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How can I teach my child how to counter gender stereotypes?

Gender has a powerful influence on your child but don’t let stereotypes hinder her happiness

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The science is coming in thick and fast to back up what parents have long suspected: there is a fundamental difference between the behaviours of boys and girls, and there’s not a lot you can do to influence it. Evidence on brain development suggests that babies start to exhibit different gender behaviour from as early as two months. Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, a Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at Cambridge University, claims this is because girls focus more on emotions, while boys are simply interested in how things work. According to Baron-Cohen, every child is born with a particular brain type – male, female or balanced. The empathising or ‘E-type’ brain is generally found in girls who respond more to the distress of others, showing greater concern through sad looks, sympathetic gestures and comforting while boys more often possess the systemising or ‘S-type’ brain. They love putting things together, building towers or playing with vehicles.

However, neat though this theory is, it is important to point out not all girls will have E-type brains, and not all boys type S. Some girls are ‘tomboys’ and some boys are more sensitive than their rough-and-tumble mates. Some children have balanced brains with a mix of the E- and S-types, it’s all part of the nature versus nurture debate. “In the Sixties and Seventies, gender differences were put down to parenting, or “nurture”” says Baron-Cohen. “Today, it is recognised there may be a partly genetic, or “nature” component.” Kelley King is a Master Trainer at the Gurian Institute in the US, a centre that trains schools and workplaces on how to help both girls and boys reach their full potential. King recommends parents try simple exercises to help their child achieve a balance of skills. “Girls generally have difficulty judging space and distance, so create games using basic maps or building blocks”, suggests King.

“Get your child to draw a map of your living room or garden, and colour it in with crayons or markers. Or, when you’re driving your child to school or nursery, ask her to tell you which way to go.” Boys tend to struggle more with fine motor skills, which  can lead to sloppy handwriting. “Encourage your child to thread beads onto a piece of string to develop hand-eye coordination”, recommends King, “To help him manage his emotions, look at books that show people’s faces, and discuss what their expressions mean orget him to talk when you’re shoulder to shoulder, like walking together or sitting in the car which he may find easier than direct eye contact.”  


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This article previously appeared in Junior magazine as a print article

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