Letting kids be who they are, gender differences OR similarities? (6 parenting pals weigh in)

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Two of my goofball kids…

I’m currently a member of a “parenting blog train” with a few fellow parenting pals. We’ve written two group posts so far:

Listen to me please

Part one: Behaviors to stop

Part two: More behaviors to stop

Dr Lynne Kenney

Part one: Why are we still hitting our kids?

Part two: What can we do instead of spanking our kids?

Each of us selects our own topic and then we reply to one another with our thoughts/experiences. For my topic I selected the subject of gender. This issue has been written about on many blogs, oftentimes with a negative undertone that says, “Anyone who thinks it’s okay to acknowledge that boys and girls are different is just plain evil.” This bothers me. I have worked with kids for more than 23 years now and I have four of my own: 2 boys and 2 girls. There are oftentimes very specific differences between the genders namely (my opinion) – in the way they process information, communicate and learn. Some folks are so sure of these differences that they advocate for gender schools.

See here: Single-sex education: the pros and cons (GreatSchools.net)

More reading: Girls’ and Boy’s Brains: How different are they? (GreatSchools.net)

Some folks feel that teachers are not qualified to teach both genders and tend to favor one over the other – to the detriment of the lesser liked (or understood) gender. Over the years I’ve watched teachers post about their classrooms and I read things like, “Gosh – I wish I had a classroom full of girls. They are better listeners, they know how to sit still and they are people pleasers. They are so much easier to teach than boys!”

I’ve seen other teachers say, “Gosh – I wish I had all boys in my room. They are less whiny, less gossipy, cut and dry, more logical and they never take anything too seriously.”

Are the brain differences and/or similarities hardwired or society-driven or both? I did a quick online search and found just as many studies “proving” the inborn brain differences as I found “proving” that societal factors dictate gender roles.

Was one of my boys born a rough-and-tumble kid or did we make him that way because we saw that he liked to rough house and in turn, we encouraged it more in our play?

Was my eldest son born loving math more than words or did we notice he liked math and then foster math more than we fostered his language skills? Should I have fostered language more and math less?

Was my daughter born a talker and a lover of language with a lesser love for math? Or did we notice her trying to talk from early on and foster that more than we fostered numbers? If I push her to like math more, is this helpful or harmful?

Aggghhhhhh! It makes my own brain hurt just thinking about all of this.

Is nature dictating our choices, likes and dislikes? Nurture? Or a combination of both? If a child is born with particular temperament/likes/dislikes and parents force their own ideals on the child, will they modify what that child should have and could have been?

I have so many questions about this topic and I enjoy learning more about it as time goes by… and in the process, I sometimes even change my mind. I believe that humans are a product of their own experiences. As I experience more, my opinions shift or modify or sharpen.

After all of my reading, studying, living around kids and learning about them, I have decided it’s best to simply love each of my kids for who they are while attempting not to dictate who they were born to be. If they have gender differences, I try to love them for it. If they have gender similarities, I try to love them for it. I refuse to tell my kids that having gender differences makes them “bad” or “abnormal” or “politically incorrect.” And I refuse to tell my kids that liking something that the other gender likes is “weird” or “odd” or “religiously unacceptable.”

When it comes to play, I take my kids to the store, or thrift shop, and I allow them to pick out what they want to play with. My sons both enjoyed having dolls while growing up and this taught them to be empathetic and caring. My daughter likes to dress up but she also enjoys dirt and now… race car lunch boxes. My three year old son chooses something pink or purple 50% of the time and he chooses a new car or truck the other 50%. My daughter generally picks something very feminine, when buying a new toy or game. I think this was God’s pay-back plan for me. My baby sister was ALL GIRL and it drove me nuts. The glamor, glitz, heels and glitter sent my mind spinning. I always assumed that my parents must have done that to her and then God gave me my pink-addicted princess loving purple wearing girly girl. I had to accept that she was born a fashion miss and learn to love her for it, without telling her there’s something wrong with her brain. She fits every possible stereotype for a girl and although I don’t really ‘get’ that – I love her for it anyway. At the same time, I work hard to foster a balance in her life by offering plenty of neutral toys, games, books and crafts. You’ll hear us saying, almost daily, “Samantha – pink is not JUST for girls. Stop telling your brother that he can’t like something. He can like any color or toy or game or book that he chooses. Just as you can like anything you want to like, also.”

We simply offer all of our kids lots of choices, colors, toys, games, arts, crafts, music and outdoor fun. I let THEM choose who they are and what they like and I accept them through it all. At the same time, I want to know more about the brain differences with each of my kids so I can better understand their learning styles and help them be all that they can be.

