Growing up, I had a great relationship with my dad, and I love to see my husband with our daughter. They have a special bond too. They do projects together, act silly, and make terrible puns back and forth. And while we often hear more about the father-son and mother-daughter relationships, recently science has proven the great significance of the father-daughter relationship.
Between the ultrasounds, birth classes and being in the room during birth–fathers are much more present in our children’s lives than other generations were. My husband and I both read about our baby-to-be’s progress and even spoke to the little one. With men now bonding with the baby-to-be right away, attachment is easier when the child arrives.
But it takes more than just showing up for a father to have a lasting, positive effect on his daughter. To see the “Father Effect” as it’s called, dads need to be involved on a daily level—changing their diapers, feeding them and playing with them. The play part is critical– as is holding them, showing warmth and giving emotional support.
The Father Effect
Interestingly, the Father Effect starts to work at a very young age. Numerous studies show that children who grow up in a household with a father show superior outcomes in intelligence tests—they tend to have higher IQ test scores by the age of 3. With higher levels of intelligence come greater happiness, success, and longevity. We all want that for our children.
That said, kids with active fathers also perform better academically and are less likely to drop out of school. Small acts such as helping with homework and encouraging daughters to take challenging courses are associated with higher levels of sociability, a higher level of school performance, and fewer behavior problems. For instance, they are less aggressive, less likely to become delinquent and less likely to end up in jail. Interestingly, they’re also more likely to have high-paying jobs when they grow up.
But the importance of dads goes well beyond academics and smarts. One of the things fathers often bring to their kids is a sense of adventure. I know that my husband has done that and it started when our kids were very young–he’d play with them and get them all riled up right at bedtime. Drove me crazy but apparently it’s a really good thing (the play, not the time of day!)
Men, in general, tend to play rougher, encourage sports, and offer more independence than some moms. For daughters to be adventurous and get out of their comfort zone, they have to be empowered to solve their problems and take ownership. They need to feel capable of taking risks and making mistakes. Fathers can help with that by telling girls they are capable and strong, and that they believe in them. My parents always told me I could be and do anything—and that’s critical for confidence. Dads need to encourage their daughters to dream big, empower them for the future.
That empowerment and belief in them is the bedrock of a girl’s self-esteem. Dads who provide praise, support, and unconditional love increase their daughters’ confidence. Studies show that if he thinks she is beautiful, smart, and strong, she will be more inclined to see herself that way. When they aren’t being judged for their looks and they don’t see their dad judging others on looks, girls are more satisfied with their appearance and weight.
It’s About Empowerment
For young women, that self-acceptance is crucial–most girls feel less than confident with their bodies at some point. For some, this is a minor thing. Unfortunately, for many others, it escalates. Girls with poor body images may isolate themselves socially, fret over the way they look, and lose confidence. That can lead to depression, anxiety, or eating disorders. With a loving relationship with their dad, girls are less likely to become clinically depressed or develop an eating disorder.
Most studies suggest that, until children hit puberty, the Father Effect is roughly equal for boys and girls. Both boys and girls who are fortunate enough to have dads in their lives excel and, in some cases, outperform their peers. Later, when puberty hits and hormones are raging, dads have a somewhat different impact. While both sexes look to how parents act, boys tend to see how a man is supposed to act but daughters often take away how a man should treat her.
Many psychologists believe that the way she perceives and interacts with her dad will influence a daughter’s future romantic relationships. Respectful and supportive fathers who keep their promises teach their daughters to expect that in their relationships.
Setting The Bar
Dads sort of set the bar for whom their daughter dates–girls often pick those who have similar attributes to their father–and her overall quality of relationships with men. Women with a strong relationship with their father wait longer to enter a serious relationship, become sexually active, and even get married or have children later.
When it comes down to it, science has highlighted some really important points about dads, but we can all see it with our own eyes as well. I loved watching my husband read to our kids each day, play with them, take them on adventures and really show them love. Now that bond is so clear whenever they come home from college or even call on the phone.
I think it would be hard to overstate the value of the father-daughter relationship. Young women who have a positive relationship with their fathers achieve more academically. They make better relationship choices. They have more confidence, high self-esteem, and believe they can achieve their goals.⠀
It doesn’t get a lot more important than that.