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Science Says Dads Treat Daughters Differently Than Sons, and It Really Seems to Matter

Gender may influence how dads interact with their kids more than we imagined. Here's the breakdown on why that is, and why it matters.

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According to a new study by the American Psychological Association, dads of toddler-age daughters are more attentive to their needs than dads of sons the same age. The research, which is published in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience, also finds daughter-dads sing to them more, and are more in touch with their emotions.

Researchers surmise that dads with little girls are more open with feelings is because it's socially acceptable for girls to show emotion. Fathers are also more likely to use analytical language with daughters, which the study notes has been linked to future academic achievement. Less likely: that dads of daughters will engage in so-called rough-and-tumble play, which can also be an important part of kids' development.

Lead researcher Jennifer Mascaro, Ph.D., from Emory University, says about her findings, which she gathered by looking at brain scans and out-of-lab wearable device readings, "If the child cries out or asks for Dad, fathers of daughters responded to that more than did fathers of son." She added, "We should be aware of how unconscious notions of gender can play into the way we treat even very young children."

Dr. Mascaro acknowledges that most dads are doing the best they can, but hopes her research will encourage them to think about how their child's gender may be influencing how they interact together.

And dads of boys should also be aware of how their actions influence sons. Research indicates that boys benefit from being encouraged to connect to their emotional sides. As Dr. Mascaro comments, "The fact that fathers may actually be less attentive to the emotional needs of boys, perhaps despite their best intentions, is important to recognize."

Interestingly, the study also showed that dads were more likely to use language about the body around girls, which could have an influence on their body image when they are older.

The takeaway: How we interact with boys or girls, as moms or dads, clearly has an influence on our kids. So we should strive to be aware of what we say and do, no matter our family makeup.

Do you think the gender of your child dictates how you behave with them?

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and soon-to-be mom of 4. Find her on Facebook and Instagram where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of yoga.