Like the ARMY.

Only not.


More opinions! Read below for varying opinions from these parenting peeps.

Ava Parnass, Listen to me please
Author, songwriter and child therapist

Ok – so we all know boys and girls are different in many ways. What I think would be most helpful for parents to keep in mind is the ways they are different and embrace that. Parents can always help enhance development of each gender, while at the same time allow each gender or child be true to themselves.

For example – when it comes to verbal skills girls usually talk earlier than boys in most families. But please don’t email in a tizzy about this – there are exceptions, of course, including my stepson! This mostly true fact lends itself to the girls being able to ask for what they want or say how they feel sooner. Generally, being able to express your emotions earlier in life leads to less over-activity and behavioral problems.  However, if parents are aware of this gender difference they can keep an eye out. Although parents might have to work a little harder in helping boys learn to express feelings in words instead of  behavior and tantrums – it’s worth it. Parents – remember you are raising someone’s future husband or wife and being able to express feelings in a marriage is quite helpful for both genders! Not to mention that emotional literacy prevents many future emotional problems and lots of money in therapy.

We all get to the same place eventually. We play to our strengths and work on our weaknesses. Differences in gender make life interesting. But understanding the difference makes for more harmonious getting along. At the end of the day you can ask your child “What went really well today?” or “What was hard for you and what do need to work on?” Building self esteem from the inside out by praising your kids for their effort and hard work is so important!


Lori Lite, Stress Free Kids
Certified children’s meditation facilitator
Received national attention on Shark Tank

As a parent, I focused on creative expression and lots of play time. My husband made a huge chest that I kept filled with costumes, props, and other items we would pick up from the thrift stores. Halloween costumes and Santa hats were easy access year round to my children. Even when they became teenagers they would get into the chest and put on shows we still laugh about. In an effort to encourage individuality without stereotypes,  I never made reference to ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ costumes and allowed full freedom to to both genders.

However,  I would use certain opportunities to guide my children as to what might not be well received by their friends. This way they could edit some of their ideas when playing with other children. Even though we live in a liberated age, we all know that bullying is alive and well. I think it is important for children to be guided with a watchful eye for reactions from their peers….while providing full support to explore their individuality in a safe, loving, and stress free environment.


Louise Sattler, Signing Families
Nationally Certified School Psychologist with specializations in linguistics and multi-cultural education

I have longed thought that we put too much emphasis on gender based toys for children. Imagine that having your son play with both GI JOE and BARBIE can help him understand the world from more than one perspective, perhaps.  I know that both of my children played with the “opposite” gender toys and now seem to have a better understanding of how the other half lives.

I have photos of my son in braids with beads playing tea party with with sister. Kids only will feel ODD at gender play if adults impose the parameters. I think letting kids do exploratory play makes them understand both genders better, which translates to being better partners in adult life, just say’in.


Dr. Lynne Kenney, The Family Coach
Forensic psychology and developmental pediatric psychology

I see children less via gender and more via their interests and skill sets. While boys and girls can be different regarding energy level, academics and interests, we need to know them, no matter what their gender, for who they are naturally.  The key is to learn about their passions and join them in what they love! Both genders can enjoy sports, the outdoors, building and learning.

In this fast paced world, we need to watch and listen to our children and take the time to join them in what they love.  Take the time to talk with your children, join them at play and show that you are interested in what they like to do. I had a child last week show me his insect collection, I am not a big fan of insects, but for that moment in time, I was. I sat with great interest as he showed me his spiders, scorpions and snakes. Instead of ewww, it was awww! “Tell me more.”  Our children need our face time and enthusiasm. It’s the connection and caring that count.


Wendy Young, Kidlutions
Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) and Board Certified Diplomate (BCD)

Gender profiling should be outlawed!  There, I said it.  Just because one happens to be born into a female body does not mean she has the propensity for pink or perfume…but she might.  And just because one is born into a male body doesn’t make him gravitate towards dirt and rough-housing…but he might.  It’s a bit more complicated than that, and we are all certainly more than the sum of our parts.  So, how do you avoid gender profiling your child?  You encourage him or her to explore things of interest, without imposing your own stereotyped, preconceived notion of what he or she should or should not do!  And you cheer him or her on from the sidelines without your own agenda taking precedence.  Your little girl wants to play hockey? Your little boy wants a doll?  By all means!  Allowing kids to explore different facets of their personalities is not about confining them, it’s about expanding them.  Here’s to strong, happy, well-adjusted boys and girls!

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