, “If you have to keep tugging at your skirt to make sure it stays in place, it’s not a sensible choice.”
I also developed very early and had many meltdowns in dressing rooms over shirts not fitting and dresses not going over my chest. My dad was careful to suggest wrap dresses, button-ups, and always made sure we had tank tops that I could wear undershirts in case I needed them. He was sympathetic, kind, and saved up to make sure I could get the proper bathing suits and expensive bras. Just be smart about it, because anything negative you say will stay with her.
#21 Earning Politeness
Teach her that politeness is only for people who earn it. She has every right to be rude to a bully, a catcaller or to tell a date she’s not interested as rudely as necessary. She has the right to do that rather than giggling awkwardly and hoping he gets the hint. I know women who considered themselves attacked and then got a call the next day from the guy wanting to set up another date.
#22 Promises, Promises
Do her a favor and keep your promises to her. I remember back when I was in second grade, my dad’s work schedule changed so that he would be off in the afternoons on Mondays. He said we would go to movies on Monday afternoons, just me and him, once or twice a month. We never wound up going and I never forgot.
#23 A Father’s Hugs
My father passed away when I was eight years old. He’d always hug me and repeat, “Always be yourself. Be happy. If you have any problems, wake up early and see the sky. The sunrise gave the inspiration to you to find answers.” I think every father needs to hug a daughter plus give her comfort and love. She’s never going to forget that. I’m 65 years old and I’ve never forgotten my father.
#24 Bad Eating Habits
I hardly ever hear anyone say this, but it works for both guys and girls. Please don’t make your kids finish everything on their plate. If they say they’re not hungry or that they’re full, don’t make them keep eating. It creates bad eating habits as an adult. Trust me, your child’s body knows how much food it needs.
#25 Emotional Teenagers
I’ve always been really shy, especially when I was a kid. Once I turned 13, I constantly got jokes from my dad about being “an emotional teenager.” I wasn’t particularly emotional as far as I could tell, but guess what? Making fun of me definitely pushed me away and dismissing anything that comes out of my mouth because of emotions makes me feel like you don’t value me in the least.
Also, a side note: don’t change your only daughter’s doorknob to one that doesn’t lock. She needs privacy, and the constant paranoia of you barging in on her while changing is not healthy. (I’d also like to add that my dad is actually wonderful, these two things were pretty minor and we’ve since moved past them.)
#26 Be Supportive
Please don’t be super grossed out if you see a pad or something. Every girl will get a period and most will get it fairly young, like 10, 11 or 12. That means that she’s still a child and you might just have to go buy her pads. It’ll really make your daughter sad if she works up the courage to say, “Dad, I think I got my period” and you go, “Ew, gross.” She needs someone to talk to when she first gets it and that someone might be you. Also, some cramps can be so painful, accompanied by hurling and crying. So, don’t tell your daughter to “suck it up.”
#27 Fear of Disappointment
My dad inadvertently taught me to hate femininity by saying things like, “Stop throwing like a girl,” “Man up,” etc. He truly didn’t understand the impact of those phrases and meant nothing by it, but it led me to reject anything remotely feminine for years. I did it for no good reason and it led to some self-esteem issues.
I refused to wear pink, I cried when I was forced to play softball with the girls instead of baseball with the boys, and I dressed in only clothes bought from the boys’ department. I was so determined not to be feminine for fear of disappointing my dad. Be careful of the words and phrases you use. It has a lot of impact.
#28 No Better
I’m not a woman, but this applies to both parents and both kids: apologize to your kids when you wrong them. You’re going to wrong them at some point. Apologizing will show them that they’re valuable, and that mature people are humble and willing to apologize. It’s a very clear way of saying, “I’m not better than you.”
#29 Going for Seconds
Don’ mock her for wanting seconds or a snack. Instead, suggest healthy options and get her involved in sports or other activities like ballet or biking. I was extremely athletic at the time but my dad used to make pig noises when I went for seconds or wanted a snack. I went down to 90 lbs at 5’4″ and started losing my hair.
