For Better Mother-Daughter Bonds, Try This

How to create a lifelong closeness with the little girl who's growing up fast

No one ever said raising a daughter was easy. Every little girl has her own her own personality quirks, her own strengths and weaknesses, her own wishes, dreams and preferences (even by the precocious age of 2 or 3). But as they grow, all girls have one thing in common: They need motherly affection.

Individualized attention from Mom helps girls form meaningful friendships with others and boosts their confidence, said Chicago psychotherapist Kelley Kitley.

You might be amazed at the thoughts and issues that she shares — if you ask the right questions and remain open to the answers.

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“Oftentimes, a strong mother-daughter bond is transferable to healthy female relationships with girls their own age,” said Kitley.

To create and maintain a close connection with your (slightly older) daughter, here are great questions to ask at certain key times of the day or night — they might spark incredible discussions. These mother-daughter conversations can be far more meaningful than things like taking trips to the local mall together or getting mani-pedis on a Saturday morning with the rest of the weekend crowd (though those things have their place).

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1.) Ask thoughtful questions such as, ‘If you could go anywhere, where would you go?’
Kelly McCabe of Great Falls, Virginia, is founder of Home Harmony LLC, which consults on parenting and home management issues. She suggested activities that allow moms to raise “questions that seem trivial but that lead to great knowledge and understanding [of your child]. Nobody feels loved if they don’t feel understood.”

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Talking walks with your daughter, for example, could be something you do together regularly. During that routine, you might be amazed at the thoughts and issues that are shared — if you ask the right questions and remain open to the answers. “Never be scandalized,” said McCabe. “Shame only discourages. Discouragement never motivates.”

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2.) Ask which movie character she most relates to and why.
Mom Anne Perrottet, who is originally from Sydney, Australia, is raising a large family and created the blog to capture her experiences and thoughts. She believes a mother’s responsibility to her children is to “educate and entertain.”

Going out on a movie night with your daughter demonstrates that you like to have fun, relax, and enjoy spending time with her. However, it’s the post-film discussion that can be most insightful.

“Often we just need to listen.” That’s it — just listen. It can do a world of good.

“Sense and Sensibility,” for example, based on the Jane Austen novel, focuses on the different personalities of sisters. After you watch that film together, ask your daughter which character she most relates to  — and why. Then be open and non-judgmental about her answer. (For even more bonding, read the book together first if you haven’t already.)

3.) Ask, ‘What are you looking forward to tomorrow?’
We all have our optimal times of the day for discussing different topics. Kitley said her children tend to open up to her at bedtime.

Perhaps their guard is down. Perhaps they’re more relaxed. Perhaps they just feel like chatting. For “whatever reason,” it’s a great time to give daughters your individualized attention and talk with them about a whole variety of topics, she said. Kitley favors the “non-judgmental approach. Sometimes parents feel the need to teach a lesson. But often we just need to listen.” That’s it — just listen. It can do a world of good.

4.) Bring up and ‘The Hunger Games’ and ask, ‘What do you think of Katniss Everdeen?’
Chris Goodwin, a mother from Great Falls, Virginia, enrolled in a positive psychology class with her college-age daughter. She said having someone else lead the discussions helped put mother and daughter on the same playing field when it came to opening up.

Even when discussing a novel, Goodwin suggested, “Keep the communication open so you don’t hinder your relationship.” She also appreciates the helpful formation of mother-daughter book clubs.

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Perrottet, too, sees the value in open discussion, since she lets her children pick an article or topic to lead a dinner discussion. It boosts their confidence and helps them respect opposing perspectives.

5.) Seek her opinion. Ask, ‘Does this dress look OK on me?’
Girls care very much about their appearance — so they naturally understand that moms do, too, and that everyone can use a little extra insight. Help your daughter out by letting her help you. When taking girls shopping, ask your daughter’s opinion on the clothes you are trying on, advises Perrottet.

As many moms remind their daughters, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Odds are, if you ask your daughters how your outfit looks and actually listen to their opinion, they will do the same. Perrottet advises a combination of trendy and modest, since she still wishes her children to be “an instrument of God.”

“Some people we have to try harder with — and kids have different times and different situations when you’ll be close with them.”

6.) Ask, ‘How can I improve?’
Your daughter needs to believe you want the best for her. Perrottet suggests praying or reflecting on how you can be a better parent to your daughter. Bring your daughter with you when you go to Mass — especially in summer — and when you get your daily coffee.

Take the time to remember big and little events in her life, and follow up if she fills you in on any plans.

If nothing seems to work and your connection doesn’t seem to be improving, ask your daughter what she would most like to do, advises Kitley. And ask, “How can I improve?”

When she makes collages with her daughter, Kitley enjoys understanding why her daughter picks certain pictures. And Perrottet says, “We don’t hit it off with everyone. Some people we have to try harder with — and kids have different times and different situations when you’ll be close with them.”

Rest assured that the struggle with be well worth it.

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