About A Boy / About A Girl

Parents of young children often talk about the differences they notice between boys and girls. We hear about the debate over whether these differences are due more because of nature (brain wiring, hormonal differences) or nurture (the way we treat boys and girls differently, the different expectations we have for boys and girls). It is safe to say that the differences we often notice are the result of both nature and nurture. It is also important to remember that even as we sometimes generalize about what boys and girls are like, there are so many factors other than gender that influence who an individual is. We can not assume any one trait will be present in a child simply because that child is a boy or girl; nor can we decide that a trait is apparent in a child solely because of the child’s gender.

Our consumer culture has been greatly influenced by the divergent categories of pink and blue – think of the toy aisles of a store or the clothing sections designed for each gender. The early childhood staff of Hopkins Public Schools wanted to share some ideas for parents trying to broaden their child’s view of what it means to be a boy or girl.

About the Environment
Parents will find that their children gravitate to one sort of toy over another as years go by. Try to move away from assuming that toy is being chosen solely because of the gender of the child. Be sure to continue to create play areas with many different sorts of toys. We may be led to believe that because a child is playing with just one sort of toy, that is the only toy he will enjoy – and then we feed this temporary interest with more and more of the same sort of toy. Instead, provide a play environment with lots of different playthings: dress up clothes, dolls and stuffed animals, cars and trucks and trains, puzzles and books, and art supplies for both boys and girls. They will know that whatever they choose to play with is acceptable to you. Don’t be too concerned about a child who really is interested in just one sort of toy or game for a long period of time, it can be healthy and helpful for a toddler to have a predictable plaything. As your child is ready to move on to something more, he will know that anything he chooses to play with is able to provide entertainment.

While working together to run your household, try not to let the tasks and errands and chores you do be the same week to week. Allow your partner the chance to take on tasks you might just be doing out of habit. Often we fall into certain tasks because they are practical approaches to running the household.  These habits can give the impression to children that tasks can only be completed by one parent. Don’t feel like you have to make your daily life more difficult by taking on tasks that don’t make sense; but when an opportunity does arise for a parent to take on a task that the other parent often fulfills, then make the switch. Your child will see that anyone can wash the dishes or shovel the walkway or vacuum the carpets or change a diaper.

About A Boy
Research has shown that even when our boys are babies, we tend to speak less, hold and cuddle them less, and have less eye contact with them than we do girls. By the time they are toddlers we tend to feel uncomfortable with boys doing things that are stereotypically considered “girl”, for example: dressing up or playing kitchen. As you look at the way you interact with your son, find ways to assess whether you may be falling into these habits with your boy as well. We can work to raise strong and healthy boys, who will one day be nurturing and caring fathers, by providing the same sort of nurturing to them that we do for girls. Remember that your boy needs hugs and your undivided attention for some portion of your day. Allow him to stay on your lap, find a favorite doll or stuffed animal to care for, and be sure to talk to him throughout the day – and really listen when he talks back.

About A Girl
Research has shown that even when our girls are babies, we tend to “rescue” them from their frustration faster than we would for boys. We tend to comment on their appearance more than any other characteristic. When they are toddlers we are more often reminding them to be “nice” to others, and discouraging assertive behavior in favor of politeness. As you look at the way you interact with your daughter, find ways to asses whether you may be falling into these habits. We can raise strong and healthy daughters, who will one day be nurturing and caring mothers, by shifting some of the ways we interact with our girls. Don’t work to solve a problem your daughter is struggling with. Allow her to be frustrated and to work through the issue herself. Then congratulate her on her own creative thinking. Refrain from talking about how cute her outfit is, or making other comments about what she is wearing. Instead, focus on what she is doing or thinking. Teach your daughter ways to offer an opinion that may be counter to what others think. Encourage her to express herself, and work with her to find ways to tell others about what is on her mind. This will help her to move away from having to be “nice” and consider others’ feelings over her own.

About Ourselves
A parent’s words and actions are very influential to our children. They are looking to us to teach them how to act, and how to think about themselves and the world around them. They learn best through imitation of those they love. Consider how your own actions and words show your child what it means to be a woman or man. Our modeling of respect for ourselves is a great gift to give our children.  Enjoy being the person you are, and show your children that your gender is just one part of what you celebrate about yourself.

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