Media Contact
Rich Batten
Colorado Department of Human Services
Maggie Spain
The Bawmann Group

January 31, 2010

Looking Beyond the Heart-Shaped Candies: The Importance of Fathers in the Development of their Daughters

Hallmark stores are awash in red and ads encouraging men to buy necklaces, bracelets and earrings are bombarding the airwaves. Valentine’s Day is upon us. But instead of just focusing on remembering to buy the perfect gift, this time of year provides a great opportunity for fathers to reconnect with their daughters.

“Fathers play a crucial role in the development of their daughters,” said Rich Batten, fatherhood and family specialist with the Colorado Department of Human Services. “National data has shown that women who grow up without fathers in their lives are more likely to have a child before the age of 18 and be less likely to commit to long-term relationships. By giving their daughters their time, encouragement and support, fathers can help them set the tone for their relationships and professional success later in life.”

Relating to young girls may not feel natural to many dads, but an encouraging masculine approach can benefit their daughters in many ways. According to the National Center for Fathering, there are five key things that daughters need from their fathers to thrive.

COMFORT. Moms are great at giving comfort, but daughters need it from their fathers as well. The ability to comfort can be a huge asset to a father’s relationship with his daughter. Dads can start building a foundation for that acceptance and comfort with their daughters by working on these three areas:

1. Allow her to express her feelings. It may sound obvious, but too few daughters feel an open acceptance from their dads. Your daughter needs freedom to express what she’s thinking, all the while knowing that you will respond calmly and not overreact, even when she has made a mistake.

2. Actively listen to her. Allowing your daughter to express herself won’t make a difference if you don’t make the effort to draw her out, read her body language and keep listening for the heart of her concern.

3. Respond with empathy. It’s often a dad’s first reaction to try to fix the problem or launch into a lecture to make sure his daughter has learned her lesson. But what she really needs is empathy. Simply express sadness or concern for what she is going through. It lets her know you are there for her and it will better prepare you to take action, if needed, to help your daughter.

As a girl matures, she comes to some significant crossroads. Fathers might tend to think more about guiding their sons and letting mom have those important talks with their daughters. But girls need their dad’s perspective as well.

Guiding means understanding what’s right in our culture. Young women are under a lot of pressure to look, act and be a certain way. You can help guide your daughter in the right direction by encouraging her to be herself.

Fathers can also guide their daughters through teaching. That doesn’t mean that lecturing is a good idea. Instead, be actively involved in helping her learn—accompanying her and helping her with her activities.

ENCOURAGEMENT. When it comes to a girl’s self-image, dads are a huge influence—and it goes deeper than appearance. Girls feel pressure to be smart, thin, pretty and involved in certain activities. Dads have the ability to make their daughters feel beautiful, inside and out.

Be comfortable affirming your daughter verbally. Compliment character qualities like a sense of humor, loyalty and intelligence. Most of all, make it clear that, even without those features, you’d still love her just as much.

Get involved in her activities. Show that she is worth investing your time and energy. Spend time just hanging out together.

Demonstrate confidence in her abilities. If your daughter knows that you think of her as a future achiever, that can change her whole outlook on the future.

VISION. Vision has to do with the attitudes a dad conveys about who his daughter is and what she can become. If a father is negative or even uncertain about his daughter’s future, that can be devastating.

In many little ways, daughters are asking their fathers, “What am I good at, dad? What do you see in me?” You need to be ready with words of hope and promise.

PROTECTION. Dads typically think of protection as defending their daughters’ physical safety, but there are also emotional and moral dangers out there. Be aware of and try to prevent the many different situations that could threaten your daughter, but also prepare her to handle dangerous situations on her own. You can talk through scenarios and help her think through appropriate responses—whether it’s calling 9-1-1 or how to say no in an uncomfortable situation.

In October 2006, the Colorado Department of Human Services, Colorado Works Division was awarded a $10 million federal grant over five years to strengthen father/child relationships and improve parenting. Colorado is one of two locations nationwide, including Washington, D.C., to receive this federal community access grant. The Responsible Fatherhood Initiative distributes more than $1.1 million in community awards to State, community and faith based organizations to assist in providing direct services to fathers and families. Awards of up to $50,000 are distributed per program per fiscal year. For more information on a fatherhood program in your community, please visit