Why A Strong Father-Daughter Relationship Is So Important For Girls’ Self Esteem

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Why A Strong Father-Daughter Relationship Is So Important For Girls’ Self Esteem
Family

Dads and father figures have an important role in their daughters' lives.

A father-daughter relationship is precious. When a girl's self-esteem plummets, her Dad has the power to lift it up.

"Dad" can refer to fathers, step-fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and other male loved ones — maybe an ex-spouse, former brother-in-law, or even a cousin.

Dads are men who mentor, love, and support a daughter.

Dads or step-dads can still be present, even if they live apart from their daughters, staying connected through emails, phone calls, visual platforms, texts, and whatever other methods of communication and connection are available — even old fashioned letter-writing.

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Dad, You are one of the most important allies for your daughter.

You uniquely influence your daughter’s self-confidence.

You are the first male in your daughter’s life. You set a standard.

Your words, your behavior, your time — they all matter. Your relationship with her is unlike any other in her or your life.

There is a tendency to minimize fathers’ roles in daughters’ lives.

Yet, every part of a father-daughter relationship contains precious opportunities for daughters to learn about themselves, the world, and potential life partners.

It's a scary time to raise a daughter.

Body image concerns start young, especially for girls.

A girl's relationship with her body is intertwined with her self-esteem and affects every other aspect of her life.

Body dissatisfaction is the most powerful risk factor for developing an eating disorder. The strongest environmental contribution to an eating disorder is the societal idealized view of thinness.

No one can single-handedly prevent eating disorders. But you, Dad, can be a buffer against two — of many — key risk factors: body image and cultural messages.

Dads provide powerful protection from eating disorders. 

Whether you know it or not, your relationship with your daughter is either a protective factor or risk factor for a bunch of things, including an eating disorder.

According to The National Eating Disorders Association, girls younger than 10 are treated for anorexia. More than 40 percent of girls in first, second, and third grade wish they were thinner.

Reported cases of anorexia and bulimia are rising and affect girls of every race, ethnicity, socioeconomic group, and religion.

You have plenty of leverage to counter messages from culture, especially the message that how she looks is more important than who she is.

She is more than her body.

Her value is not based on her weight or how pretty she is deemed. She doesn't have to diet or look like the Kardashians to be loveable.

You know that social media is an important way she connects with her friends. You also know that as little as 30 minutes a day of social media use can worsen her body image.

Teach your daughter to think critically, with social media especially.

Ask her what she thinks about what she's viewing.

How does it make her feel? What does she think are the company’s motives? What is it trying to sell?

How are images altered on the apps she uses? How real are they?

These questions fall under the category of "media literacy."

You're in a unique position to help her to identify and recognize her value, aside from her looks.

Skin color, height, eye color, weight, and shoe size are all parts of appearance. Her features are an integration of her heritage, the family tree.

And there's so much more to her, including what's not visible to the eye

Be aware of your comments.

Don't talk about weight, especially women's or your own. Don't categorize food as good and bad. Avoid being the food police.

Be present. Take an interest in her life. Help her value her mind. Teach her how to have a voice, how to speak up and self-advocate, and how to listen.

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Engage her in conversation.

Ask her opinion on topics ranging from Disney themes to politics — whatever is age-appropriate.

What you ask may help her be better acquainted with herself.

What are five things she feels grateful for today? What's something funny that happened today?

Share your favorite music with her.

Let her play any song she likes and dance with you. Tell her stories of when you were her age. Go outside in nature together.

Perhaps the child part of you will emerge as the two of you play on the jungle gym and shoot hoops.

Believe in her. Help her find her passions.

Support her interests, even if they are different from yours. Listen. Refrain from jumping in and solving her dilemmas.

Ask if she wants to problem-solve together and give her the skills to eventually solve problems more independently. Be a role model.

Fathers, in actions more than words, can show daughters that the most important thing about a girl is who she is. Her mind, strength, and courage. Her essence.

Let’s also be realistic.

Appearance does matter. Female bodies are objectified, valued for how closely they meet standards of beauty, especially in this culture.

So, when she asks you, "Do you think I'm pretty (or thin or beautiful), Daddy?," what do you say?

Rather than dismissing her question or responding with a cliche (i.e., "You're beautiful as you are"), consider giving feedback that reflects who she is as an entire person — her smile, her voice, her mind, and her strong legs.

The determined way she hikes mountains and her ability to see the beauty at the summit. The arm muscles that throw the frisbee back and forth.

Help her appreciate her body for what it provides her — an opportunity to run, skip, hop, climb, jump, and dance. The capacity to watch the sunrise, feel the warm breeze on her skin, hear the birds chirp.

What you're doing is helping her to recognize that her body is not an ornament to be objectified by herself or others. Her body is hers, in all its capacity, to provide contact with the world.

It's never too early or late to leverage your power and potential for your daughter's well-being.

Engage your daughter in life and support her for who she is and not simply for what she looks like.

Imagine a world where she is more interested in splashing in the water, riding the waves, and enjoying the ocean than about how she looks in a bathing suit.

That she is more focused on the joy of playing and being silly than taking endless selfies to later filter and post for as many likes as possible.

Your role as her dad helps to create that world.

RELATED: 50 Thoughtful Father's Day Quotes To Show Dad How Much You Care

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Dr. Elayne Daniels is a renowned psychologist who works with men and women on body image and sexuality. To contact her or to learn more about the services she offers, contact her on her website or send her an email.

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