Dad and Daughter - NZ DadsGirls and their dad; it’s a special relationship. According to every movie, a girl should call her dad “Daddy” until she’s in her 40’s, The term “Daddy’s Girl” invokes pictures of a loving daughter manipulating her father into all sorts of trouble but always being gently chastised and forgiven with open arms. Pphhttt! What a crock of….rubbish!

Girls don’t need that sort of daddy. Girls are not the sugar and spice you may hope them to be! From an early age they work out pretty quick how to flutter the eyelashes, if it means getting her way. Is that the sort of strong woman you want your daughter to grow into?

Girls have it made. They talk earlier than boys, they develop socially faster than boys, and they even hit puberty earlier than boys. But somewhere between early primary school and early high school, new social pressures and a confusing blend of mixed signals from society (“Study hard, but don’t be too good, boys don’t like smart girls.” “You can be anything you want to be, but look pretty. That should be your top priority.”) can cause girls to academically fall behind or lose their drive. How can you can build your daughter’s confidence and develop resilience for the tricky years ahead?

Start early and stick to it. It’s never too early to encourage assertiveness by teaching her to express her needs to peers and adults. Teach to be specific with her words with an assertive statement. State the feeling, the cause and the desired result to stand her ground, E.g. “I feel bullied (the feeling,) when you talk to me that way, (the cause,) and I want you to stop yelling at me. (the desired result)” As long as she learns words have power and being of the female persuasion, and therefore Master Mistress of the spoken word, she can use words to get her point across.

Be clear when giving compliments. When you tell her how smart she is, it means much more if you use concrete and specific examples. “You have a good memory for maths” or “You sure know the rules to the game well.” And match given praise with reality. Most girls have a bulls@#t detector from birth (don’t believe me? Look at your mum or your wife!)

A beginner will know that she’s not (yet) a musical genius, but she’ll appreciate it if you notice her hitting the notes more accurately and encourage her when you see improvement. Don’t say “You’re the prettiest girl in the world” – try “You’re the prettiest girl in my world.” She’ll appreciate the honesty and it will teach her to listen for false compliments later in life.

Encourage a healthy realistic body image – there are billions of women in the world – not all are super models. And who would want to be? Diets, continual public scrutiny and criticism and those bloody high heels-oh boy! They are hell on the feet!! If she asks the inevitable “Am I beautiful?” answer her with an enthusiastic “Hell YES!” but follow up with a why! Remember what I wrote above – when you praise her, don’t just focus on her appearance highlight her actions, too: “You were so graceful at gym class.”; or “Your eyes really shone on the stage, I was so stuck how your eyes are so expressive.”

It can also be helpful to start discussing the realities that models in magazines, videos or movies don’t look like real girls or women because they have heaps of makeup, better lighting and that in most cases their photographs are altered so they appear thinner and flawless. Point out gently the beauties of the ordinary people, “Look at that older woman – see how she walks so lightly? I bet see was a dancer when she was younger.” or “Look at those young ladies in their short skirts, I bet they are cold – blue legs are never attractive.”

Help her understand not everyone has to be her friend. Girls get into a competition; who has the most friends or the coolest friends for instance. But sometimes she’s going to be left out or not invited to every birthday party. Girls, being social animals, will feel it hard but keep repeating it’s not her fault. There might be outside forces controlling the situation (limits of the number of invitees); or has more to do with the other child’s bad mood or manners than it does with your daughter. Teach her to have many friends as “backups”, for the days she might have a falling out with her “bestie” and trust me, 99% of the time they are besties again the next day.

Don’t be too quick to help your daughter with problems, homework or chores; “ it’s too hard to do daddy”. Encourage competence and independent thinking. When she asks for help, encourage her to work through the problem from a different angle for a while first. Then if still struggling make hints, (“Maybe taking a few deep breaths to freshen your mind before tackling that maths problem?”; “Have a think about the basics in report writing –who, what, where, when and why.”; “Break the chore down into do-able parts; first rake just the leaves over under the tree, then the leaves over near the shed.”) She needs to look at ways to find the solution, but if you have to help, have her copy you immediately after. She is not going to do half the job/task properly the first time or as quickly as you. But teach her she doesn’t need to look for a man to jump in to solve her problems completely – but to look for a guide, someone to support her.

When it comes to sport encourage her to play sports to find out what she’s capable of. Girls drop sports to look “ladylike” or “because I get too sweaty” but secretly want to play football or do gymnastics. Society doesn’t value women’s sport as much as men’s but it’s slowly changing. Besides, it’s good for her health, her social circle is expanded and sport keeps her fit. Also it teaches life skills like cooperation and teamwork, leadership, appreciation of different personalities along with self-discipline, patience and persistence. But don’t put her into sports you want her to play – she can figure it out herself, it might take a while and hopefully the most harmful thing is it lasts just one term or season.

Remember that it is your example and values that your daughter will often look for. You may not be able to stop her from wearing mini skirts but you will know she can stand up for herself. Treat her as you want her boyfriends to treat her, with respect.

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