8 Steps Fathers Can Take to Empower Their Daughters in Toddlerhood

It’s never too early to teach gender equality and inclusivity.
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profile picture of Ray W. Christner, Psy.D., NCSP, ABPP
Published March 15, 2024
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Image: Sweenshots & Shaymone | Stocksy United

As fathers, we stand at the forefront of shaping the next generation of women—our daughters. The role we play in their lives from the earliest years sets the stage for their self-esteem, ambitions and perceptions of their place in the world.

Championing gender equality and empowering women starts right in our own homes. By embracing in spirit and action, we can contribute to redefining fatherhood for the betterment of our daughters’ futures.

Here, I’ll offer practical, actionable steps that we, as fathers, can take to empower our daughters during their toddler years, ensuring they grow up knowing their worth, their potential and their ability to make history themselves.

1. Practice Gender-Neutral Parenting

To start with gender-neutral parenting, examine the environment you’re creating. Are you only providing gender-specific toys? Encourage play with a wide range of toys—including those typically associated with both boys and girls. By doing this, we foster creativity and problem-solving skills and open up a number of opportunities for consideration.

Offering a mix of dolls, arts and crafts, building blocks, cars and activities for your toddler sends a message that there are no limits to what she can enjoy or achieve based on her gender.

2. Use Inclusive Language

Language shapes reality. Use inclusive and empowering language with daughters that emphasizes equality and respect. Refer to individuals in various professions without gender bias (e.g., female engineers are engineers, female attorneys are attorneys, male nurses are nurses). Doing this teaches respect for all genders and professions equally, broadening your daughter’s view of her potential roles in society.

3. Celebrate Role Models

Introduce your daughter to stories and books that highlight strong, diverse female characters and real-world role models. Talk about and celebrate women’s achievements across different fields and cultures, as this instills a sense of pride and possibility. It’s essential that our daughters see other women in roles of leadership, innovation and strength, understanding that gender is not a barrier to their dreams.

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Teach your daughter about accomplished women, such as athletes like Caitlin Clark, Mia Hamm or Ronda Rousey; musicians like Aretha Franklin (the first woman in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame), Taylor Swift and Beyoncé; astronauts like Jeanette Epps and Christina Koch; and engineers like Evelyn Wang and Kimberly Bryant.

4. Encourage Emotional Expression

Encourage your daughter to express emotions freely. By validating her feelings and showing that it’s okay for all genders to express vulnerability, you’re teaching her emotional intelligence and resilience. This emotional support fosters a strong sense of self and the courage to face challenges. Remember that it’s not only okay, but also important that she also sees you show your emotions. There’s strength in her seeing how you accept and manage your feelings.

5. Promote Independence and Decision-Making

Just as with a son, allowing your daughter to make choices at a young age can significantly impact her sense of autonomy. Whether it’s deciding on a snack or what activity she’d like to try next, these small decisions help develop her confidence in making decisions and asserting her preferences.

As she gets older, encourage your daughter to make more and bigger decisions for herself. Even when you might not agree, it’s important to give her the chance to try. If the decision works, great, and if it doesn’t, you’re there for support.

6. Challenge Stereotypes Together

When you encounter stereotypes in the media or in real life, discuss them openly. Ask questions like, “Why do you think this character is doing that?” to encourage critical thinking about gender roles and stereotypes. This will help your daughter understand that she’s not confined to societal expectations and will give her the skills to discuss these issues openly and with confidence.

7. Help Her Get Involved in Diverse Activities

Expose your daughter to a variety of activities, from sports to arts, without regard for gender stereotypes, have her help you with projects and encourage her to try new things. While she may not enjoy everything she tries, give her the chance without assuming she will or won’t enjoy the activity.

Additionally, let her see you engage in different activities. Having a variety of experiences will help her discover her interests and talents—and reinforce that societal expectations shouldn’t limit her.

8. Model Respectful Behavior

Children learn by example. As fathers, it’s our role to model respectful, equitable behavior in our interactions, especially in how we treat women and discuss gender. When we show respect for all individuals, it teaches our daughters to expect and demand respect in their own lives.

Empowering our daughters begins with the small, everyday choices we make as fathers. By actively engaging in these steps, we’ll not only contribute to our daughters’ growth into confident, empowered women but also show our support as we strive for gender equality. As we redefine fatherhood through our actions and attitudes, we pave the way for our daughters to redefine the future.

Ray W. Christner, PsyD, NCSP, ABPP, is a licensed psychologist and a certified school psychologist in Pennsylvania, a nationally certified school psychologist, and a nationally registered health service psychologist. He specializes in clinical and school psychology, and he is board-certified in behavioral and cognitive psychology. He maintains a private practice in Hanover, Pennsylvania, and provides telepsychology services in 39 states. Christner’s clinical work includes psychotherapy, psychological/neuropsychological testing and consultation services. He works with children, adolescents and adults with psychological, developmental, social, behavioral and learning differences. Christner is the cohost of the podcast Psyched to Practice.

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