How’s your relationship with your mom? How’s your relationship with your daughter? While these might seem like casual questions, they carry with them profound implications.

Research continues to show what sensitive souls have known all along: close, trusting mother-daughter relationships are intricately tied up with every aspect of a girl’s (and the woman she’ll become) development and wellbeing. From how deeply a woman is able to trust her own instincts, to how well she performs in school, to how adept she is at navigating conflict, to how resourceful she is in the face of adversity, to how skillful she is at negotiating a career path, to how much self-care she’s able to practice, to how immune she is to life-threatening illness, strong mother-daughter bonds exert a fortifying and lasting impact on a woman’s entire life. 

But it’s not always easy to cultivate the closeness with our mothers or daughters that we crave. After all, it’s not as though upon giving birth that mothers are handed a roadmap to their daughters’ development. And if our relationships with our own mothers have been less than nurturing or otherwise difficult, the challenge to give our daughters what we didn’t receive can feel that much more daunting.

Fortunately, clinical practitioners like psychotherapist Nikki P. Woods, founder of Navesink Wellness Center, can offer empowering, compassionate, practical guidance for the challenging yet incredibly rewarding journey of developing intimate, enriching, growth-promoting relationships with our daughters. 

I recently sat down with Nikki to benefit from her expertise, intuition, and wisdom on this subject. Needless to say, the experience was eye-opening. 

1) As a therapist, what inspired you to focus on helping parents and daughters in particular?

Through my own self-analysis, I gained a greater understanding and appreciation of the complexities within the female mind. As adults, we often struggle to comprehend the intricacies of our emotional and physical being. So for an adolescent, it’s exponentially more difficult as they navigate the tumultuous teenage years. Personally, I reflect back on my own adolescence and always wonder how different it could have been if I and those around me were as well versed in understanding how to handle situations more appropriately. As a mother now, I find the information and knowledge I possess to be invaluable to my daughter’s development, as well as our relationship and enjoy being a part of other families’ lives in order to promote that same cohesion. 

2) If you could tell all parents of adolescents just ONE thing to make parenting easier, what would it be?

When your daughter opens up to you, just listen and empathize with her experience. As parents, we tend to encounter intense discomfort when our child is suffering. So when she discloses some adversity she is enduring, we anxiously react – endlessly questioning and fixating on the problem, offering advice and comparing it to moments in our own lives to help relate to her experience. The truth is, she doesn’t want you to solve her problems. What she wants most is for someone to simply listen and validate her thoughts and feelings about the situation.

3) What’s the key to raising strong women in today’s environment?

A key to raising strong women is to assist in helping them to become more self-aware. When our daughters appear “off”, we can help them in identifying what it is they are experiencing. By gaining a deeper understanding of their emotions, they can learn how to identify triggers, master an ability to self regulate, express their emotions, establish healthy boundaries and verbalize their needs. 

4) Are there any red flags a parent of a teen should watch out for?

Our children are not always going to be forthcoming with any adversities they are enduring. However, we can be diligent in watching out for subtle clues that may indicate she is struggling. These may include, but are not limited to, intense irritability or changes in mood, consistent negative self-talk, increase in need for isolation from friends and family members, anxious attachment to her phone / unable to disconnect and be present, changes in weight or eating habits, or a noticeable shift in her energy/motivation. 

5) When should a parent seek out help for their relationship with their teen?

It is typical for teenage daughters to require some privacy from their parents. However, if parents notice any of the above mentioned red flags, it is important to start a conversation with your daughter. The difficulty lies in ensuring that communication is done in an effective and healthy manner. Without the appropriate tools, conversation with our teenage daughters can either go nowhere, as she sits in silence refusing to talk, or could elicit intense anger and frustration on both ends.

If this is the pattern of communication between you and your daughter, it is essential to see help in order for you both to learn more effective ways to communicate so that home can continue to be a safe space for her to process all that she is enduring both internally and externally.