I developed a really unhealthy relationship with food. I had to do some counseling to stop loathing my need to eat. I don’t know if my dad was projecting his body image issues onto me, but I really wish he’d been more supportive. I was doing soccer practice twice a week, soccer games on the weekends, four days of dance class per week, and horseback riding in my spare time. You’d think I could have seconds.
#30 Good to Go
For goodness sake, if she writes, do not read her writing unless she offers it to you. It’s invasive and can break trust. To be honest, don’t lurk around her room at all if you communicate well. She’ll have nothing to hide from you. If she is hiding something it’s because she hasn’t figured out a way to talk to you about it yet.
My dad read my notebooks and then told my entire family about what he’d read. It made my preteen years very difficult. My family antagonized me about my writing for months. I began to be afraid to express myself completely and I have crippling social anxiety because of those experiences. Just wait for her to talk to you about things, don’t pry! Don’t shut her out if she has questions either. Answer her questions maturely and empathetically and you should be good to go.
#31 Cutting Some Slack
There’s an exceptionally high chance your daughter will have boyfriends. When that happens, drop the tough dad routine where you threaten the boy with tools or whatever. Accept that your daughter is going to want to have a love life. You can make sure she does things responsibly and doesn’t hang out with total scumbags, but cut your daughter a bit of slack.
#32 Looks Don’t Matter
I once got hit on at 10 by a man who looked to be about 30. He asked me, “How old are you, 13?” When I said 10, he said, “Good enough.” Teach her that her appearance doesn’t matter. It does not matter. Who cares if she’s beautiful? Who cares if she’s ugly? What matters is what she does with her life and how she treats other people. Teach her to unapologetically pursue her goals and passions. Did I say teach her that her looks do not matter?
#33 First Man
You’re the first important man in her life. How you treat her sets the bar for what she expects from all men. Don’t treat her like a princess or she’ll expect a man she can walk all over. Don’t treat her with disrespect or put her down or she’ll think it’s okay for a man to talk negatively to her. I know this as a former daddy’s girl with a high sense of self-worth.
#34 Try to be There
For the love of God, try and at least act interested when we tell you something we like, even if it’s “girly.” Ask us if we want to learn about “manly” things like sports. If we don’t, don’t act condescending or upset. Try to connect with us — tell us stories. This might sound basic, but growing up I literally don’t know how to describe my dad. He was just there. He didn’t talk to me and didn’t react when I talked to him. Try to be there physically and emotionally.
#35 A Girl’s World
My dad gave me rules. I wasn’t allowed to go out with any “bad boys,” couldn’t experiment with any substances, and things of that nature. But he didn’t have those rules for my brothers. In short, treat your children equally. It’s kind of nonsense to grow up being treated in a different way just because I wasn’t born as a boy.
#36 Women Are Individuals
Every girl is an individual. When people hear that I have all girls and say, “I’m sorry,” I want to say, “I’m sorry back.” It’s the greatest gift ever for a man to see how different every woman can be. My two oldest taught me that there are no right answers in parenting. Be their balance on their journey through life. Let them make mistakes, but be there to help them learn from them.
My third daughter has taught me that a girl can be into anything. Bugs, dirt, sports, running, Super Mario Odyssey. Never put them in a box. My youngest taught me that no matter how bad a little girl can be, that one smile, that one look, that one hug can make it all go away for that moment. Love your girls and they will love you a million times over.
#37 Being in Tune
When she gets her period, send her to her pediatrician to get a check-up. I highly recommend a female doctor. Talk to the doctor and let her know that her period has started and talked about what should be expected and what she shouldn’t be. As women, we’ve been taught that painful cramps, hurling, etc., is normal when oftentimes it isn’t.
I was diagnosed with PCOS at 25 when I had all the symptoms at the start. Knowing these things at the earliest possible time will allow her to regulate these things. My periods don’t hurt anymore because I went to the doctor. Get her comfortable with the idea of a doctor, that way she feels like it’s okay to get a check-up when something isn’t right. Being in tune with your body is so important and I’m only just now learning how to do that.
