Remember, the brain develops at different sequences in girls and boys. In their early years (before 6), most boys lag behind girls in developing attentiveness, self-control, language, and other fi ne motor skills like handwriting or drawing. But then again, boys are also four years ahead in mathematical skills than girls. Moreover, boys may be more of a handful early on but girls can be more challenging in the pre-teen years, crying or arguing at every given opportunity. So don’t judge boys as less or more smart than girls too early. A successful parent is one who is available for both his son or daughter, participating in their growth. And as a parent you continue to play the roles of the coach, referee, and cheerleader. When they bloom to their fullest potentiality one day, you and I will have the last laugh.
"If your children frequently cry that you are being unfair, you ought to examine how you are dealing with them. Did Bunny complain against Mamma being partial towards Bubbles because girls are better at recognizing such emotions? Could be; then again, perspectives vary. The fact is equal treatment among siblings is an important goal to strive for and our target is to raise good human beings who may not be stereotypically boys or girls. The fact is that while we talk about gender equality we know that the development of the brain in boys and girls is different and we can use that to our advantage when it comes to disciplining them.
The way forward
Greater exposure to information about bio-behavioural differences acting upon their learning and development patterns give the parents of today an advantage. Knowing the brain differences can help us bring up the performance of math in girls. For example, we know that a girl’s learning style is more cooperatively based and, therefore, does not work well in the independent, non-collaborative thinking way math is learnt in most classrooms. Knowing that girls depend on language, teachers could incorporate reading and music into math lessons (or incorporate math into reading and music lessons for boys). Empirical research in this area has proved that while the math achievement gap or language achievement gap is caused by the difference in the boy/girl brain, what it also shows is that girls actually do better in math and boys in language in those schools that practice the greatest degree of gender equality and look at working with the brain differences for greater achievement. Moreover, research has also proven that gender-neutral parenting, meaning making both the boy and girl practice more in their weak areas—boys practising more of creative writing and girls more math—can bring about all round development in both. In this way you can ensure equitable development, at least, where education is concerned.
Math vs language: Encourage your daughter to be academically competitive in everything from English, science, and math. There is no reason for girls to not excel in what have been considered till date as ‘male’ subjects; make sure she knows that as a parent you believe in her capabilities. Tell your son that he needs to switch off the TV or laptop and read books. You may be faced with shrugs and grunts but encourage them to speak to you. Initiate dialogues.
Spatial skills (ability to locate objects in three dimensional space using sight or touch) vs nurturing skills: Playing sports, chess, block play, or building games can help girls improve spatial abilities. Finding one’s way to a destination following landmarks or driving, can help in promoting spatial abilities. To foster nurturing skills in boys, they should be encouraged to engage in care giving activities like babysitting, tutoring younger siblings, or spending time with their grandparents.
Gender bias at home
Father’s have a general tendency to be more protective of their daughters and mother’s more permissive to sons (this is psychologically proven). But that should not be an alibi for the following common family trends.
1. Do not make girls learn housework more than boys on the grounds that they have to take charge of the household later in life. When they turn 18 and leave the home for higher studies and later for outstation job postings, both need these skills to set up a household. Equal opportunity to learn cooking, chopping, shopping, washing, cleaning, dusting and other domestic tasks must be ensured. Therefore, do not send the message to girls that the home is a woman’s domain, and teach boys a ‘learned helplessness’.
2. Boys often get to use the family car more than girls, thus granting them greater independence. Instead, leave the family car to both once they have a driving license.
3. Boys are given permission to take up an outstation job at an earlier age than daughters, thus providing them with earlier independence. Though there can be real safety issues that dictate parental decisions, such as which part of the country or world they will be stationed in, try as often as possible to make the same decisions for both your son and daughter. Ensure equitable development where education is concerned and for that matter send them to the right kind of school. At home, break stereotypes that a boy always needs to be tough and a girl always needs to be pleasing. Rather, work to raise good human beings who think and behave sensibly. Perhaps, this is the best that we can do to help them build their personality and self-esteem.
The differences that nature has endowed girls and boys will reinforce stereotypes if we are indifferent to this as parents. And this is where subconscious programming plays a major role.
This reminds me of an incident which led to us changing a school policy in my organization. One day, 10-year-old Armaan, a student from one of my schools, walked into my office to ask me a question. ‘Ms Lina, why can’t boys have long hair? When you regularly talk to us about the need to avoid gender stereotyping, why does the school diary say that boys need to have their hair cropped? If the only thing we need to ensure is that hair shouldn’t fall into our eyes, we too can wear hair bands, can’t we?’
This got me thinking, and I realized the simplicity and truth in the little boy’s argument. Historically, we have a tradition of men sporting long hair. So why not today? I soon had a meeting with my core team and changed the rule in our diaries. Today, boys in Billabong High can grow their hair as long as they want to as long as they maintain it neatly. If you ever track down women who have excelled in some of the uncommon careers like sports or business, media or event management you will realize that the way up was not easy for them. They have had to fight very strong stereotypes before they actually reached where they are today. As a bahu I was supported and encouraged to be a teacher and even start my first pre-school. However, I recall a time when my ‘hobby’ turned into a full fl edged business my in-laws actually sat my parents down to express their dissatisfaction and anxiety over what my business focus would do to my perceived primary focus—the family. Being a teacher is seen as a very noble and conventional career option for a woman, however, being a businesswoman is not as easily accepted.
Simple Parenting Actions to Avoid Stereotyping Your Children
• Cuddle your son, paint with him, and sing with him.
• P lay video games with your girl.
• Encourage them to care for their grandparents.
• Both need to learn to set the dinner table and clear up later.
• A void statements like: ‘It’s okay for him to do that, he is a boy’, ‘You can’t do this, you are a girl.’
• Aggression is a negative trait in both boys and girls. Do not encourage it or ignore it.
• Encourage your boy child especially to find ‘words’ for his feelings.
• P raise a boy who serves lunch to his grandmom as much as a girl who stands up against a rude auto driver. Encourage every form of positive social behaviour.
• Boys respect action. If you have promised something, keep your word or else he will lose faith in you.
• Girls respect thought. If you discuss a problem with your girl, she feels involved.
• If your son cries after a fall or gets hurt, understand his pain. Don’t try to toughen him up.
• If you daughter likes karate more than dancing, encourage her. She doesn’t have to conform to the ‘girl’ stereotype.
• At the same time, let kids be. If sonny boy wants to stick to his trucks and guns or the little lady at home is content being a princess, let them be. Avoid change for the sake of change.
If we encourage natural stereotypes and do not motivate girls to take risks or boys to empathize because we believe nature programmed them to do so, we risk parenting clones of what existed over the years. Let kids grow with their natural instincts, but motivate them to do different things. Break mindsets and work around stereotypes, foster a strong subconscious programme that will develop a strong self image in your children to handle the 21st century confidently.