Dads have a lasting impact on their daughters’ lives – whether they’re present or absent. Fathers play a role in affecting their daughters’ self-esteem, throughout their lives, as well as influencing the behaviour, relationships and even future academic success of their girls.
Children with an involved father figure are likely to have improved outcomes on all fronts, including better physical and mental health, higher IQ scores and less likelihood of homelessness (think of it as the “father effect”).
We’re living in exciting times for dads: they can be involved in their daughters’ lives from birth – let’s hear it for more men taking up shared parental leave with their partners! This is beneficial on all fronts, helping dads develop a more comprehensive understanding of fatherhood and all that it entails for their partners, as well as allowing dads to be involved in their children’s lives in a different (more fulfilling?) way to some fathers past.
Dads don’t just benefit their girls; it goes both ways. Having daughters is really good for fathers: research from the LSE found that fathers are less likely to hold sexist attitudes if they have a school-age daughter.
Fathers can play a huge role in building up the confidence of their girls. Here are some ways dads can do that, which go beyond changing a nappy or five.
Hang out with your daughters
According to Hollywood actor James Van Der Beek, a father of five (he has four daughters) and our Instagram idol when it comes to openly discussing everything from toxic masculinity to miscarriage, dads should “date” their daughters. In other words, they should really focus on them and spend some QT with them whenever possible.
“So… here’s my working theory: Dads, date your daughters. Drive responsibly, put down your phone, invest in everything they have to say and treat them like they’re the most valuable human in the room, if not the world. And then (theoretically), once they start dating for real, they’ll have a bar… and anyone who doesn’t meet that bar, you won’t have to tell them – they’ll make that call for themselves. #DateNight #SetTheBarHigh. He later posted on Instagram: “I’ll let you know in about ten or fifteen years if this actually works 👍”.
Play games with your daughters
One thing your daughter never wants to hear from her dad? “I can’t do that, it’s for girls.” Whether your daughter’s invited you to a tea party with her favourite soft animals, wants to play with Barbies in her room or is asking which shade you’d like to paint your nails, why not just give it a go? It will help to reinforce your daughter’s self-esteem and confidence by indicating that her interests and activities are important and relevant (and that her pursuits are as crucial as more traditionally “masculine” ones).
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t encourage her outside of her comfort zone: academics have found that by the age of five or six, girls feel less confident in their academic abilities and pursuits which may lead to them having a “Dream Gap”. One of the ways you can help to close this is by exposing your daughter to aspirational careers through STEM toys to show her that anything is possible! Encourage her to express herself through play – and reinforce the idea toys are toys, and don’t need to be gender-definers. This may even involve breaking your own long-held stereotypes, if you have them.
Be active with her
These days, you may be more likely to spend time indoors with your daughter, showing her something on a phone or playing a game on a computer together. Get your daughter away from the screen and encourage her outdoor pursuits, whether that’s playing sports together or going for a bike ride to run an errand instead of hopping in the car.
Interestingly, research has shown that there’s a direct correlation between a father’s level of physical fitness and that of his daughters. So don’t be afraid to push your daughter out of her comfort zone and show her that she’s strong, resilient and can handle vigorous activity: rough-and-tumble play is good for girls too.
Don’t wait until she’s older
Many dads feel a little sidelined in the early stages of fatherhood, and are often more confident bonding with their children as they start to get older (and less solely reliant on mum for milk). But research shows that dads who throw themselves into their new roles as fathers from the get-go find it easier to create those lasting bonds. Studies have found that dads who snuggle with their babies from day one, or participate in 30 minutes of skin-to-skin daily, have an altered hormonal response which allows them to bond with their babies more easily, and means they’re more likely to be involved in infant care as baby grows.