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Help Fathers Be Dads

Toddler Time

Horseplay is most dads' forte — a great counterpoint to moms' more nurturing style of interaction — and during the toddler years, those physical skills are in high demand. "Through rough and tumble play, kids learn to use their bodies in new ways, which brings new kinds of development and a new spotlight role for the father," says Michael Connor, Ph.D., professor emeritus of psychology at California State University Long Beach.

What Dad Can Do

"My girls, ages 2 and 3, love to play a game called 'Chyna Doll' (named after the female wrestler Chyna), in which they wrestle their father to the floor and jump all over him. It's so different from how I play with them. Plus, it teaches the girls trust — they get to roughhouse and be thrown in the air and still know that they're safe." —Helena Bogosian, 41, Fort Lee, NJ

"Since the girls were toddlers, John's been playing a game where he gets down on his hands and knees and acts like a raging bull, head butting the kids and rolling them around the floor, all the while making 'rrr' noises. They pretend to run away but they fall down on purpose because they love to get caught. In another game, he cradles them in his arms and sings 'Rock-a-Bye Baby' while swinging them wildly — really high and fast. I can't even look, but they love it! I think it makes them feel like their dad is nurturing them in a traditional way, but it has a twist that makes it silly and fun." —Debby Clarke, 40, Colorado Springs

Preschool Participation

Study after study has shown that the more children are read to, the faster they'll develop vocabulary and listening comprehension skills. "Even dads that were baby shy up till now will find it easier to interact with their kids by reading with them," says Brott.

What Dad Can Do

"When David noticed that our kids, Aaron, 3, and Rachel, 6, could finish sentences — even whole pages — from their favorite books, he started making up silly endings that make them giggle. It's a ritual he does with them every night and that they look forward to. I can hear peals of laughter from down the hall." —Lesley RiggGoldblum, 40, Sycamore, IL

"Gregory, my husband, has been the designated book reader to our three kids — now 9, 5, and 2 — since the very beginning. Sometimes while he's reading he changes the word 'Mommy' to 'Daddy' because so many of the books feature moms as caretakers, and he wants our kids to see him in that role, too. He does such a good job reading — animating the voices of pirates and giants and generally hamming it up — that there are certain books the kids won't allow anyone but him to read." —Wendy Bass Keer, 40, Valley Glen, CA

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