Treating Daughters and Sons Differently
Q: My husband is hesitant to rough house with our 4-year-old daughter, the way he does with our sons. He seems to think that little girls should just play quietly with dolls. I grew up in a household of all girls. We had fun rough housing and playing with boys' toys as well as girls'. So to me, it seems a shame that our daughter is missing out. How can I help my husband understand it's good to treat sons and daughters the same way?
A: I hope my answer doesn't disappoint you, because, as you'll see, I have a somewhat different take on the matter. First of all, you don't say anything about the perspective of your daughter. Each boy or girl is unique in temperament. Some girls do prefer quiet doll play to rough housing. Others are just the opposite, or somewhere in between. (And of course, some boys, are more inclined to play board games, build with Lincoln logs or draw than wrestle.) And just because a girl prefers dress-up play to football doesn't mean she is any less likely to become a surgeon, engineer, or explorer. What is most likely to influence her future willingness to take positive risks and "climb life's highest mountains" is a quiet sense of having been accepted, valued and enjoyed just as she is. So I advise getting to know your daughter and joining her in whatever kind of play she chooses to do. Of course, as time goes on, offering her all sorts of opportunities for learning and developing skills in sports, as well as more sedentary activities is fine; as long as you and her dad take your lead from whatever appeals to her. If she doesn't love field hockey, but does love horseback riding or drama, be proud and encouraging.
While I agree that girls and boys deserve equal love, admiration and respect, there is often an intuitive difference between the way we relate to children of the opposite sex and children of our own sex; and that is really O.K. In fact, it can be helpful for fathers to treat their daughters with a certain gentleness and sweetness, preparing their girls to expect nothing less from the men who will someday be important in their lives.
Adele M. Brodkin, Ph.D., is a psychologist, consultant, and author of many books, including Fresh Approaches to Working With Problematic Behavior and Raising Happy and Successful Kids: A Guide for Parents. In addition, she has written and produced award-winning educational videos.