How to Get Closer to Your Daughter: Starting in the Toddler Years?

My daughter Isabella Grace Houle is almost four years old, for a while I was convinced she was primarily going to be a daddy’s girl and I was going to take a back seat. To put it bluntly… we did not always see eye to eye.

My love for her never diminished, but it was abundantly clear that the times she wanted me was for needs and the times she wanted to hangout was with her father. She has always had a soft spot for dad even at a very young age she would be the one watching the sports events with daddy.

I actually adore their relationship. I am 100% for a good dad/daughter relationship, and yet their was still a part of me that was not content not also having those bonding moments.

So I set to work, what is lacking in my relationship with my daughter?


Isabella and I are similar, yet different. Sometimes I look at her and think I am seeing a mini me, but other times I have no idea what to do.

For example, my daughter is very emotional, which also helps her be compassionate and empathetic. However, I am not emotional… not at all. So I had no idea how to handle her emotion. She would cry because a piece of paper fell off the table beyond reach, or if she was over tired have inconsolable tears because Tim (her older brother) might have antagonized her.

I honestly, did not try to be a bad mother, I just literally had no idea how to accommodate that type of emotion. She sought consoling and yet I was still trying to wrap my head around why she was crying. Was she physically hurt? Nope.. ok Isabella your ok, lets move on to the next thing.

Yet, this rationale did not work with her… she would still cry, and cry some more. Perhaps cry louder to make sure if we didn’t hear her the first time, we would now.

Then I read an article about sensitive children, and the need to validate their concerns. I almost dismissed it, because I did not want her to think it was ok to cry at the drop of a hat.

Yet, my method of telling her to brush it off, and move on, clearly did not work (however, this did work with my son, who quickly differentiated between things that validated a reason to cry and things that you should be able to brush off)

But because this method was having an adverse affect on my daughter I decided to try a different route. I did not want a despondent relationship with my daughter, and if I couldn’t get close to her now, I would definitely be in trouble during the teenage years.

So I switched out the game plan.

Phase 1: Validate Her

When she cried about something, instead of brushing it off I hugged her, and said is everything ok? She told me what happened I addressed the situation and she quickly moved on… no prolonged tears? That’s what it took, me listening to her.

Phase 2: Showed More Affection

I was not always affectionate. I wasn’t raised in a family that hugs and kisses flowed freely or that we verbalized our feelings. We showed loved in other ways. Growing up I did this side way hug, and that was good for me, the words “I love you” wasn’t really broadcasted. Since we have gotten older we have become more affectionate. More hugs.

So when I became a parent I too struggled with some of these outward expressions of love.

I have always played games and joked around with my kids, showing them love in various ways, which is all good and valuable, but my Isabella needed more. It wasn’t until Isabella started outwardly acting more separated from me that I knew I had to do something different.

So I started verbalizing my love for my kids.

Saying I love you when I left her bedroom, telling her she was beautiful. Letting her know when I was proud of her. Giving her random hugs for fun.

It’s funny when you start introducing something new to your personality it seems foreign and insincere. I really meant everything I verbalized, but I kind of felt a new level of vulnerability.

You know what? Izzy loved it. One day she looked at my willow tree statue and said, “Mom, can we hug like them.” Of course I said yes! I knew each step of love was working. It wasn’t that I loved her more or less it was that I was speaking her love language. Her need to hear the words her mom always felt.

Phase 3: Participated in Her Activitiesizzypic

I looked for ways to connect on her level. Sometimes with three kids, time is first come, first serve. Cook, eat, clean, repeat, etc. Sprinkle some things you want to teach them and thats a full day.

However, I started being intentional to join her in what excited her personally. When she was reading a book, I would sit next to her and listen. Playing tea party just because, painting nails, etc. I can’t do this 24 /7 although I would love to. But when I am with her, I can make our quality time personalized to her.

Phase 4: Showed her how to respect me

I stopped letting her boss me around. I realized when I set out to observe what was the rift in our relationship, that I couldn’t handle her crying so I would give her what she wanted as quickly as she wanted it.

I don’t think she had respect for me, because honestly I hadn’t required it. So I started to put my foot down. If she wanted a drink, she had to ask politely, or she wouldn’t get a drink until she did. If she dropped a paper right below her feet, she could get off her chair and get it, not call me from a separate room to rush over and pick it up for her.

Phase 5: Compliment Her

I started validating the things she did I was proud of. We currently have a reward system. If she shows dad or me that she is being kind and obedient during the day, we sometimes give her tickets. So every Friday if she (or any of the other kids) have 10 tickets they get a reward. When we give her the ticket we tell her exactly what she got the ticket for. It has been working out great!

Honestly, my relationship with my daughter has done a complete 360.

She asks me to spend time with her. She genuinely smiles at me, and offers me kind peace treaties, and when I observe her with her younger brother, she is repeating the phrases that I tell her with such gentleness and kindness. Honestly, I know I say the phrases she uses, but the way she says it comes off so sweet, it makes me want to learn from her gentleness.

Every child is so different, each need is so unique, ultimately, your children wants to feel loved and show love in return. Just don’t give up trying to nurture that relationship, and as each season brings new transitions continue to look for ways to let your children know you love them.