When you're pregnant, questions and curiosities - everything
from how big will my baby be to who will he/she look like to what
will he/she grow up to become - are as commonplace as the urge (and
need) to pee. And while some parents-to-be spend hours pondering
their future tot's name, others fill the span of nine months
wondering if that growing belly will be a "he" or a "she."
Whether we admit to succumbing to it or not, old wives' tales
take hold of the pregnant parents' minds: Expectant mom is carrying
low and in front so it must be a boy; her face has changed,
indicating it's a girl; cravings include salty snacks, like fries
and pickles, so clearly a boy is in store; dad-to-be has put on a
few pregnancy pounds with his glowing partner, signaling a
But as any parent knows, these tales are nothing more than a
source of laughter-a harmless way to help guess the sex. If you
were to ask the pregnant parents' prediction, based just on hunch
and instinct, seven out of 10 times they would guess correctly.
To that point, there are a handful of parents who truly
desire-or rather, feel more in tune with-one gender over another.
For example, certain couples consider themselves more "feminine,"
enjoying artsy and creative activities in lieu of sports, so a girl
is a natural fit. Other couples may have grown up with only male
siblings, knowing nothing outside the realm of a household filled
with mischief, banging and clanging, and of course, broken bones,
sprains and trips to the ER, meaning a boy is the natural fit. Yet
we all know that A does not equal B when it comes to gender. And in
the end, the arrival of a healthy, happy bundle of baby-boy or
girl-is ultimately what all parents hope for.
It's the next step, raising him or her, that poises a new set of
harried hurdles and tremendous joys. That's why we set out to give
you the facts-and, of course, some fun-about raising boys and
To start, a quiz (at right) for any parent, whether you're
expecting, raising or empty nesting.
For years, parents (and doctors, too) blamed the actual brain
for differences in boys and girls. However, the culprit is not in
the structure, per se, but rather in the sequence of development of
the various brain regions. In fact, in 2007, the world's largest
study of brain development in children, led by National Institutes
of Health neuroscientist Dr. Jay Giedd, published its most
comprehensive study to date, demonstrating that there is no overlap
in the trajectories of brain development in girls and boys.
What does this mean? Basically, if you teach the same subjects
to girls and boys in the same way, girls will likely think
"geometry is tough" and boys will believe "art and poetry are for
girls." The lack of understanding of gender differences-teaching
the exact same thing in the exact same way to both genders-has the
unintended consequence of reinforcing gender stereotypes, the study
found. This is one of the reasons it's important to understand that
the brain functions differently, depending on the sex.
It's been said that boys catch on "slower" than girls (another
brain blamer). In reality, researchers found that while the areas
of the brain involved in language and fine motor skills mature
about six years earlier in girls than in boys, the areas of the
brain involved in targeting and spatial memory mature about four
years earlier in boys.
But it's not just about the brain: sex differences are very real
and may require different parenting skills, rules and styles. Girls
tend to be more emotional, sensitive beings, whereas boys are all
about action, almost all the time.* According to Laurie A. Helgoe
and her husband Barron M. Helgoe, the co-authors of The Complete
Idiot's Guide to Raising Boys, parents must be careful of this
stereotype. "Boys are often considered older and more skilled than
they actually are. And as fun as he may be, he still relies on you
to teach him how to get along and to provide him structure and
safety." This is especially crucial considering that boys, in
contrast to girls, relate best to action. They do more and speak
less: They make sounds associated with action. They buy action
figures. They keep busy by being active. Whereas girls respond to a
verbal approach, talking things out often and easily, thanks to
acquiring verbal skills at a faster rate than boys, which, in turn,
allows them to fit more "naturally" into a school setting.
In their book, Helgoe and Helgoe draw upon the school
experience, explaining that boys have a harder time with attention
and focus in correlation to girls. And because of their higher
activity level, boys are likely to get into more trouble than
girls. As parents of boys, consider the old adage "actions speak
louder than words," and apply it to help communicate with your
child. Use play-build with blocks, construct things, etc.-to teach
and help discipline.
