The nuclear family has evolved considerably over the years, and not every family looks the same today. That is okay. Research shows that the relationship a daughter has with her father or masculine/dominant parent can play a significant role in her psychological development.
According to research, the relationship a daughter has with her father can influence the relationships she has with men romantically as an adult.
A child looks to the relationship between a mother and father figure to model how they should conduct their adult relationships and the treatment they accept.
A healthy relationship between a father and daughter can contribute toward higher self-esteem, healthier adult relationships, better school performance, and more openness to trying new things.
As children, especially during the formative years, between ages 2 and 4, we look to our parents for need fulfillment, and historically the roles of mother and father have been different and rather distinct. A mother is typically seen as the caring nurturer, while the father is seen as the strong protector of the child.
Today, mothers and fathers tend to take on a variety of roles that historically were carried out by the opposite sex. This is due to a variety of factors, such as women entering the workforce and increased diversity in family makeup.
During the formative years, a child looks to adult role models to not only have their needs met but to model what their relationships will look like in the future. The relationship between their parents will teach them what to tolerate and allow and what to refuse in terms of treatment by a romantic partner into adulthood. Therefore, if a child’s parents do not get along or have a toxic relationship, the child will be more likely to accept toxic behaviors and dysfunction from their adult romantic partners.
Why a healthy relationship between a father and daughter matters
When a daughter has a healthy relationship with her father, especially during her formative years, research shows that there are a variety of psychological and emotional developmental benefits such as:
- Higher self-esteem.
- Increased assertiveness.
- Greater confidence and knowledge of oneself and what one wants in life.
- More confidence in their relationships with others.
- Greater self-esteem in their romantic relationships.
- Better performance in school and increased likelihood to seek higher education.
When a father-daughter relationship has a conflict
Unhealthy father-daughter relationships can have just as detrimental an impact on the psychological development of a child as a healthy relationship can have a positive impact. This is why such relationships are so important. When a girl experiences conflict with her father during the formative years, has attachment injuries, is pushed too hard, or has a father that is too demanding of her, it can cause her to doubt her abilities and have lower self-esteem. She may not take risks involved in going for what she wants in life because she doubts either her ability to receive it or her worthiness.
A daughter who has a muddied perception of her father may also carry this with her into adulthood in the form of who she chooses to date and the treatment that she is willing to accept as love. It can have a detrimental impact on the types of people she chooses to date and her behavior surrounding marriage.
How to do damage control
Should a father and his daughter experience conflict during the formative years, there is still hope for reversing it, and the sooner, the better. Children are constantly looking toward their parents for guidance, support, protection, need fulfillment, and approval. Giving your daughter reassurance and support while nurturing a more positive bond can reverse any negative impacts, especially if she is still in her formative years. If left unchecked, these self-esteem deficits can linger into adulthood and can lead to negative thought patterns that must be challenged with therapy.
How to nurture a healthy father/daughter relationship
The sooner a father begins to plant seeds of a healthy relationship with his daughter, the better. The best things a father can do are:
- Show unconditional love.
- Encourage and support a child in her endeavors.
- Allow the child to experiment, adventure, and fail, as it’s part of the learning process, (just be sure to be there to wipe any tears and clean any cuts or scrapes along the way!)
- Treat the mother of the child with love and respect.
- Allow the child to engage in repetitive patterns during formative years as part of learning.
- Show both emotional and physical support.
- Offer advice.
- Show your approval of your child when she does something you like or does something well.
While the relationship a daughter has with her father has a highly impactful influence on her development, the relationship she has with her mother is also important. And while not every child will have a father figure present in their lives, these scenarios can play out with their relationships with their mothers, or any other people in their lives who take on a masculine, protective, or dominant role.
While some significant impacts can come out of having either a healthy or toxic relationship between a daughter and her father during her formative years, there is always room for growth, change, and healing. It’s never too early to begin building a healthy relationship with a daughter, and never too late to try to mend one.
- Journal of Adolescence. Direct and indirect effects of father-daughter relationship on adolescent girls’ psychological outcomes: The role of basic psychological need satisfaction.
- Journal of Black Psychology. Associations Between Father-Daughter Relationship Quality and the Academic Engagement of African American Adolescent Girls: Self-Esteem as a Mediator?
- The Journal of Genetic Psychology. The Father-Daughter Relationship and the Personality Development of the Female.
- NIH. The Broken Mirror: A Self Psychological Treatment Perspective for Relationship Violence.
- Attachment & Human Development. Would you like to play together? Adults’ attachment and the mirror game.
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- British Psychological Society. No pain, no gain: Depressed clients' experiences of cognitive behavioural therapy.