One of the special things a dad can do for his daughter early on in her life is to lead her into fun and exciting shared experiences where she learns how to risk. Not only is this a natural inclination for many dads (who enjoy active pursuits themselves), but it directly connects to a father’s commitment to help his daughter develop as a courageous girl for life.

Many dads are naturally good at stepping into calculated risks, especially those connected to kinesthetic experiences and adventures. As boys, it is commonplace to be challenged physically and to overcome obstacles – you likely played hard and pushed the limits as a boy yourself with your friends or your brothers!  Can I jump the creek with my bike? Who can catch that garter snake? How many Texas-sized donuts can I eat without getting sick? The imagination of a boy is something to behold!  

I want my girls to grow in a similar spirit. A framework of the world that inspires imagination and limitless possibilities.

I love stretching my girls’ minds about what they can do, as well as what we can do or accomplish together. It’s not difficult. All it requires is a little thought, a bit of time and an intentional dad. Sometimes, the best memories can be made by just inviting your daughter to participate in something you usually like to do alone or with your friends.  Sometimes the best adventures are to be had in both of you trying something new together.  Whether you’re an indoor or outdoor kind of guy, don’t let a lack of expertise be a barrier of entry!  Doing new things together, whether inside or outside involving calculated risk, gives you a great chance to bond in a special way.  I recommend starting when their young with age-appropriate experiences, like learning to make and then shoot a homemade bow and arrow with your 5-year old daughter. Jump into a lake together after a long hike through the woods (even if you forgot the sunscreen!). Have your 7-year old help change the oil in the family car. Build a dog house together for a new puppy and teach your daughter about power tools. As she grows from about 8 years towards the tween years (10-12), take your girl on an overnight camping trip, teaching her the basics of setting up a tent together, cooking over fire, and fishing! 

For me, I want to share my love for the outdoors with my girls.  Both of them first started sitting in my float tube with me for lake fishing when they were still light enough not to sink us; we scissor-kicked around the lake together, her hand on top of mine, casting, hooking, and landing trout.  We shared a front-row view of all the action! Today, my oldest does it all in her own tube, and this summer will be the first year my youngest will get a chance to sit in her own tube. This will also be the summer my youngest gets her first pocket knife (age 9 and going into 4th grade). Of course, we have some basic rules about when and how the pocket knives may be used, but my girls think it’s pretty neat that they are the only girls in their respective classes at school that own their own pocket knives, especially when only a couple of the boys even have one!  

One of the most important connections I want my girls to make during these shared adventures is about God.  I recognize that not everyone reading this post shares my Christian faith and respect that.  But for those interested in how to make this key connection with their child while leading them into shared adventures, I offer the following glimpse into how I’m trying to do it.  

I look for ways in our adventures to connect my girls to God’s character (who He is), who they are in Him, and what He desires for them.  Hear me out — I’m trying to not overdo it with lectures, but I am creating a ripe environment for us to have dialogue and real, authentic conversation together. I’m also praying and believing that as we have these shared adventures and experience intentional risks together, my girls will see and believe what God is like. They will also practice what it looks like to belong to and respond to God. God loves His creation and He loves to watch us enjoying it! He also desires for us to steward creation and use it appropriately to meet needs and help others. 

God asks us to live with faith, which He gives us. Faith allows us to step into risk and new challenges as God leads us, instead of running from opportunities or obstacles out of fear that can sometimes cause us to get stuck with a preoccupation of safety. This type of fear-based thinking can limit our growth spiritually, emotionally, and physically. As a dad, I can help grow my daughters’ faith and provide a feeling of safety for them as they learn to trust and rely on God more.  I also want them to see me learning to trust and rely on God more too!

Let me break down one of the earlier adventures (the bow and arrow build) I shared with my oldest when she was five (now 11).  As we walked among the trees in the back yard looking for flexible limbs, I was talking out loud about what I was experiencing (fresh air, dew on the leaves, sun rays piercing through the forest canopy, the birds talking, and the bitter taste of a salmonberry) and asking her, as a five year old, about what she was noticing (think of the five senses: sight, smell, touch, hear, and taste). She watched me pull out my knife to cut the limbs and we talked about what a knife is — a tool that must be used safely and with wisdom. I showed her what a knife can do and how to use it safely. We also discussed what a knife IS NOT — a toy to be used haphazardly or carelessly. I also showed her how NOT to use a knife because it could hurt me or herself if she used it in the wrong way. I let her hold the knife for a moment and asked her what she noticed about it, before I took it back and cut the limbs. She put her hand on mine and we trimmed off a small portion of the bark together. Then, I finished the job and notched the ends for the kite string. After stringing the bow and notching another limb for an arrow, we grabbed a hula-hoop to use as a target and I showed her how to stand and shoot.

After a few fun tries at it, I asked her about the experience. What did you like about shooting the arrow? Was it easy or hard? Did you have to focus and really aim to get the target, or did you hit it pretty easily without trying? With each question and answer, I was looking for an opportunity to share one main point that would integrate our activity with something I wanted to teach her about God, her identity and/or her life. In this instance, it was simply that her life is similar to shooting an arrow — you want to have a target to aim for. God loves her, and has provided her with the target He wants her to aim for. The target He provided is Jesus, and her (and my) aim is to learn to think, love, and live like Jesus. If your eyes are focused on the target, you’re more likely to hit it. 

With these gentle but intentional connections, I know her relationship with God is growing, and because I’m thinking about it for her, my relationship with God is growing too!  As we made our way out of the woods and back home, I zeroed in on the point I was hoping would hit home: “Remember how we celebrated when you first hit the target today (and Dad went crazy with joy)? That’s what God, our heavenly father, does when you aim to live like Jesus, our example, our target.” And with that, my little girl stepped one foot closer to courage and toward a deeper understanding of God. We also strengthened our father/daughter connection and had a fun time together. It was a win-win kind of day!

Written by Jeff Mattson, Co-Owner & Founder of Living Wholehearted, LLC

For more on Raising Young Daughter’s, tune into Dr. Michelle Watson’s radio program, “The Dad Whisperer” on August 13, 2:30pm or August 16, 2:00pm on 93.9FM where Jeff will be featured as a guest.