Though boys and girls are different, most psychological gender differences are malleable. Knowing how sex differences emerge is important if you want to reduce stereotyping and cross-train the minds of children to allow them to develop all of their abilities.

One example frequently heard is gender difference in verbal ability. The single most important factor that determines verbal ability is exposure to language beginning at birth. Several large studies in multiple countries have demonstrated that gender accounts for at most 3 percent of any variance in toddlers’ verbal abilities. What is important is that 50 percent of a toddler’s verbal abilities can be attributed to his or her environment and exposure to language.

Parents can, therefore, nudge the development of strong verbal skills in both their sons and daughters by immersing them in conversation, books, songs, and stories. To jump-start language and literacy skills, provide rhyming books or books with ABCs that link sounds and letters, a first step in learning to read. Language and literacy skills are more a matter of practice and education than some inborn potential.

Brain differences are unquestionably biological, but that doesn’t mean they are hardwired. Most gender differences start out small, and then experiences affect brain structure and function. The environment you create influences your child’s development and future abilities.

More to consider: Strong readers . . .

Girls often read more than boys. This extra practice results in higher scores on language proficiency tests. Environmental and experiential factors narrow this gender gap. Schools offering strong reading programs indicate that boys who read a lot are as verbally capable as their classmates who are girls.