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Dads, Daughters, and Play

Joe Kelly
Author Joe Kelly
Submitted 03-12-2008

Children grow up loving to play. In fact, play is a child’s career. That makes playing with your daughter a fabulous way to connect with her interests and be a potent, positive force in her life. But we fathers sometimes have difficulty playing with our children because we aren’t kids anymore.

Life is filled with stress and demands (many of them work-related) that distract us from our daughter’s playing career. If you’re a father who doesn’t live with your children or stepchildren, there can be added layers of difficulty—ranging from problems with your ex to the logistical complexity inherent in separated and blended families.

But even fathers with the easiest of billets can still have trouble playing with daughters. We tend to see every activity (even play) as directed toward some quantifiable goal. When we play a game or a sport, we want to compete fiercely—because we want to win! When playing with our kids, those attitudes can translate into insisting on producing the “right” result: winning the game, making a bigger treehouse than the neighbor’s, sticking unswervingly to the rules, etc..

But that’s not always the most constructive approach. In his book Live-Away Dads, Psychologist and fathering author William Klatte writes that making play too competitive or structured can interfere with having fun—and fun is the most important immediate goal in playing with your daughter:

When playing games with your children please pay attention to The One and Only Very Important Number One Game Rule:
Stop having so many rules!
Rules can really be a drag when you are trying to have fun. Don’t get mad if your children want to change the rules in the middle of the game. Let them. Play with them. It’s only a game. Teens may want to play by rules a lot of the time, but many kids often prefer to forget the rules or make up their own. Young kids just love to win, and they’ll work hard to arrange any possible way to do so.

We live by rules so often at work and other parts of our adult lives that we forget to be spontaneous. If your child wants to make up her own illogical rules to a board game or card game, let her! You have plenty of opportunities to teach your child about fair play and honesty in life, and those qualities are extremely important, but it is also important to sometimes be silly, laugh, and forget about doing things the “right” way. Many times, the best way to do that is forget the rules and just let go.

These principles are not limited to games with formal rules, like Chutes and Ladders or Old Maid; they apply to all fun father-daughter activities. Fun play is simply essential in building solid father-daughter connection.

When kids play, they are at their most open and authentic. Dads are also open and authentic—at least when we play playfully, rather than competitively. When you and your daughter play playfully together, you have a chance to really connect—and learn a ton about who she is inside.

Play provides a way for you to share your heart and soul with your daughter. Play breaks down barriers between you–creating an ongoing opportunity to communicate and impart the treasure of your creativity, affection, willingness to take risks—the rich heritage of your masculinity.

On top of bringing you two closer together, play makes great memories—another marvelous heritage for both of you to have.

Believe it or not, all of this holds true for fathers and their older daughters, too. It is just as possible (and important) to play with your 17-year-old girl as it is to play with your four-year-old girl, even though the type of play is likely to be different.

It’s so important for all of us fathers and stepfathers to show and tell our daughters that we believe they are capable of anything! Fathering a daughter with love, respect, and fun ensures she will choose people and situations that nourish her long after she’s left our house. There’s no greater legacy for us to leave our daughters.

These are some of the many “serious” reasons to have fun with your daughter. But never forget that playing is one of parenting’s primary perks. It’s revitalizing and renewing. It takes us out of ourselves. Most of all, playing is fun! Dig in and start having a great time!

                                                                                                                        – Joe Kelly

Joe Kelly is a father, author,
blogger, activist, and primary media source on fathering. He has
written several books including the best-seller Dads and Daughters.