San Diego Divorce Lawyers

Dads and Daughters: A Bond Like No Other

By Patricia Wilkinson

“Daddy!” two-year-old Brittany squeals. She dashes across the floor at the day care center to wrap her little arms around those long familiar legs.

With busy family schedules, fathers often take a more active part in child rearing, a clear advantage for daughters. “In past decades, fathers felt their primary role was to work and provide an income for the family. That’s changing as we find that girls with involved fathers are more well-adjusted overall than girls with distant or absent father figures,” says Dr. Jonathan Gale, clinical psychologist in La Jolla.

Researchers are rediscovering the incredible impact dads have on their daughters’ lives. “With the rise in divorces and single parent households in the 1980’s and ‘90’s, most studies focused on mothers and practically ignored fathers until about the last decade,” reports Dr. Chad Hybarger, Family Therapist, professor at Alliant International University, and founder of the Family Therapy Institute in El Cajon.

Recent research confirms that the relationship a girl experiences with her father influences all kinds of things as she grows into adulthood. For example, whether daddies spend time talking to their two and three-year-olds, or not, holds more weight on their toddlers’ language development than mommies according to a study by the University of North Carolina Child Development Institute at Chapel Hill (ScienceDaily – Nov. 2006).

Active father figures also reduce psychological problems in young women and increase cognitive skills like intelligence and reasoning, say Swedish researchers after a 20 year investigation including thousands of subjects from the US, the UK, Sweden and Israel (Acta Paediatrica – Feb. 2008).

Dads even appear to determine when girls physically become women; that is, a daughter who has a good relationship with her father tends to enter puberty later than a girl that does not (Vanderbilt University - ScienceDaily – Sep. 27, 1999). “Statistically, girls who have positive relationships with their fathers have sex later and are also less likely to end up teen mothers,” Hybarger adds.

In fact, evidence suggests that Dad is mainly responsible for his daughter’s school achievement, future job and income, relationships with men, self-confidence, and overall mental health (EurekAlert – Feb. 2008).

Good News for Dads

Dads learn as much from their daughters as their girls learn from them. Hybarger says, “Fathers learn more about women in general; how to be a good listener and how to be supportive. These things often improve his relationship with his mate.” So, Dads, step up to raising healthy, happy girls, and enjoy the ride!

Little Girls

Social scientists encourage fathers to participate in their little ones’ healthcare and general upbringing to promote a high level of engagement in his child’s life (Sarkadi et al. Acta Paediatrica. Feb. 2008). Dads can even substitute for Moms with cesarean born babies. Swedish researchers found that in the event of a complicated birth, limiting the mother’s contact with the infant, the father can give skin to skin contact to the baby and provide the same calming benefits as the mother (ScienceDaily – June 12, 2007).

Daddy’s talking with his baby girl is important for language development, and she also enjoys gentle playing, tickling, rides on Daddy’s back, snuggling on the couch watching Sesame Street, or whatever helps them connect in a positive way. “Dad’s appropriate physical contact is a must since little kids don’t know how to verbalize as much, and it introduces her to healthy touching,” Gale points out.

Elementary School Age Girls (age 5 – 12)

Dads’ relationships with their girls determine how well their daughters achieve in life, whether they live in the same household or not. Valerie King, a Penn State Associate professor of sociology, demography and human development and family studies found in her research, “The closer the father-child relationship - not just the visitation – the better children were doing” (Penn State – June 13, 2007).

Some men find participating in sports with their girls a positive outlet for father/daughter bonding. Thanks to the availability of sports programs for girls nowadays, lots of dads coach their daughters’ sports teams or cheer on the sidelines. Others get involved by providing transportation to practices and games as well as shooting hoops or dribbling a soccer ball at the local park.

If a daughter’s interests lie elsewhere, dual working parents and conflicting schedules mean that Dad often takes his daughter to dance or art classes, too. When dads support their girls in getting to lessons and attend their daughters’ performances, they send the message that their daughters’ activities, and therefore their daughters, are important and worthwhile.

Adolescent Girls (age 13-18)

As girls become women, some dads drift away from their daughters. With physical changes already strange enough, mercurial behaviors, inflicted by that pesky hormone fairy, tend to strain relationships. A daughter often misses the cause and effect of her occasional crabby behavior, believing that suddenly Dad doesn’t like her or think she’s important. Take heart. This is all part of the process. Adolescence is a time when children need to start separating themselves from their parents to mature into adulthood. “Some separation is healthy and necessary. Try changing your role from physical play to verbal communication, and follow your daughter’s lead,” Gale suggests.

Although a teenage girl’s behavior can seem unreasonable at times, fathers need to be patient for their daughters’ well-being. Gale says, “If Dad just pulls away when (his daughter) becomes a woman, it could be potentially scarring because the most significant man in her life has rejected her. She might take it to mean that men leave you when you are a woman.”

Dr. Linda Nielsen, professor of Adolescent Psychology at Wake Forest University, advocates dads spending personal time with their daughters. Statistics for sexual abuse by the biological father are miniscule, so society can relax about girls going places alone with their dads. Nielsen’s studies found that “. . . most daughters want more from the relationship with their father--more comfortable communication, more time together, more emotional sharing, more knowledge of one another" (College Student Journal – March, 2007).

Absent Dad: What to do

Drawing on experiences from his family practice as well as results from studies, Hybarger sites three healthy ways moms can raise girls without a father:

  • “Avoid speaking negatively about the father. In fact, it’s even preferable if the mother speaks positively, even though she may be angry with him . . . to help create the relationship the child needs with the idea of the father, whether (Dad) is present or not.
  • “Create a metaphoric relationship with her father. Talk about positive memories of things her father used to say or do, even if he left or died before she was born. This will make him real in your daughter’s mind.
  • “Make encouraging projections of the father’s reactions to events. For example: “This is an awesome report card! Your dad would be proud of you, too. Let’s go celebrate!”
Hybarger warns against “seeking” a step-father or an uncle to replace the father figure. Substitutes can work well, but only when the daughter chooses to trust and respect a specific male enough to fill that space in her life, to be her nurturer and role model.

For more information:

Dr. Jonathan Gale: (858) 344-9456
Dr. Chad Hybarger: Family Therapy Institute, El Cajon (619) 562-2130


Dr. Nielsen:

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