I remember the first time I learned that my daughter didn’t like her cheeks. I was flabbergasted. After all, she has these amazingly adorable cheeks. Who wouldn’t love them? Turns out, she didn’t. Somewhere along the line, she started to feel ashamed of this feature that I thought was part of what makes her beautiful.
Being a kid can be hard. But little girls in particular face a barrage of images from our culture telling them in myriad ways what it means to be beautiful, intelligent, confident. This makes it harder for our daughters to love themselves. And while dads always need to communicate love, loving your daughter when she doesn’t love herself is a critical practice. Here are 5 ways you can do it.
1. Learn her language.Learn what makes your daughter feel loved and then do it—a lot.
Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell wrote a book called The Five Love Languages for Children. In it, they list different ways kids give and receive love. Whatever you think of their breakdown (I happen to appreciate it), the most helpful part is admitting that all people give and receive love differently. Your daughter may feel loved when you spend time with her or when you get her a gift or when you speak encouraging words to her. Learn what makes your daughter feel loved and then do it—a lot.
2. Check in daily.
Check in at the end of each day and ask your daughter what she did today that she’s proud of. If she struggles to name something, you can help her (this assumes you’re paying attention). Take time to help her identify even just small things about her that she can be proud of. Did she make it through a day of virtual schooling without complaining? Did she help a friend with homework? Maybe she cleaned up the dishes after dinner or told a funny joke. Whatever it is, take note and be sure to point out how proud she should be of herself.
3. Arrange for outside influences.
As much as you can, steer her to get involved with organizations that will serve as partners in building up her sense of self-worth. This could be a church group, Girl Scouts, a friend group. Your voice is certainly critical, but other voices can be helpful. Loving your daughter when she doesn’t love herself is a team effort.
4. Work it out.
Exercise with your daughter. In general, exercise is a great counter for poor self-image. It literally improves your mood, it increases your health, and generally improves body image, regardless of her weight. I remember when one of my daughters was going through a particularly challenging time emotionally, the two of us committed to walking together every morning before school. For over a year, we’d get up and walk at 5:30 a.m. for at least 30 minutes. It’s still is one of my favorite memories and believe it or not, she loved it.
5. Say no.
If you see a correlation between something your daughter is doing and her inability to love herself, you need to step in. Excessive social media use has a strong correlation with low self-image. So might a particular friend group or an activity she’s involved with. If she is unable to set boundaries for herself, as her father, you need to set them for her. The older your child is, the more you have to negotiate what is and isn’t appropriate. But you wouldn’t let her drink poison while you watched just because she liked the taste. Don’t let her destroy her view of herself just because she wants to scroll.
Sound off: What is another way you can love your daughter when she doesn’t love herself?
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What’s one thing you love about yourself?”