Contributed by Dustin Rhodes --
Over the course of the last 20 years, I have raised four boys and one girl. I am by no means an expert, even though many people ask me for parenting advice. This article is a snapshot of what I have seen in my own children and the children of friends that I have been lucky enough to watch as they grew into adults. Sequentially speaking, I had three boys before my little girl showed up. She was followed by my fourth and final son. I was always under the assumption babies are babies and kids are kids. They are, for the most part, but there are definite differences between little boys and little girls. My little girl really has no interest in 'How things work' on a very basic level. My eight-month-old boy attempts to take everything apart and manipulates objects constantly. I can only surmise he is trying to figure out 'How it works.' All of my sons have been the same way, also constantly in motion, constantly exploring. They are unable to sit still even for a moment. My little girl, on the other hand, is happy to sit for long periods of time with a doll or tea set. Quietly sitting for durations of stillness that would make a monk envious. My boys were and still are somewhat affectionate, but I see with myself and my wife they are prone to independence. My little girl is always happy to hug, snuggle, give kisses, and be tickled. Both little girls and boys are loving and playful, but the boys like to rough house a lot more. My daughter is easily distracted by shiny objects. Hmm, imagine that! My sons are more into texture and weight, things with wheels, and things that make noise. My little girl will sit and quietly talk with herself and her stuffed animals. Meanwhile, my son puts a silent stalk on the same 'animals.' This is not to say my daughter doesn't enjoy the feeling of moist dirt on her hands or cool grass beneath her bare feet; she does. She rarely wears shoes during the summer months. She is just 'softer', whereas her brothers are 'harder.' Ah, the beautiful differences!
Below is a summary from a friend who raised two girls and one boy, all successful college graduates.
Girls are light, and boys are heavy. My daughters were like feathers, and my boy was like a sack of bricks. Don't over spoil girls by carrying them too much.
Girls aged 3-5 begin to look to fathers for approval (validation) and look to moms on how to be a woman. Boys look to dad to learn manhood and go to mom when they need comfort. Your best chance to influence their lives is from newborn to 6 years old. Establishing discipline and limits of behavior during that time will go a long way into the young teen years when they start going crazy. If you don't get it done by six, it will be exponentially more difficult by 10.
I tried to get my daughters to play with toy planes, trucks, guns, cars, etc. They played with those things somewhat, but when they saw Barbie, that was it. I think they're born with about 30% of their personality. The other 70% is malleable with experience and teaching.
Girls are naturally nurturing, and boys are aggressive. When a girl sees a bug, she'll want to take care of it. When a boy sees a bug, he'll step on it. Boys deconstruct things, break them and re-arrange them. Don't try to stop boys from doing these things, but help mold their judgment and show them when it's best to be aggressive and to what degree.
When girls get to be 8-10 years old, the relationship with their dad is very important. A close relationship lays a foundation for their self-esteem. As a dad, you love them unconditionally just for who they are. You don't love them in exchange for anything or to get anything. A little girl realizes this and knows that she is valuable and important. This does not mean spoiling them or giving them everything they want. There must be discipline and standards for conduct and behavior, along with unconditional love.
It's important to spend one on one time with daughters. Take them to dinner, to the zoo, or on bike rides. Spending your time with them shows how important they are, and you show them how they should be treated. This will help them realize that they should never accept or deserve mistreatment. This is also time to show them in real-time more about morals and conduct of behavior.
Do whatever you can to show them places, experiences, and situations. Get them learning and experiencing toys, not entertainment devices. Get them to museums, crawling into planes, boats, and trains. Take them camping and canoeing. These are the things that develop and mold them. Girls will like most anything as long as the family or their brothers/ sisters are along. By about 12-13 years old, they will start getting particular about what they want to do.
Daughters will learn to manipulate dad. We want to treat them like princesses, and we enjoy doing it. But we have to communicate what the limits of conduct are and stick to them. Caving will only make it worse. Although they may fight you and appear angry, if you stick to your guns and uphold discipline, they realize how much you love them. Parents who let their kids do anything don't realize that the message they're sending is one of not really caring. Daughters really pick up on this. Mom is good at stepping in on manipulating daughters because she knows exactly what's going on, and the daughter knows that she knows.
Check out their friends. If you raise them right, they'll seek the right friends, but it doesn't always work out that way. Their friends may appear "nice" but are really not so. Meeting their parents will also give you tremendous insight. This starts to get very important around age ten and older. Bad friends are like a bad virus; they will undermine what you are trying to teach your kids. I believe rotten little girls are more seriously damaging to your daughter than rotten little boys are to your son. Make sure your daughter is not around spoiled and rotten little girlfriends. As soon as you see bad changes in their clothing and attitude, immediately put the brakes on that.
I still hug my daughters, and they still sit on my knee. That link is unbreakable. At times, 13-16 years old, they don't want to always hug you or hold your hand all the time. They are growing up and do need to start a separation from dad. But I will never let that link be broken. It takes more work at this point but do it.
Learn the social media devices and be proficient. Daughters seem more drawn into this and much sooner than sons. All devices should be tracked and monitored. When you find an undisclosed account, conduct counterintelligence and monitor it. What I call subversive behavior starts very subtly. You may see this on facebook sooner than you would openly to your face. This will also help you find the bad apple friends. Your kids should know that when you call, they pick up the phone. This will drop off when they're in college, but at least they should return your call. Make this a point.
The one-word Mantra for raising children is 'Consistency.'