Dads, we know you love your daughter. And you know you love your daughter. But you might be surprised at much she needs to hear it. In the research with teens and preteens for For Parents Only, I found that these four phrases have a lot more impact than you might think. And as you’ll see, they are especially powerful and important when coming from a father. Use them often!
1. “I love you, sweetheart.” Until she is married, you are the main guy in your daughter’s life. So this gives you a special responsibility: countering the little voice inside the head of most girls (95%) and women (80%) that secretly wonders Am I loveable? Where you as a man probably have a little voice that asks Do I measure up? you might be shocked by how much your daughter doubts whether she is worth being loved and accepted by those around her. And feeling loved by a man is one of the main ways girls tend to look for an answer to that question. So as you hug her, affirm her, and tell her just how loved and loveable she is, it is far less likely she’ll feel the need to go looking for love in all the wrong places.
2. “You’re beautiful.” Just as girls doubt that they are lovable, they really doubt that they are lovely. We women can be really hard on ourselves. We see all our flaws. And every magazine rack your daughter passes screams at her that how she looks is not enough. Your daughter needs to see evidence that she is beautiful, and the most healthy, human evidence of that at this time in her life is getting that verbal affirmation from you. When she comes in dressed for school, tell her she looks great. If you need to ask her to adjust her attire, make sure she knows you think she is beautiful, regardless. Even consider taking her shopping every now and then. She will love seeing you light up when she presents herself in a way that lights her up.
3. “I’m so proud of you.” You like to hear this phrase. Your daughter does, too. The years daughters are living at home, involve lots of hard work, growing, and trying to find their way. We found in the research that all our kids (girls and boys) don’t have a clear roadmap for who they are and how they should handle life, school, relationships and everything else. They often feel like they are flailing around trying to figure it out. And there is an immense relief when a parent says they are proud of them. Whew, I did something right! This is vital from any parent figure, but it is very clear from our interviews and surveys that God has given it a special weight of authority when coming from a father. Don’t skimp on this phrase.
4. “I’m always here for you – even when you make mistakes.” You may not always have to say this out loud (although you should do that too!) but you do need to show it. As noted, our boys and girls won’t always do it right. They will mess up, not work hard enough, make wrong choices, and suffer the consequences. And they need to know that you are there with them through those consequences. This is key for girls and boys, but for a girl, when a father is angry or disappointed and seems to withdraw, she emotionally translates that as if he’s saying, “I don’t love you right now.” That is not at all what you’re saying, but that is what she’s hearing. So when she drives recklessly, despite all your efforts to teach safe driving, let her suffer the consequences of having to go to court – but show her that you will stand beside her throughout it and that you are there for her no matter what.