Biological and social dynamics aside, there are also physical
differences-the most obvious to the eye, like height, weight,
features and bone structure-that affect how we parent, explains
Claire Sebastian, a Chicago clinical social worker.
Although physical appearance alone does not cause a child to
relate better to one sex over another, Sebastian says children are
likely to identify with same-sex models, parents and caregivers. So
as early as preschool, children begin identifying with the values
of their family as well as society. "In our society, girls conform
less to gender stereotypes; a girl is more likely to play with
trucks than a boy is to play with a doll," notes Sebastian. Similar
to the points made by Helgoe and Helgoe, Sebastian confirms the
need for parents to help diminish these stereotypical messages.
Why is this so important? Sebastian explains: Biological
differences are much less significant than most parents assume.
When the child reaches 2, most gender differences are learned.
Children are sponges, absorbing information-language and non-verbal
messages-at a crazy pace; imprints of their identity in the world
are being formed. So when they observe that girls are often told
how pretty they look and boys are allowed to be more aggressive,
beliefs about being a "girl" or "boy" are developing.
While it is good for parents to be aware of typical differences
between boys and girls, it is important they ultimately focus on
their child as an individual. "The job of the parent today is to be
aware of the pressures our children face and to do our best to
diminish those harmful pressures," Sebastian says.
But perhaps the best advice for parenting any child, regardless
of gender, stresses Chicago Clinical Psychologist Amy Robbins, is
to stay connected, keeping lines of communication open, honest and
* The statements in this story do not apply to all boys and
Robin Immerman Gruen is a freelance writer and mom to
Real moms (and dads) raise the bar on raising boys and
ot every parent has the first-hand joy of rearing a boy and a
girl. We asked a few who do for advice, tips, tricks and truths
about raising the two sexes under one roof:
"My little girl, Talia, is very active, just like her big brother,
Hayden. But she is much more emotional: she definitely uses
language, whether it's crying, laughing, screaming, whining or just
talking, to express herself."
"Cole is crazy and very curious. He is much more mischievous that
his older sister, Ellie. If I take my eyes off him for two minutes,
it could be disastrous (or dangerous!)"
"I think the thing for all of us to remember when raising boys vs.
girls-or any gender mix of children, for that matter-is that we
must treat them as individuals. ... Go for the separate-but-equal
approach, paying attention to their individual needs and addressing
them as equally as you can."
"While there may be inherent differences in boys vs. girls, every
child is an individual. My boys are very different from each other
in many ways, and therefore need to be parented differently in a
lot of ways. My girl is still a baby so I can't say anything about
girls yet, but yesterday she was crying in the cart in Target and
she didn't want the normal snacks, toys, etc., but she stopped
crying when I gave her an outfit from a rack of clothes. Let's hope
it's not a sign of things to come!"
"I don't feel that boys and girls should be raised differently
from one another. I have a son and a daughter and I am raising them
both with the same values and family rules. I have and will
continue to instill in each of them to treat everyone with respect.
"Before children I would spend time with my niece. She would sit
nicely on the floor and play with her dolls. If we went somewhere
she would walk nicely. Now, two boys later I am a mom. They are the
exact opposite of my niece. They don't walk, they run. They usually
don't play quietly, they bump, they thump, they stump, they crash
(toy cars that is). Boys by design are active and tough. I had to
learn how to allow their natural tendencies to not make me think
the worst of them, but find ways to channel such behavior into
positive behavior. I had to allow playing in the dirt to be OK.
Jumping and climbing became a necessity."
"I think it's important to look at your kids' individual strengths
and nurture those, regardless of the incredible amount of
gender-related peer pressure that's out there. … It's a huge
challenge these days to raise our kids of both genders to be who
they are and not who the culture tells them they have to be."
"I truly believe each child is different with their own
personalities and interests. The only major difference I have
noticed between my daughter and son is their level of energy. We
nicknamed my 3-year-old son the Energizer Bunny, because he really
does keep going and going and going. My tips on raising boys would
be teach him not to be that stereotypical boy, teach him to clean
up, do laundry and cook. My tips on raising girls would be to teach
them about peer pressure early and being a strong, independent
person. Mainly, enjoy them while they are young, because they do
grow up so fast."
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