Toddlerhood: Does Gender Matter?

By: Sheana Ochoa

When I discovered the sex of my baby, I had to shift my perception of parenthood like someone planning and preparing to go on holiday to Paris, but discovering it was closed and she had to go to Hanoi instead. It wasn’t going to be any less enchanting or adventurous, just different. The prospect of a boy was foreign. I felt unprepared. I had my Parisian itinerary down: I was a girl so raising a girl seemed inherent. But Vietnam! It was a whole new language and climate. I’d have to repack my suitcase for this trip.

Truth was, regardless of the sex, I was only really prepared for the birth and babyhood: doula or no doula, a natural water birth or a scheduled cesarean, the perfect breastfeeding latch, teething solutions, CPR for infants. The list goes on and on. I was prepared for having and taking care of a baby, but not raising a child. So I found myself at Borders buying a book called Gender Matters. Does it? The one part of the book I remember clearly is the author saying never to hit a girl, but that corporeal punishment was okay for boys of a certain age. I found that disconcerting but mostly it was all so abstract to me: how the male and female brain develops differently.

Now, with a toddler testing his independence by swatting at me and throwing food on the floor, I found myself wondering if girls did this too. When I asked friends with toddler girls, I discovered they do. My specific problem is my boy’s been in the 100th percentile of weight and height since he was two months old. He’s a 35 pound, 35 inch tall wrecking ball. The other day he found a broken end of a mop handle and whacked me in the back while I was washing dishes. Somehow, I think a girl would be less lethal at 22 months simply because she’d be weaker in comparison.

I called a child development specialist who wanted to know my discipline approach. I told him I consistently said “No!” in a stern voice to no avail and when I learned he was hitting the other kids at daycare, I resorted to swatting his hand (never in anger as the books told me). He said hitting him back sends mixed messages, not to mention the fact it didn’t work; my boy thought it was an exciting, added dimension to the game. I tried time-outs and then read that it was a form of abandoning your child to deal with his feelings all by himself, which would lead to fear of intimacy.

I talked to a family therapist who said I should say what I see, as in: “I see you’re frustrated because you can’t unzip that. I see you’re crying now. Do you want me to help you?” When I try “narrating” to my son, he gets even more aggravated because it’s taking longer to get what he wants. The behavior is getting worse: throwing himself on the floor, throwing objects at my face. So, I spoke to my sister who has raised two well-adjusted teenagers. She said give him a good squeeze and stare at him with a look that says, “Don’t mess with me.” This went against all my beliefs about corporeal punishment, but I’m getting desperate. I know he has to learn who’s boss. I know he needs limits, and is counting on me to set them. So, yesterday when he raised his hand to swat me, I squeezed his elbow hard. He cried, and I consoled him. A few minutes later he was mad at something new and was trying to take it out on me again. I guess I have to do this squeezing business for a couple of weeks consistently.

What I’ve learned is that different children have different temperaments regardless of their gender. I could have had a wildcat of a girl just as I have a brute of a boy. Or I could have had a sweet-tempered boy. At this age, I ‘m finding gender doesn’t matter all that much. When he turns two I expect to have to repack my bags again. The way it’s going now I might have to break out the insect repellant and first aid kit for the Brazilian Amazon.

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