The quantity of time you spend with your children is not necessarily as important as the quality. Some dads feel lost about how to best spend their time with their daughters, but that’s no reason to shy away from quality time. Studies have found that involved fathers contribute to higher academic achievements and socio-emotional functioning.
Look at these ideas for daddy-daughter bonding at any age.
The First Year
There is so much physical care that goes into the first year of your little girl’s life that it can feel like there is really no time for bonding. The truth is that those thousands of diaper changes and late-night feedings are some of the best bonding! Avoid viewing those moments as chores and focus instead on the ways you can connect with your daughter through eye contact, playfulness, music, and even some dancing. Don’t feel intimidated about spending time alone with your daughter. It is in the primary-caregiver moments that you find confidence in your parenting skills.
As your daughter starts to find some independence, she will still find pockets of time when she needs Dad. When you have the time, make her your errand-running buddy. Go to the grocery store, post office, and department stores together and complete the items on your to-do list while letting her in on the adventure. This is a very playful time for little girls too, so find time to take her to an open grassy area where she can just run. Instead of spending a lot on toys, let her imagination lead your play time. You can make an impact on early literacy by reading with or to her for a few minutes every day too.
Elementary School Years
These are the years when daughters first begin to pull away from the family dynamic and find their own place amongst their peers. While this is a healthy developmental phase, you want your daughter to know that you are still there and value your time together. If your work schedule permits it, drop her off at school and pick her up a few days each week. Just these few minutes together in the car or walking can prove invaluable to your relationship. Volunteer to coach a sports team she is on, or show up to as many events she participates in as possible. When you do have time for something special, ask her what she would like to do the most. If she is at a loss for ideas, lunch or dinner out with Dad is always a good fallback plan.
Remember that her viewpoint of herself during these years is often influenced by what other people see in her. Be a positive voice of encouragement, and try to avoid complementing only things like the way she looks. Focus instead on her character, values, and why she makes you proud. If your family has determined she is old enough for a cell phone or an email address, use those forms of communication to reach out to her. Send texts that are not just inquiries about her whereabouts or lists of things you need her to do. Let her know you are thinking of her throughout the day, and ask what it is you can do to make her day better. Though she may not respond to all of these messages, they will matter to her.
Your daughter will enter this phase as an awkward child and exit it as a full-grown woman. As she exercises more independence, you may feel the need to exercise your authority more firmly. In some cases, that may be warranted. But remember that the bond you’ve worked to create throughout her life is there and give her credit for wanting to do what is right. You want her to come to you with problems that are over her head, not feel that she will always be punished. Continue to communicate through electronic means, but also find afternoons to spend away from the house. If she is interested in college, go with her on visits. If she gets a local job, stop in and visit her occasionally and show her you support her work ethic. Your daughter may view herself as a person much older than she actually is, and you may view her as a small child. The truth is somewhere in the middle, so try to remember that and focus on giving her the benefit of the doubt.
Show your daughter that even if she is not a child any longer, you will still always be her dad. Keep lines of communication open and visit her when you can. You raised her well, so enjoy the woman she becomes. As she expands her world view, she will come to appreciate all you did for her and your bond will strengthen even more.