"I wish I knew how to develop a better relationship with my daughter," my friend commented. "As she gets older, it just seems that we have less to talk about. She just doesn't climb up in my lap anymore, and I miss being close to her."
My friend's experience with a changing father-daughter relationship is pretty common among fathers and daughters. As a little girl, our daughters seem naturally drawn to being close to us, but as they get older and branch out more, our relationship can suffer.
One way to reverse that trend is to look for ways to engage her in conversation. Getting her to open up with you about her life, her fears, and her concerns is one way to begin to bridge the growing gap in any father-daughter relationship.
These ten questions are designed to be conversation starters and ways to get her to talk more about her life with you. They work at almost any age, but the sooner you start, the more effective they will be at helping you reconnect when the relationship has suffered.
1. "How is it going?" This question will open a door with your daughter if you don't let her stop with the dreaded answer, "Fine." If she sounds like she is avoiding the issue, ask some clarifying questions. "How did it go at school today?" is a good follow up question. "How are you getting along with your friends?" may be another option. Getting a general take on her view of her life and world is a good initial question to start a conversation.
2. "How are you feeling?" This key question tries to get at emotions. It is different than "how is it going" because it asks about feelings. Sad? Happy? Scared? Nervous? Overwhelmed? As she answers, again try some follow up questions like "Are you upset?" or "What is making you feel the way you do?" These clarifying questions can help you get a little deeper into the feelings and emotions that your daughter may be experiencing.
3. "How is your love life?" This may be one of the more awkward questions for a father to ask a daughter, but it is an important one and it is probably one she secretly hopes to talk about with you. After all, you are a guy and you have some insight into the male gender that she probably doesn't have. You are also her protector, so if things are going wrong and she is feeling pressured or harassed by a guy, she will want to talk with you about it. If she is not having a love life yet, she may either feel happy or sad about that. As you talk, you can reassure her about who she is and what she has to offer in a relationship at the right time and in the right place.
4. "What are your goals?" Girls can find themselves in a world of conflict about their future. They know, for example, that an education is important to their future life, but they may be under peer pressure to be more focused on friends or fashion or boys. Talking about goals can help her think more clearly about what she wants and help her figure out where she is going and how to handle the pressure to either achieve or dismiss those goals in her life.
5. "What do I do that embarrasses you?" This is an important question, especially if you are picking up clues that she feels embarrassed and shies away from you when she is around her friends.
Opening up this topic may be tough for you, but it may well give your daughter an opportunity to vent a little.
6. "What is the best decision that you have ever made?" As our daughters reach their tween and teen years, decision making becomes ever more important. Talking about how to make good decisions is an important role for any parent. This question will help start the conversation about decision making and will lead to thoughts and ideas about how to consider options and consequences when making important life decisions.
7. "Do you want my advice or do you just want me to listen?" One of the key communication differences between men and women is that often women just want to be listened to while men are all about fixing things. When you engage in a conversation with your daughter, it is a good thing to determine what she sees your role being in the conversation.
Maybe a guy at school she has a crush on doesn't know she exists. She could be mortified if you suggested ways to get him to notice her, especially if she just wants to vent a little. IF she just wants you to listen, then don't offer advice unless she later asks you for it.
8. "If you had $100 to spend, what would you spend it on?" This is a fun question that tries to get at some of your daughter's priorities in life. Would she buy the latest CD's from her favorite artist or would she buy clothes for a girl at school whose parents are out of work? You can get a pretty good sense of where she is by finding out how she would spend her disposable income.
9. "Who is your hero?" Learning who your daughter idolizes or sees as a hero can be extremely revealing to a dad. You will learn what she watches for in others and what traits she admires. You will also get a sense of what kinds of things she would appreciate from her father based on the things that made someone a hero to her.
10. "Do you know that I love you?" Dads sometimes have a hard time communicating love to their daughters and most daughters crave a loving relationship with their father. This question will elicit a friendly, "Yes, Dad" or it may result in an "I'm not so sure anymore." Either response creates an opportunity for more dialog about your relationship and her status in your life and vice versa.