by Dr. Michelle Watson Canfield

As we all know, it can be a daunting task for dads and daughters to talk about the hard stuff, the deep stuff, the vulnerable stuff, and the complex stuff. And a lot of dads have told me they prefer to leave some of those heavier topics to mom.

But trust me when I say that your daughter needs YOU to initiate conversations with her—about anything and everything. And even if those interactions are awkward at first, if you stay with it, you’ll see the positive impacts to her … and yourself!

Here’s the bottom line:

When a daughter opens her mouth, her heart opens.
And when a daughter’s heart is open, her dad’s heart automatically opens.

The most effective starting point for building a stronger dad-daughter bond is through TALKING.

That’s why I wrote my new book, Let’s Talk: Conversation Starters for Dads and Daughters. I want to see healthier, closer relationships between dads and daughters so this generation of women is empowered with dad’s support to stand boldly, live confidently, love fiercely, give fully, and care deeply.

I want to help you as dads close the communication gap with your daughters by showing you how to listen and build trust with insights and scripted questions that equip you to move from fun, get-to-know-you chats to deep discussions that dive into your daughters’ struggles, hurts, fears, and hopes.

I always say that your daughter didn’t come with a playbook, but I’m going to help you write one using the 5 power strategies below, adapted from my new book:

1. Lead Her to LAUGH

Your goal, dad, is to lay a solid and connected foundation with your daughter by bonding with her through shared laughter while enhancing her own self-discovery. Neuroscientists confirm the importance of laughing together, claiming that our brains release chemicals when we laugh in ways that strengthen long-term relationships and reinforce social bonding. So if laughter is the best medicine, then every father would benefit from increasing his skill set in activating it, wouldn’t you say?

Dad, ask your daughter:

1. What about me makes you laugh?

2. What item of my clothing would you love to see me get rid of?

3. Do you ever think about your wedding day? If so, what do you imagine? If not, why not?

4. What are three outrageous things you wish you had the nerve to do?

5. If you could be any animal, which one would you say is most like you and why?

2. Lead Her to LOVE

Your goal, dad, is to lead your daughter to love herself while embracing who she is in a positive way. Then out of the overflow, she can pour her beauty and lovingkindness into others with an empowered desire to positively impact the world. Because you play a key role in the strength of your daughter’s health and well-being, when you consistently deposit love into her heart space, she never has to doubt that she’s worthy of love, which sets a solid foundation for the way she sees herself and subsequently gives to others. Then she won’t go looking for love in all the wrong places; instead, she’ll be looking to love in all the right places.Your daughter will thrive when she lives to love.

Dad, ask your daughter:

1. What do you see as your three greatest strengths and gifts? [Dad, this would be a good time to tell her what you see as her strengths.]

2. If I were to fill up your love tank and make you feel more loved, special, accepted, and enjoyed,
what could I do specifically to make that happen?

3. They say that when girls and women have self-limiting beliefs, it sabotages their dreams. What are a couple of negative beliefs you have about yourself that have stifled your dreaming more?

4. How would you define the term world changer, and how can you envision it describing you now or in the future?

5. If you and I were to volunteer together, what could we do and what positive impact to our relationship and to the community do you imagine from our joining to make a difference?

3. Lead Her to LOOK

Your goal, dad, is to walk with your daughter into deeper, more vulnerable self-examination regarding her relationship with herself and her relationships with others. If you don’t weigh in on these subjects with her, every other voice will speak into her life except yours. And because the loudest voices usually win, often drowning out her own, it’s of vital importance that your input be clear, consistent, constructive, and celebratory. Your daughter needs an invitation from you to be brutally honest with herself (and with you), coupled with encouragement to admit weakness and confusion.

Dad, ask your daughter:

1. Do I do anything that shuts you down or makes you less confident to share your thoughts and feelings with me?

2. Can you remember any specific words I’ve spoken to you that have stuck with you that have made you feel better/worse about yourself?

3. Where and when is it easiest/hardest for you to be your true self?

4. If the sky was the limit, money was no object, time had no relevance, and anything was possible, what could you imagine doing with your life?

5. From watching me, what have you learned about relating to God as a Father or connecting/not connecting with your spiritual side?

4. Lead Her to LAMENT

Your goal, dad, is to get close enough to your daughter to hear her heart cries about grief she carries while making amends for any hurts you’ve caused her. During interpersonal conflicts, the one on the receiving end of the hurtful interaction tends to remember details longer and more clearly than the one who spoke the words or displayed the action. When it comes to dad-daughter relationships, your daughter will remember the blasts and blows from you more clearly than you do. This is why you must rise up and seize the opportunity to begin this conversation with your daughter, listening to how you’ve hurt her with an objective toward being a catalyst to her healing process. And if her hurts are from others, your listening ear will go a long way to healing her heart as you carry her pain with her.

Dad, ask your daughter:

1. What is one thing about you that would help me be a better dad to you if I understood it?

2. When you think about our relationship through the years, when do you remember us being the closest, and are we as close as you’d like us to be now?

3. Do I do anything that shuts you down or makes you less confident to share your thoughts and feelings with me?

4. Can you remember any specific words I’ve spoken to you that have stuck with you that have made you feel better/worse about yourself?

5. Do you ever get mad at God or blame him for taking someone away from you? If so, what does that feel like, and if not, why not?

5. Lead Her to LISTEN

Your goal, dad, is to facilitate the activation of your daughter’s voice by letting her ask you questions about your life as she hones her ability to listen intently. Your daughter will be inspired when hearing about obstacles you’ve overcome to get where you are today, which gives her more freedom to tell you what’s going on in her life, as well as helping her strengthen her interpersonal skills. True listening has become a lost art in our fast-paced, distraction-driven, technology-laden age, and who better than you for your daughter to practice the art of talking and listening!

Daughter, ask your dad:

1. What is one of your happiest childhood memories?

2. What is one of the most stupid things you’ve ever done?

3. What is something no one told you that you had to learn the hard way?

4. Can you describe the kind of forever love you believe is worth the wait?

5. Who were your positive spiritual role models and mentors at my age? What about now?

By following these practical, action-oriented steps (and of course there are many more questions and tips in my book), you will increase your confidence and competence as a #girldad, and your focus will become sharper in knowing how to be the best dialed-in dad you can be for your daughter.

So let the talking begin!

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More from Michelle here.

Dr. Michelle Watson Canfield is a licensed professional counselor in Portland, Oregon, founder of The Abba Project, a 9-month group forum for dads of daughters (ages 13 to 30), and author of Let’s Talk: Conversation Starters for Dads and Daughters and Dad, Here’s What I Really Need from You: A Guide for Connecting with Your Daughter’s Heart (both available on Amazon and Audible). She also hosts a weekly radio program in Portland called “The Dad Whisperer,” which you can access as a podcast on her website and on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play Music. Visit drmichellewatson.com for more information and to sign up for her weekly Dad-Daughter Friday blogs. You can also follow or send feedback on Facebook and Twitter.

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