“I would definitely wish my daughter to study further, but what do I do when no one in our community would agree to marry her if she crosses 18 years?"
This question, raised by one of the mothers during one of my talks on parenting skills, shook my belief of 18-20 years. Being raised in a state where the incidents of female feticide are maximum, where the motivation to raise a girl child are the monetary schemes for parents declared by the government, I had always taken pride in belonging to a state like ours, in being a Keralite/Malayali where women outnumbered men, where women and men were given equal opportunities& rights, where women are no less than men in picking up a career of their choice.
Another similar incident was when I was addressing a group of parents who had accompanied their children for residential career planning programme organised by an autonomous institution for the underprivileged communities run by the state government. "How many of you would let your children work in other states or a place away from their home town," I asked them.
To my surprise, none of the parents of the girl children raised their hand while all the proud parents of the male students had their hands high up with confidence. Like always these incidents led me to a lot of questions, are we differentiating while raising a girl child from a boy child? Though we don’t make it obvious, are we also not part of a social stereotype. Should we raise a girl child different from a boy child? Or should we raise them the same way.
In my opinion, every child is an individual, His or her innate personality helps shape how life unfolds. As parents we undoubtedly have an important role in shaping their personalities.
It is true that each gender’s brain and growth unfolds at a different rate influencing their behavior hence they have to be handled differently with different strategies but that does not mean our parental goals or what we want them to achieve in life changes because of their gender.
Here are few suggestions which might help you look at raising a child in a rational way considering their natural gender differences and eliminating the man made gender bias. I have also attempted to answer the great parenting debate over which gender is more challenging to raise? Girl or boy?
Developing a healthy self-image is critical to all kids. But as the more compliant and people-oriented gender, girls tend to grow up less confident and more insecure than boys, researchers say. Somewhere we have been unwittingly raising girls to be people pleasers. This cultural pressure to put others' needs first, ignore one's own gut feelings and avoid asking for what one wants has traditionally harmed girls. Despite the fact that she enjoys the positive attention and accolades that people pleasing brings, the more a girl pushes her own needs and desires underground to please others, the more likely her own self-esteem will suffer. Make no mistake, helpfulness and nurturing are virtues for everybody. But this tendency in girls makes it smart to help her explore and strengthen her inner nature and encourage her to try new things.
Body image is a big part of self-esteem, and though there's certainly body-image dysfunction in boys and men, it remains mostly a female issue. The natural rounding out of the body that happens in puberty clashes with the unnatural slimness girls see in the culture around them. Be aware of the messages you convey about their body, diet and exercise. Teach your daughter to listen to her body's signals of hunger and satiety. Girls who listen to their bodies tend to listen to their instincts in other areas. Sports are a great way for girls to build confidence and a healthy appreciation for their bodies.
Boys and modern education are not an idyllic match. An indoor-based day and an early emphasis on academics and visual-auditory learning ask a lot of a group that arrives at school less mature. In their early years, most boys lag behind girls in developing attentiveness, self-control and language and fine motor skills.
Research says that the relatively recent acceleration of the pre-K and kindergarten curricula has occurred without awareness that the brain develops at different sequences in girls and boys. Music, clay work, finger painting, and physical exercise—early-ed activities that once helped lively kids acclimate to school—are vanishing. Few teachers are trained in handling the problems that result.
One area where girls do less well in school concerns spatial learning, such as geometry. Girls may use different parts of their brains to process space perceptions. The key is for parents to present both boys and girls with plenty of no-pressure opportunities to try out the areas that are challenging.
From birth, a girl baby tends to be more interested in looking at colors and textures, like those on the human face, while a boy baby is drawn more to movement, like a whirling mobile, says a renowned psychologist. In a nutshell, girls are rigged to be people-oriented, boys to be action-oriented. Because girls study faces so intently, they're better at reading nonverbal signals, such as expression and tone of voice. Boys not only learn to talk later than girls and use more limited vocabularies, they also have more trouble connecting feelings with words.
As girls get to be 8 or so, things can get harder: The flip side of being so adept at communicating is that girls exert a lot of energy on it. There can be a great deal of drama around who's mad at whom, who said what and why, and more. Start when your daughter's a toddler to establish an open communication, so she learns she can come to you for advice.
"Much after-dinner wrestling here," shares my family friend, a mom of four boys, ages 5 to 12. "I'm constantly fighting to keep my house a home rather than an indoor sports center." According to experts, in general, boys are more rambunctious and aggressive. Taking risks lights up the pleasure centers of their brains. Many parents find they have to keep a closer eye on what a son is "getting into," or use more bandages.
But letting kids explore—at the cost of a few scrapes and cuts—builds character, self-confidence, resilience and self-reliance, says Wendy Mogel, Ph.D., author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. Boys, being natural risk takers, may need encouragement to slow down a little, but maybe girls need to be encouraged to take more risks. Look for opportunities for your daughter to jump off a wall, swim in the deep end, or try the bigger slide.
Why don't boys seem to listen? Turns out their hearing is not as good as girls' right from birth, and this difference only gets greater as kids get older. Girls' hearing is more sensitive in the frequency range critical to speech discrimination, and the verbal centers in their brains develop more quickly. That means a girl is likely to respond better to discipline strategies such as praise or warnings like "Don't do that" or "Use your words." Boys are less verbal and more impulsive which is especially evident in the toddler and preschool years.
These developmental differences contribute to the mislabeling of normal behavior as problematic. Some kids—most often boys—may simply fall on the more robust end of normal. They need more opportunities to expend energy and aggression, as well as firmer limits.
Raising children is a hard work regardless of gender. I strongly feel a child’s unique characteristics stem from their temperament and how their parents raise them. I don’t believe gender has much impact, some kids are just more challenging than others and for those parents have to work together adjusting their styles accordingly. Parents should be aware of each child's abilities and dispositions and focus on developing them in positive directions.
(The author is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Learning Arena, an e-learning company)