Pushy dads lose popularity contest
By Sarah Womack
August 5, 2004
Children rate their fathers among their least popular playmates because they are too competitive, according to a British study of more than 1000 youngsters.
They "played to win", lacked imagination or didn't know how to play games, said the Children's Play Council, which commissioned the survey with the Children's Society.
Children up to the age of 12 would rather play with their friends, mothers or brothers and sisters. Only one in 16 chose their fathers.
They were rated slightly above grandparents (one in 33). One in 50 children said they would rather play by themselves.
Tim Gill, director of the Children's Play Council, said: "Dads have difficulty not being too competitive. Several fathers said they found it hard to get down to their children's level.
"And they don't find it easy to let children win. But children will get fed up if they lose all the time. It's frankly demoralising and not much fun."
Simon Day, a British comedian who created the character "Competitive Dad" for the BBC comedy The Fast Show, said he was inspired by a father he saw once at a swimming pool.
These two little kids said, 'do you want to race, Dad?' and he just tore off and beat them really easily and left them floundering in the pool - drowning while he waited at the other end."
Frank Furedi, a professor of sociology at the University of Kent, said: "Fathers are living through their children much more, which means they lose sight of the line that distinguishes adult from child.
"It's also partly a power issue: fathers want to let their children know they are still 'players'."
But he said being competitive was not altogether unhealthy. "Almost every child I know who is good at sport has a mother or father who is physically active. The thing is not to be obsessive about it," he said.
Mr Gill said not being competitive did not mean playing the loser all the time. "It doesn't mean dads having to wimp out constantly, but they should avoid winning all the time," he said.
The rise in divorce and separation contributed to children not seeing their fathers as playmates, he said. Some fathers did not know how to entertain their children, but Mr Gill said they should think of the games they enjoyed as children.
"A lot of the games we played are still enjoyable - ball games outdoors, balloon games indoors, simple word games like '20 questions' or role-playing where the child is the waiter and the parents are the customers."
The poll of 600 parents and 1200 children found most parents (72 per cent) claimed to play with their children daily but children said the reality was once a week or rarely. Children said they did not play with their parents because they were often too busy, too tired, too bossy or less fun than friends.