Being Dad Family Parenting Relationships

A family therapist discusses father-daughter relationships

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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

We spoke with a family therapist on how to improve communication with your teenage daughter.

Dr. Shadi Shahnavaz, a family therapist based in London, shared her professional input with us on how to strengthen any father-daughter relationship in need of help.

Part of her daily work is to deal with families that require help to communicate with each other. And she often talks to fathers who wish to have a better understanding of their teenage daughter. Having a teenage daughter is different from having a teenage son because a young girl sees her body transform into one of a young woman, making it sometimes uncomfortable for both father and child.

Nonetheless, the fact that it is harder for a girl to bond with her father during her teenage years than with her mother is a myth, according to Dr. Shahvanaz. As a matter of fact it is often the case that mother-daughter relationships become complex, which can lead to a temporary separation.

Creating a strong bond

The bond in a father-daughter relationship and a mother-daughter relationship is different. Dr. Shahvanaz comments that if a father has never had a strong bond with his daughter, there are still ways of creating a new one, as the daughter matures. Trying to understand the daughter’s interest plays a big role in creating or maintaining a close relationship.

Dr. Shahvanaz often finds with her patients that they impose their own interest on their daughters. For instance, one might wish for their daughter to practise a certain sport even though she is not showing any interest. This will only lead to confrontation or separation. Imposing an interest simply does not work.

A teenager’s world

Engaging with the teenager’s world is key. For instance, a father might find himself judging his daughter for watching a reality show he deems foolish. This will only push his daughter away. She will find it much easier to open up to a parent willing to understand her interests.

One of the biggest challenges some fathers might face with having a teenage daughter is having a conversation about female biology and sexuality. Dr. Shahvanaz insists that this only becomes an embarrassing topic if the father is himself embarrassed about it.

She advices fathers to keep a matter-of-fact attitude about such topics, and even to share their feeling of being uncomfortable. If the parent opens up with his feeling, the daughter might find it easier to open up about hers.

Conversation is key

For a single father, it is very important to have those conversations with their teenage daughter. Having an absent mother should not stop a young girl from asking about sex or her anatomy. Likewise, a father should be able to help his daughter talk about the first gynecologist appointment or buying tampons.

Periods and physical changes can sometimes lead to fathers decreasing their tactility with their daughters. Dr. Shahvanaz discusses cases of some of male patients feeling uncomfortable to embrace their daughter because of having grown breasts. They do not want to offend or make their daughters feel uncomfortable. Although this process of thinking comes from an understanding and healthy place, Dr. Shahvanaz says it might make the daughter feel rejected or abandoned.

Keep it casual

Fathers should encourage their daughters to be comfortable with their changing bodies, without necessarily being very obvious about it.  

The best way to talk about an awkward topic such as sex or periods is to not do it face to face. For example, talking while walking side by side or sitting in the car are both good ways of communicating about an uncomfortable subject. The point is to not make the daughter feel put on the spot and instead to make the conversation seem more casual.

Dr. Shahvanaz also strongly believes that humour goes a long way with a teenager. Instead of judging your child for being on their phone, try to understand and perhaps laugh about it.

If you are interested in counselling or family therapy, you can contact Dr. Shadi Shahvanaz through her website.