Q: I feel like my daughter's slipping away. I want to be a great dad, but I don't know how to connect with her now that she has reached the "tween" years.
Jim: The single most important thing you can do is spend quality time with her. This is a constant challenge for me as I try to invest in my two boys. Dr. Kevin Leman suggests that the bond fathers develop with their daughters during times of real conversation and connection can pay huge dividends.
According to Dr. Leman, during the tween years fathers need to adopt the policy of "dating" their daughters on a regular basis. Showing your daughter that she's a high priority is essential for many reasons. For one thing, it will help her seek out men who will respect her later in life. Affirming your daughter's femininity and treating her special conveys this important charge: "Honey, seek out someone who will treat you right." If you can demonstrate for your daughter what a true gentlemen is like -- someone who honors, respects and values her -- she'll be more likely to gravitate toward men like that when she begins dating.
So take your daughter out for dinner or a round of miniature golf, or something else that interests her. I know this can be tough, especially when you also need to make time for your other family members. But it's so important. The investment you make in your daughter now will impact her for the rest of her life.
Q: Can you suggest guidelines for modesty in the home? I assume it's OK for my husband and me to shower with our children and change clothes in front of them while they're still toddlers. I'm just wondering when we should stop doing that. Any ideas?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: There isn't a hard and fast rule for dealing with this issue. Most pediatricians and child development experts agree that when a child begins to express a desire for privacy when naked or going to the bathroom, that's the time parents should begin to express more personal modesty. This typically occurs around the age of 3 or 4. For some kids it may be a little later.
It's also important that you begin to instill a healthy view of sexuality in your children from an early age. You should start when they're toddlers, using age-appropriate concepts and language.
For example, when a young child asks questions about where babies come from, answer their questions in a positive, straightforward manner. Deflecting the question or making an awkward reference to "the stork" won't cut it! You might say something like, "God made a special way for mommies and daddies to have babies. He uses a tiny little seed from Daddy and a tiny little egg from Mommy. The seed and the egg come together inside Mommy's tummy, and then God does a miracle and makes a new baby." This kind of explanation is typically sufficient for most kids. You don't need to go into a detailed description of human physiology.
One more thing that is bound to come up in your home, if it hasn't already: Most experts also recommend using accurate names for male and female genitalia. Cutesy names or code words can be confusing to a child, and can unintentionally lead to shame and embarrassment down the road, especially with other children.
For more guidance in this area, check out Dr. Kevin Leman and Kathy Flores Bell's book, "A Chicken's Guide to Talking Turkey With Your Kids About Sex."
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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