Guys and Dolls—Playmates or Enemies?

Dear Mr. Dad, I have an eight-year-old son who loves sports and video games and does lots of other “boy” things. But he also likes to play with dolls—really girly ones. Does that mean he’s gay? Is there a way to tell this early on? And if he is gay, what should we do?

A: Have you ever noticed that there’s something of a boy-girl double standard? When a girl climbs trees, refuses to wear dresses, plays with trucks, and tears the heads off her Barbies like my oldest daughter did, no one worries about whether she’s gay. In fact, being a Tom-boy is seen as kind of cool. But when boys buck traditional gender roles, people start to panic.

So let’s get this out of the way right up front: your son is too young to have discovered his sexual orientation. Could be that he just likes dolls and is giving his imagination a workout. The fact that he plays with dolls doesn’t mean that he’s gay (neither would singing show tunes or having tea parties) any more than wresting or showing an interest in hunting or monster trucks would mean that he’s straight. There are plenty of heterosexual men who played with dolls when they were kids, and plenty of guys with daughters (myself included) who’ve discovered that playing with dolls can be a lot of fun. It’s even more fun when the daughters join in.
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Are Men Becoming the New Women?

Dear Mr. Dad: A few days ago, I was talking to my 11-year old son about needing to take responsibility for his behavior, and I told him to “Man up.” I started thinking about that phrase and wondered about all the gender stereotyping we do without even realizing it. Are expressions like Man up harmless parts of the language?

A: You’re right. We do use a lot of sex stereotypes in our everyday speech, most of the time without realizing it. Sometimes even the most gender-neutral phrases carry a strong stereotyped message. In most cases, the words are harmless, but other times they’re dangerous.
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Fighting in front of the Kids

My wife and I-like most couples-have our share of disagreements on how to parent. One of the things we’ve been disagreeing on lately is whether or not it’s okay to fight in front of the kids. I think it will teach our children how to compromise. My wife thinks it will scar them for life. What do you think?

Parenting approaches are the source of just about as many marital spats as money and division of labor. Ideally, you should avoid having huge fights in front of your children. Kids are scared and confused when their parents yell at each other, and researchers have found that the angrier the parents, the more distressed the children.
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Children with Special Needs

My wife and I have a child with a number of special needs. Although we both love our child very much, there’s no question that parenting him has taken a toll on our marriage and the rest of the family (we have other children). Interestingly, my wife and I respond to the stress very differently. Is there anything we can do to reduce the tension, as well as improve our relationship as a couple, so our entire family is happier?

It’s nearly impossible to get accurate data on disabilities, but conservatively speaking, around 15 percent of preschool and school-age children in the US have one or more "chronic conditions." These could be anything from asthma and autism to cancer and cerebral palsy.
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The Importance of Father Involvement in the Schools

My child’s school often sends out emails asking for moms to volunteer in the classroom or around the school. A lot of these communications talk about how important it is for mothers to be involved in their children’s education. As a father, I find this a little annoying, and I’m wondering whether you know of any evidence that dads’ involvement is important too?

There’s a mountain of research that shows a direct connection between parents’ involvement in their children’s education and their kids’ performance in school. In short, the more the parents are involved, the better the kids do. But in many schools (and in many families), the word "parents" really means "mom." That’s a big mistake. There are a number of benefit that are specifically related to father involvement. When dads are involved, their children.
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Debunking the Mozart Effect

We are parents of two kids, 6 and 8, and our closest friends have kids the exact same ages. These friends swear that they can increase their children’s IQ by playing certain kinds of music. I think they’re full of it. But could they possibly be right? Does music actually increase a child’s intelligence?

Remember the Mozart Effect’the wildly popular idea that listening to music by Mozart would boost children’s IQ? Don Campbell, who took the Effect out of the lab and into the shopping mall, sells all sorts of products that supposedly will make your child smarter. Turns out, though, that the Mozart Effect does nothing of the kind (although that hasn’t stopped Campbell and others from making a ton of money).
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