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The Daddy Difference / Parenting & Children's Health
October 4, 2001
The Daddy Difference
From Hugs to Horseplay, Dad's Parenting Style Boosts Confidence
Kim Lachance -- Health Correspondent
Mom isn't the only one bringing up baby these days. Dad bathes, swaddles
and soothes. He changes diapers, mixes formula and tends to aching gums.
He's today's father, and chances are he's far more involved in the
day-to-day care and nurturing of his children than his own father was with
him -- all while juggling dinner and laundry.
A Father's Care is Crucial
From hugs to horseplay, fathers' approach to parenting isn't that far off
from that of their female counterparts. But experts say it's what dads do
differently than mothers that's remarkable, even good for their children.
"A father's care is crucial because it promotes a child's emotional,
physical and intellectual development," says Dr. Kyle Pruett, Yale Child
Study Center researcher and professor of psychiatry at Yale University.
What's more, as Pruett writes in his book Fatherneed: Why Father Care is
as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child (The Free Press, 2000),
"Children whose dad has regularly changed their diapers, burped them and
rocked them to sleep, and read to them enjoy a reserve of strength in
dealing with stress and the frustrations of everyday life."
Getting Physical
It's no secret that dads often double as human trampolines and jungle
gyms.  While he's busy dangling his little one upside down by the ankles,
mom hovers nearby, worried that horsing around could breed bad, even
violent, behavior in her child. But just the opposite is true.
Rough-and-tumble play, when done carefully and in moderation, boosts
children's confidence and offers them a chance to experiment with their
own physical strengths and limitations.
"Roughhousing is an important tool for helping fathers and children figure
out one another from a physical standpoint," observes Pruett. "They're say
ing to each other, "Look how strong I am. We're tough guys (and gals).
Look how scared your mother is, but we're OK.'"
Joseph Piquette, of Topsham, Maine, enjoys tossing his 3-year-old daughter
into the air and bouncing her on his shoulders. "She's not going to
break," he says. "She laughs when I do it, so I'm sure she's all right.
Her mom still gets nervous, though."
Why do fathers initiate horseplay more than mothers do? Aside from
instinctual forces, Pruett says, fathers like to "experience their
children when they are revved up and very alert." Moreover, roughhousing
fills a gap in fathers' physical connection to their children that nature
affords mothers in pregnancy and birth.
Mothers, especially those who breast-feed, are so physically attached to
their young throughout the day that they tend to prefer toys and
educational objects like books and flash cards over their bodies as the
main focus of play, whereas dads view themselves as the toy itself.
Tough It Out, Baby
Long a sore spot between mothers and fathers is how and when to respond to
a fussy baby. Moms react to babies' cries faster, wasting no time in
picking up and pacifying their little ones. Dads, on the other hand, tend
to hold out longer and encourage their children to grapple for a solution.
"Fathers don't take their babies' cries as personally as mothers do,"
Pruett says. "Their reaction is less guilt-based than a mother's. Fathers
often wait it out, then change the venue, go outside or change a diaper
instead of thinking, 'What did I do wrong?'"
Take heart, frustrated moms. Your child actually benefits from Dad's
waiting: Toughing it out a bit longer teaches children valuable problem
solving skills that they'll rely on throughout life.
Hold That Pose
Ever wonder why fathers tend to carry their babies face-forward, perched
on their upturned palm and forearm like a football? Chalk it up to
paternal instinct. According to Pruett, dads are hard-wired to expose
their children to the world around them, and toting them in the "football
position" allows babies to experience life at the same time and from the
same perspective as their father.
Danielle Morgan, of Long Beach, Calif., says her husband, Javier, makes a
daily ritual of holding his 3-month-old daughter when he gets home from
work. "He'll pick her up right away and hold her out in front of him so
she can see everything in front of her," she says. "It's like he's giving
her a tour of our place. But if I'm walking around with her, I definitely
hold her closer."
Not surprisingly, moms tend to favor more protective carrying positions.
Studies show they prefer to hold their young in the over-the-shoulder
position. In this pose, the baby leans into his mother's body, giving him
a view into the environment Mom has already passed through and, therefore,
deemed safe for passage.
Voice Lessons
Mothers know to speak to their newborns in a high-pitched, falsetto voice
to attract and hold their little ones' attention. But tender talk also
comes naturally to fathers -- which is a good thing because as babies grow
from newborns to toddlers, they actually respond better to Dad's deeper
voice. Lower tones give fathers the edge in bringing a screaming baby back
down to earth.  But having your baby's ear also has its drawbacks.
"Moms should know that older babies tune in for their fathers," Pruett
says. "They need to know that it's the dads who should be getting up in
the middle of the night to soothe the baby."
Joseph Piquette did his share of nighttime soothing, and it paid off.
"The bond I have with my daughter now is so strong," he says. "When I come
home from a long day at work, she comes running to the door to see me. I
may only be gone for six or seven hours, but she acts like she hasn't seen
me in a week. That's my reward for being her daddy."
Date Published: 6/15/01
Date Reviewed: 10/4/01
Related Articles:
Thoroughly Modern Dads
Stay-at-Home Dads
Raising Daughters: Dad's Side
This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional
medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a
health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare
provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or
concerns you may have regarding your condition.
 1998-2001 Dr. Koop LifeCare Corporation / All Rights Reserved
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