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Do Daughters Bring Out a Dad’s ‘Softer Side’?

Do Daughters Bring Out a Dad’s ‘Softer Side’?
June 01
16:12 2017

(HealthDay News) — Mom, it’s not all in your head: Dad does respond to toddler daughters and sons differently. Brain scans and random recordings of their times together prove it.

Fathers are not only more attentive to little girls, a new study finds, they’re also more accepting of their feelings. Dads sing more to their daughters, play harder with their sons and speak to their little ones in strikingly different — and important — ways.

“The really interesting and significant thing to me is these differences are showing up very early,” said lead researcher Jennifer Mascaro. She is an assistant professor in family and preventive medicine at Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta. “We really need to think about unintended [gender] biases that we may have in our interactions.”

The researchers wanted to learn if different brain responses to boys and girls might affect how dads treat their sons and daughters.

The new study doesn’t resolve whether those brain differences mean fathers are hardwired to treat sons and daughters differently or if they are simply trying to behave as they think society expects them to, Mascaro said. But it offers an unfiltered look at how fathers behave with their 1- and 2-year-olds, and some lessons for parents.

For the study, researchers asked 52 dads to clip a small computer to their belts for 48 hours. The device turned on randomly to record their daily interactions with their toddlers — 30 girls and 22 boys.

The recordings show dads responding swiftly and supportively when their daughters were sad or anxious, but paying less attention to their sons’ feelings.

“When a child is expressing emotions — rather than ignore it or try to distract them or try to undermine some of those really intense feelings — validating those emotions, naming them and having the child sit with those emotions and identify them on their own is important,” Mascaro said. “The idea that fathers and other adults are doing that less with boys is really important.”

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