My daughter recently turned 20. It’s crazy how quickly that happened. “Time flies” is a cliché, but all clichés have a degree of truth to them. As I think through my daughter’s life, there is much I’m thankful for. She’s an incredible young woman. But if I’m honest, there are some things I’d do differently. There are also some things I’d say differently.
Words are powerful. They shape our perception of the world and ourselves. And the words a father speaks to his daughter have enormous weight. While there are many things you may choose to say, here are 7 sweet things to say to your daughter that might be easy to miss.
1. Your anxiety isn’t the truth.
According to a study by the CDC in February 2023, 57% of teenage girls report feeling “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in the last year.” And look, we all know that this will not be solved by simply giving your daughter a pep talk. Nor am I suggesting that you dismiss your daughter’s feelings by saying they aren’t real. What I am suggesting is that we need to gently and lovingly point to the things about our daughters that are beautiful and praiseworthy. Don’t make stuff up. Really think about what you love about your daughter and tell her. Tell her often. Her anxiety tells her that she isn’t worth loving. But her anxiety isn’t the truth.
2. You are not the center of the universe.
I love that we tell our kids they can make a difference. They absolutely can. And they should. However, I worry that sometimes we put the weight of the world on them. If they don’t make all the right decisions, then people will suffer and environmental collapse is imminent. Certainly, our kids need to take responsibility for their actions, but they also weren’t made to bear the weight of the world. What you do matters, but it isn’t all up to you. And it’s not all up to your teen. She is not the center of the universe. And that’s a good thing.
3. You are intelligent.
Don’t lie. I know it’s tempting to puff our daughters up and tell them they are the most intelligent people in the whole world. That’s silly. Many schools make a big deal of class ranking (which I find ridiculous) so you don’t have to work too hard to convince your daughter she isn’t the smartest kid in the room (unless she’s ranked No. 1). However, my guess is it’s far more likely your daughter doubts her intelligence than that she overestimates it. Take the time to point out the ways you see her intelligence shine through. Build her up. Lord knows there’s plenty tearing her down.Help your daughter see the way her everyday choices are courageous and how important courage can be.
4. You are courageous.
If the majority of girls are riddled with anxiety (see the CDC study in point 1) then getting out of bed, going to school, trying anything new are all acts of great courage. Point that out to your daughter. Tell her how courageous she is and how she inspires you. Help your daughter see the way her everyday choices are courageous and how important courage can be.
5. You are strong.
Our girls need to know that their choices matter. I know that earlier I made the case that the weight of the world is not on them. That’s true. Yet their choices are still powerful. They are strong and capable of building up others, taking responsibility for their actions, loving their neighbors. Life can be hard, but that’s OK. Our daughters can do hard things.
6. You are pretty cool.
We all know “I love you” is one of the sweet things to say to your daughter regularly. However we can often forget to tell our daughters how much we like them. I think this is an important distinction. After all, our kids likely feel like we are obligated to love them as their parent. But oftentimes parents can come across as not really liking their kids (and granted, sometimes our kids can make this tough). But our daughters need to know that you find them interesting, funny or clever. Again, don’t lie, but work to identify the things you like about your daughter and point them out regularly.
7. You are going to be OK.
Sometimes, as parents, we get caught up in our daughters’ anxiety. It’s natural for her to feel that the breakup or the friendship drama or the mistake she made is the end of the world. But as a parent, you have perspective. You know “this too shall pass.” While you should not dismiss her feelings, you need to remind her that this won’t last forever, mistakes happen, friendships change, she’ll fall in love again… Don’t allow yourself to join in her anxiety. Be an anchor for her in the storm. Remind her it will be OK.
Sound off: Are there other sweet things to say to your daughter you would add to this list?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your daughter and ask, “What is something I often say to you that you appreciate?”