It may sometimes seem like your son and daughter are from different planets.
The old cliché goes that girls love talking and sharing emotions whereas boys are wilder, more physical and less tameable. It’s often true, but sometimes not. Even though their brains are incredibly similar at birth, at the age of two when they first realise they are a boy or a girl, it’s can be a different story.
At a glance
- Give her time, she can work it out
- Keep pretty outfits for best
- Encourage risk-taking
Every parent will want to give each child the same opportunities, but it’s worth knowing about the particular pressures and challenges girls and boys face so we can work out the best ways to help them achieve their potential.
Here are some tips for bringing up confident and happy girls:
Encourage ‘boy’ toys
The ‘female brain’ is stronger on empathy, emotion and language according to Cambridge University neuroscientist Professor Simon Baron-Cohen. But that doesn’t mean your daughter will conform: he reckons out of 10 girls, 4 will have a classically female brain, 4 will have a ‘balanced’ brain and 2 will have a ‘male’ brain. Girls need exposure to all kinds of toys, not just the ones they naturally gravitate to, to give the ‘male’ side of their brain a chance to develop well. So encourage construction toys, bricks and blocks and puzzles right from the start. Of course, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t play with dolls or tea sets – it’s just about getting a balance.
Don’t call her ‘good girl’
Well, not all the time, anyway. Girls tend to look for our approval more than boys, and they love to please us. But we don’t want them just pleasing us, we want them to succeed for themselves. Instead of ‘good’, try clever, thoughtful or kind. Praise for specifics (‘you’ve put those jigsaw pieces in really carefully’) rather than a catch-all ‘good girl’.
Keep pretty outfits for best
That way, her clothes won’t stop her enjoying lots of wet, sloshy, mucky, outside play – which are all brilliant for her creativity, brain development and spatial awareness skills (brain scans show girls are slightly behind boys on spatial skills, but they can be learned through practice).
Girls tend to be more fearful of risk than boys because they lack confidence and usually think more before they act (this is often a good thing!) So if she’s on the climbing frame, gently challenge her to go a little higher, while you stay nearby to praise her efforts. Also encourage her curiosity so she learns to take the initiative and be confident about herself.
If she’s struggling to work out how a toy works, don’t rush in too fast to rescue her. Give her time to see if she can work it out, which will boost her confidence.