No one knows whether it's nature or nurture that causes to boys and girls to behave differently. But researchers have discovered that parents can play a critical role in helping their children find healthy ways to cope with gender bias. Here's how:
What a Girl Needs
Self-Confidence: Encourage her often, using words that describe the characteristics that you want her to develop ("That was so brave of you to climb the steps all by yourself"). Let her know her that you have complete confidence in her, and that she's both bright and capable.
Self-Sufficiency: Make your little girl feel competent. Let her do whatever she can on her own--carry a cup of juice, brush her hair, or build a block tower without help from you or another adult. You can provide her with hints ("Here's a good way to make the blocks balance") or the necessary equipment (a stepstool to reach the sink), but let her accomplish tasks on her own.
Spacial Relationships and Coordination: Give her a variety of toys to play with, including trucks and cars, building blocks, water-play gear, a variety of balls, and playthings that she can ride or climb on.
Physical Fitness: Play active games with her, such as crawling, tag, wrestling, and horseplay. Even girls who are still too young for organized sports can benefit from the sense of adventure and excitement that comes from scaling the playground slide, running races, and turning a succession of somersaults.
Decision-Making Skills: Let her make choices, and urge her to take responsibility for the decisions that she makes. As a toddler, let her choose which cup or plate she wants to eat from and which friend she'd like to invite over for a play date.
Curiosity: Provide her with plenty of chances to explore her environment. When she's an infant or toddler, babyproof your home thoroughly so she can safely roam the house. Take trips out into the world--to the local library, the park, or the zoo.
Body Image: Don't focus on the importance of physical appearance. Talk to your daughter more often about what she can accomplish than how cute she is in her party dress.