Boys and girls should be treated equally. But, does reality reflect this goal?


Jill Filipovic, a contributing opinion writer on politics, gender, and law for the New York Times, argues we socialize children differently depending upon biological sex. Late last month, she wrote: “Although they may not mean to, parents and other adults do treat girls differently from boys – often to the long-term detriment of daughters.”


Filipovic illustrates that girls are taught to be well-behaved, compliant and emotionally intelligent. She continues: “While girls are being taught to be emotionally competent, they also learn to be responsive to the needs of others – not a bad thing in theory, except that it can cross over into subservience. When boys aren’t learning the same, it’s adult women who end up serving as caretakers for adult men, both in their homes and in their workplaces.” This disparity of emotional education can result in consequences not only for adult women, but for all children’s emotional development.


Dr. Housman, founder and CEO of the Housman Institute, published an article last week demonstrating the connection between emotional competence and academic and life-long success. She articulated that “a child initially communicates through expressions of emotion, followed by rapid development of the ability to experience and express different emotions, as well as managing and coping with a variety of emotions.” Thus, when children are taught not to express certain emotions, we unintentionally stunt their developmental growth.


Adults play a fundamental role in children’s development of self-regulation and emotional competence skills: a process referred to as co-regulation. Given this demonstrated influence, we as educators, policy makers, and influential adults must be mindful of the way we socialize young children. By forbidding boys from exhibiting sadness, or, as Filipovic writes, not allowing girls “full expressions of rage or other unfeminine emotions when [they] are mistreated,” we fill their minds with the understanding that their emotions are wrong, inappropriate, or simply invalid. We convey the message that they should not experience the full range of emotions solely based upon their gender.


Drawing upon Sweden as a model solution, Filipovic proposes: “What could make a big difference is raising boys more like our girls – fostering kindness and caretaking, not just telling them to respect women, but by modeling egalitarianism and male affection and emotional aptitude at home.”


At our lab school, the Beginnings Child Development Center, our educators and staff understand the deep importance of emotional competence and expression for both boys and girls. Predicated on the understanding that emotion knowledge is a foundational competency essential to instill from birth, the begin to…ECSEL model intentionally integrates social and emotional skills with academic learning. As suggested by Filipovic, both boys and girls are expected to experience and articulate all emotions. Through this active adjustment of expectations, we can begin to shatter gender norms and help all children achieve an emotionally competent and rich future.