Who's harder to raise, boys or girls?

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

If I had to answer this question based solely on my own experience, I would have to say ... girls. My daughter, who is now 10, was a tough one when she was younger. Lots of whining, crying and pouting.

She was determined to do everything herself, and if anyone tried to help her - let the screaming begin! Since then she's been a delight. But check back with me in a few years.

My son, who is now almost 16, has always been very agreeable and pleasant. Disciplining him never required much more than 'corner time'. We (I hope) have already overcome the back-talk stage, which for him only lasted a few months when he was around 13.

Kathryn H. Leugers, Psy.D., MBA, with Meers, Inc. Consulting Psychologists in Columbus said that how parents handle our cultural gender stereotypes can have a significant impact on how their child views boys' and girls' roles. "Early in your child's development, it is often helpful to consider your views on gender and what you want your child to learn about what it means to be a girl or a boy," she said.

Jackie Martin is a kindergarten teacher and mother of twin 8-year-old boys and a 10-year-old daughter. She finds that girls tend to take discipline more to heart, whereas boys are usually able to slough it off more easily. "When [my husband and I] discipline our kids, [my son] Andrew will quickly say 'Sorry-can we play Legos now?'," she said. "It's hard to get much emotion from him. Our other son, Duncan kisses us, says he's sorry and that he will never do it again. Then he's off to play. Our daughter, Kayana, definitely takes discipline more seriously."

Stacy Miller, licensed professional clinical counselor with Sawmill Family Arbor Counseling, said that parents may approach discipline differently with boys and girls. "When a girl cries, parents tend to sympathize with her," she said. "However, when a boy cries, parents tend to verbally or non-verbally expect them to be 'tough.' Girls' hearing is more sensitive, allowing them to usually respond better to verbal warnings or words. Boys seem to respond better to more non-verbal, tangible discipline."

Belinda Williamson is the mother of two boys, Cody, age 23, and Miles, age 8. She says her oldest son still talks about the look she gave him as a child if he did something wrong, which he called 'the death-stare.' "That look was about all it took for him," she said. "If I did have to punish him for something, once was usually all it took. He was especially bothered if he thought his grandparents would find out what he did."

Williamson said 'the death-stare' doesn't faze Miles. "The main punishment that works for him is to take away one of his favorite toys," she added.

Miller feels girls have an easier time communicating with their parents because girls have broader vocabularies and can connect words with what they are feeling emotionally. "One of the most important things parents can do to nurture a child of either gender is to help them talk through what they are feeling and help them deal with those feelings in a healthy way," she said.

When communicating with their children, Jackie's husband Steve finds that boys are usually less serious about topics. "If you can get a good fart or burp joke into the conversation, then you've got it made," he said.

Williamson has found communication with each of her sons to be easy. "With Cody, I raised him as a single mother, so we were each other's company," she said. "He was very advanced in his communication skills, was good at expressing his feelings and had more adult viewpoints."

Leugers said that children begin to be aware of gender differences in the toddler years. "During the preschool years, boys and girls begin to show a preference for different types of toys and styles of play," she said. "For example, girls often show a greater preference toward play that involves nurturing activities and playing with one child at a time, while boys tend to prefer group activities."

Williamson agrees that boys are happier in packs whereas girls tend to have one or two best friends. "Boys aren't so into cliques with their friends and enjoy playing in groups," she said.

Play at the Martin household tends to be a wild free-for-all. "I've noticed that play in boys and girls is truly more of an individual kid thing," said Jackie. "Kayana loves to run. Duncan doesn't like running. If Andrew can do some kind of play better than [Duncan] can, then Duncan doesn't want to do it. If kids can find some kind of play that they are good at, then that is what they enjoy playing."

Miller said boys show higher activity levels and seem to play rougher than girls do. "I think that the choice of play depends often on genetics for girls and environment for boys," she said. "Boys tend to be more aggressive and confident in exploring new areas, they also tend to be bigger risk-takers than girls."

Molly Milligan is the mother of three girls ages 7, 11 and 14. She is a former high school teacher and currently a home educator and grammar/writing tutor. She said that power and control seem to be central in boy play, whereas her girls have always liked to do more quiet things like role-playing. "They pretend to have lots of babies and give them all names," she said. "They also like to pretend they have a library, and my youngest, Eva, likes to 'work' at the library."

Milligan's oldest daughter Clara babysits for families in her neighborhood. "The little girls I babysit like to play things like My Little Pony," she said. "The boys just want to come in and destroy the things the girls are playing."

Obviously, there isn't one right answer. The bottom line is that each child is unique - boy or girl - and it's our goal as parents to embrace and cherish those differences.

Jan Myers is a freelance writer and mother of two children, Maxx, 15 and Maggie, 10.

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