By playing with dad, your daughter will be discovering who she is. And along the way, your husband will discover who he is too.
Dear Mr. Dad: A few years ago, I read an article you wrote about why dads should play with their daughters. My husband is a pretty traditional guy and has a real problem playing with our four-year-old the way she wants to play—meaning tea parties and dolls—not the way he does—meaning sports and superheroes. How can I encourage him to get over himself and do what’s best for her?
A: The place to start is to give your husband some of the specifics about the many ways his playing with his daughter will help her. First of all, it’ll make her happy—and that’s incredibly important. Second, he’ll be helping her learn a variety of skills that will come in handy as she grows. Some are pretty basic, like the fine motor skills she’ll use for buttoning, snapping, tying, and so on. Others will have longer-term effects, such as empathy, imagination, and the practical soothing and caring skills that will help her when she has a family of her own (many, many years from now). There’s a growing body of research out there that shows quite conclusively that daughters of dads who play with them a lot grow up to be more assertive (in a good way), have more (and better) friends, get better grades in school, are more self-sufficient, and are less likely to smoke, abuse drugs or alcohol, go to prison, or get pregnant as teens. What man wouldn’t want to give his daughter all of those benefits? Whatever dignity your husband thinks he might lose by playing with dolls is a small price to pay.
When your husband plays with your daughter, he’s also sending her some strong messages about gender roles. Joining in her games tells her that he—the first, and most important man in her life—supports her as she is. She’s less likely to feel pigeonholed by stereotypes. And she’ll use her interactions with…