Raising kids without gender stereotypes

Six tips from Pink Brain, Blue Brain:

  1. Stop parking babies in car seats, strollers, bouncy seats, high chairs, and electric swings. Babies need to stretch their limbs, develop balance, and learn to support their own bodies. Girls, especially, need more physical challenges early on to avoid falling behind boys during the preschool years.

  2. Legos for girls. Playing with building toys (not just Legos but more gender-neutral options like wooden blocks, Lincoln Logs, and K'Nex), especially translating a series of instructional diagrams into 3-D structures, helps enhance the visual-spatial skills linked to later math achievement.

  3. Continue reading aloud to children, especially boys, even after they can read to themselves. Boys tend to fall behind in reading during the school years, but they still need their vocabulary increased and their imaginations fueled. While girls are more apt to pick up a book once they can read by themselves, boys sometimes need help getting immersed in a good novel.

  4. Teach boys typing earlier (or let them dictate), so they're not limited in their writing and storytelling by poor penmanship. Fine motor skills develop earlier in girls, making them more agile writers. But boys need to be able to express their thoughts, even before they're proficient at writing them down.

  5. Get girls on the computer-and boys off. While boys are spending too much time playing video games, girls are not spending enough-they need to learn how to create and customize software and yes, even play fast-paced driving and targeting games (proven to help strengthen spatial skills, which again, is the one area of math that girls consistently lag behind boys).

  6. Don't banish boys-or let them run away-when company comes over. It's too easy to let a shy or awkward boy run outside or up to his room when guests arrive, but interpersonal skills need practice just like anything else. Use these opportunities to teach boys to say, "hello," make eye contact, shake hands, and try having a conversation.
About Lise Eliot:
Lise Eliot, a graduate of Harvard, received her Ph.D. from Columbia University. She is Associate Professor of Neuroscience at The Chicago Medical School of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science. The mother of two sons and a daughter, she is also the author of "What's Going on in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life."

In the past decade, we've heard a lot about the innate differences between males and females. So we've come to accept that boys can't focus in a classroom and girls are obsessed with relationships. That's just the way they're built. In PINK BRAIN, BLUE BRAIN, Eliot turns that thinking on its head. Based on years of her own work in the field of neuroplasticity, Eliot argues that infant brains are so malleable that small differences at birth become amplified over time, as parents and teachers-and the culture at large-unwittingly reinforce gender stereotypes. Children themselves exacerbate the differences by playing to their modest strengths. They constantly exercise those "ball-throwing" or "doll-cuddling" circuits, rarely straying from their comfort zones.

But this, says Eliot, is just what they need to do, and she offers parents and teachers concrete ways to help. Lise's scientific take on this controversial subject could put an end to the gender wars as we know them.
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