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What is the “right” way to play?

Every dad needs support, encouragement, information, confidence and tools to help him be as involved as he possibly can with his new family. Our fatherhood expert, Armin Brott, author of The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be, The New Father: A Dad’s Guide to the First Year and Fathering Your School Age Child has advice for your growing family!

Dear Mr. Dad:
My wife and I both love to play with our six-month-old twins, one boy, one girl. But we have completely different approaches. Is there one “right” way to play with a child? And should we try to play with our son the same way as our daughter?Answer:
In short, there is no “right” way to play. Fathers and mothers generally have distinctive but complementary styles of playing with their children: fathers tend to be more physical; mothers, less. But besides the physical nature of play, there are some other male-female differences you’re probably seeing in your living room. Fathers tend to encourage their children to do things for themselves, take more risks, and experience the consequences of their actions. Mothers, in contrast, tend to want to spare their children disappointment, are more protective of them, and steer clear of encouraging risk-taking. (Keep in mind that I’m talking about tendencies. There are plenty of people who don’t fit the mold. But for the most part, things shake out like this.)To see how these differences might play out, imagine that your babies are building a tower that is just about to collapse. You’ll probably let the tower fall, hoping the kids will learn from their mistakes. Your wife, though, will probably steady the tower as it teeters. And when the children are a little older and start climbing trees, your wife would probably tell them to be careful and not to fall, while you’d encourage them to see how high they can go. Mothers and fathers also differ in the way they treat boys and girls. Fathers, tend to vocalize more with infant sons than daughters; they’re rougher and tumble with their sons and are a little less physical with daughters; they’re a little less likely to hug or snuggle a son than a daughter. They’re also more likely to encourage and support sons’ quest for independence than daughters’. This plays out in responding a little more quickly to a fussy girl than a fussy boy, or by picking up an infant daughter who’s fallen down sooner than an infant boy. Mothers do a better job of treating their boys and girls the same, but they, too, make some distinctions. Interestingly, when it comes to gender roles, mothers and fathers are equally inflexible: both will dress a girl in blue or pink and will encourage her to play with dolls or trucks. But they’d never put a boy in pink and they give more positive feedback to boys who play with boy toys than to boys who play with girl toys. Bottom line: try to treat your daughter and son the same way. But take direction from them. Political correctness aside, boys and girls are different and there’s no sense trying to force your son to play with dolls (he’ll probably yank their heads off and use the legs as guns) or your daughter to play with trains (she may wrap up a caboose in a blanket and rock it to sleep). Armin Brott’s bestselling books including the recent release Fathering Your School Age Child have helped millions of men around the world become the fathers they want to be—and their children need them to be. His most recent is Fathering Your School-Age Child. Armin has been a guest on hundreds of radio and television shows, writes a nationally syndicated column, “Ask Mr. Dad,” and hosts a weekly radio show. He and his family live in Oakland, California. You can contact him at

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