#38 Don’t Reinforce Negativity
I’m a man, but this might be one of the most important things you can do. Never stop hugging. When she starts growing a chest, don’t even think about changing the way you hug her. She’s confused enough, will be worrying about the changes, have self-doubt, etc. If you stop hugging her or make it weird when you do, you’re just going to reinforce those negative ideas.
#39 No Dating Game
Please don’t pull the “no dating until you’re 30,” garbage. Before you claim it’s all in good fun and you wouldn’t really stop her from dating, ask yourself if you would ever play that “joke” with your son. I’m guessing no. Boys aren’t born with the implicit assumption that they and their bodies are ours to give in the first place.
#40 Validation Goes a Long Way
Validate your daughter. My father always reminded us that we were beautiful, but most importantly we were smart, funny, kind and hardworking. Those things became part of our identity all thanks to him. It set a foundation that we build all of our relationships and lives around. I couldn’t be more grateful for him.
#41 A Boy’s Expressions
Don’t tell her that if a boy is mean to her it’s because he likes her. I was told that a lot and it normalized the idea that if a boy is mean to me it’s okay, they’re just bad at expressing emotions. It didn’t help me in the future when I was in a relationship with a guy and he didn’t treat me well. But, I believed it was because boys just are bad at expressing emotions.
#42 Insults to Yourself, Please
Unless you want a daughter with an eating disorder, never make disparaging comments about her weight! My dad always made comments and jokes about me being chunky (I wasn’t) and I grew up thinking I was fat. I look at old pictures of myself and I think I looked pretty thin. Wouldn’t you know it, I grew up to have relationships with men who were also very critical of my size.
#43 Understand Her Interests
Understand her interests come before what she’s “supposed” to turn into. I didn’t care about boys or bras when I was 13. The most frustrating thing was everyone being convinced that I secretly did. It was so annoying to be told I should be interested in these things and then being told that being interested in them is bad. If she’s 15, showing no interest in boys and only talks about shows or music or video games, just let her.
#44 Don’t Let it Happen
At least in the U.S., girls are bombarded with fear messages as we grow up. Not just fear of being attacked, but fear of everything. Don’t run, you might trip. Don’t swim, you might drown. Don’t travel, you might get robbed. Don’t go camping, you might get eaten by a bear. A lot of women internalize that fear and as a result, never do anything fun. Don’t let that happen to her.
#45 How to Build Stuff
I can’t wait to show my daughter how to build stuff. She will always be a part of it. I will admit, eventually, she may not be as interested as my sons, and that’s more than okay. She doesn’t have to be interested. It’s more about the quality time and learning new things, not that it’s man’s work or women’s work.
#46 Her Inner Voice
The voice that you speak to her in when she’s young will be the voice that’s always in her head when she’s older. Even if her mother is the worst person in the world, treat her with respect in front of your daughter. The way you treat her mother will be the way she understands that she deserves to be treated by a significant other.
#47 Treat Her Like an Adult
I believe this applies to both genders. Trust your daughter and treat her as a grownup person, not just your little baby girl. She actually matures way faster than you could imagine. One more important job is giving her real education and make sure she can protect herself in most of the situations. Being a woman, the world is more dangerous and unfriendly at some points.
#48 Smarter Than You Think
Don’t blame everything on her period. Yes, she might be more emotional than usual but calling out the potential reason isn’t going to help anyone. Also, sometimes she’ll be emotional when she’s not on her period. Saying she isn’t rational will only make her think less of you. In general, try to be kind and understand her side of things. She may be young but she’s smarter than you think. If she feels like you aren’t fair, she’ll learn to manipulate you.
#49 Physical Boundaries
Don’t force your daughter to interact physically (hug, kiss, or be hugged, kissed, or touched by) even your most well-meaning relatives and friends. Kids, especially girls, need to know that it’s okay to have physical boundaries. They also need to know that it’s okay to enforce your own even if there isn’t a good “reason.”
#50 Show Your Emotions
As a man, don’t be afraid to cry in front of your daughter. Happy tears, sad tears, whatever they may be. I saw it all from my dad and it taught me that men have just as many feelings as women and that someone I look up to for being so strong can also be vulnerable. I also learned that it’s not weak to show emotion.