I’m a dad ... How do I show affection to my teenage daughter?

Tanya Curtis offers support for fathers when their daughters reach puberty

I’m a dad ... How do I show affection to my teenage daughter?

Prior to the onset of puberty, dads are often free flowing with their expression of love and affection for their ‘little girl’. Dads will rarely hold back from wrapping their daughters in their arms and showing overflowing love and affection to them.

However, when puberty begins, this affection can begin to be withdrawn and the father’s interactions with his daughter can become more ‘functional’ in that it becomes about what needs ‘doing’ in life, and not them just ‘being’ together.

As a daughter goes through puberty, both she and her father can feel foreign and uncomfortable with the level of physical affection allowed between the two of them. As the ‘little girl’ begins developing into the ‘woman’s body’, it is not uncommon for a father to become uncomfortable and unsure as to how to be a dad as his daughter's sexuality emerges.

In my work as a family counsellor and behavioural specialist, I often see fathers who are not sure how to respond to their daughter’s emerging womanhood.

Their discomfort is commonly felt in the expression of affection. A father can begin to question:

  • Can I still cuddle my little girl?
  • Does this make me a paedophile?
  • What if I touch her in the wrong place accidently?
  • She is becoming a woman now; do I keep showing her affection?
  • How do I physically be with my daughter?
  • How do I talk to her about this ‘girl stuff’?
  • Do I still have a part to play in my daughter's life?

This questioning and discomfort can result in a lot of confused feelings for the father and they can tend to withdraw from being a dad to their daughter – withdraw from their daughter physically, and sometimes emotionally. The love is no less felt by the father, but the confusion and lack of confidence begin to take over.

With this withdrawal of the previously free flowing affection, daughters also become confused and can develop feelings of:

  • What have I done wrong?
  • Why is my dad rejecting me?
  • Why does he not love me anymore?
  • What do I need to do for my dad to love me again?
  • Where else can I get the love from?

Rejection, hurt, sadness, anger and/or resentment can soon form the foundation of father / daughter exchanges … key ingredients for potential future mental health issues.

Clearly, puberty is a big time for father and daughter. Is it possible for this to be a supportive and loving time for both, rather than a confusing and uncomfortable time?

Whether you are a dad with a pubescent daughter or a dad whose daughter will one day reach puberty, your daughter will always enjoy a relationship built on the foundation of not holding back the expression of love. It is important to be sensitive and follow the leads coming from your daughter as she goes through these life changes; she may sometimes have trouble expressing what she does and doesn't need, so sensitivity is paramount. When true love and appreciation are felt and expressed, there is pure respect for the woman that is emerging and so there is no imposition or misinterpretation as you continue to support and encourage your daughter.

Your love does not ask her to ‘do’, it allows her to ‘be’ the beauty-full woman that she is developing to be. You encourage her to be responsible and to be herself in the world.

Your role as dad is so very important.

You, as the dad, are the first relationship your daughter has with any male.

You set the benchmark of what she will accept in her future relationships. Your key is to teach her to know without doubt the level of love that she deserves. Your daughter will accept no less than the way you treat her. Offer your daughter minimal, abusive or imposing love and affection and this is what she will accept in her future. Offer her true, respectful and unimposing love and this will be her benchmark for what she will accept in her future.

A dad’s role during his daughter’s puberty is very important and this is not a time to withdraw. It is a time to hold a respectful, intimate space so that your daughter will never accept anything less than the love and cherishing she has known to be true.

The key is to continue expressing the free flow of love and unimposing affection from when she was born, through puberty and until forever!

Filed under

AbuseConfidenceMental healthParentingRaising childrenRelationships

  • By Tanya Curtis, Author, Behavioural Specialist, Assoc Dip Ed. (Child Care), BHlthSci. (BehMgt), MBehMgt, MCoun

    Tanya is dedicated to supporting people to understand and change their unwanted behaviours and live their full potential. Tanya’s deep care and love of people shines through all of the initiative she dedicates herself to.

  • Photography: Dean Whitling, Brisbane based photographer and film maker of 13 years.

    Dean shoots photos and videos for corporate portraits, architecture, products, events, marketing material, advertising & website content. Dean's philosophy - create photos and videos that have magic about them.