Are Boys And Girls That Different? Experts And Real Moms Weigh In On How Gender Affects Behavior In Boys And Girls.

Are boys and girls really different? Your three year old son becomes upset because his little brother snatched his favorite toy. What does he do? Does he grab the toy back and hit his brother with it? Does he “use his words?” And is his reaction the same as your five year old daughter’s was when she was three? If you’re a parent to both boys and girls, you might notice a few or even several marked differences between the way your son and your daughter act. Most parents, no matter how gender-neutral they raise their children, will find that their opposite-sex children do not behave the same. If you believe that gender affects behavior, a lot of research supports you.
Laura Willard

Nicki Bradley had three boys, ages 12, nine and four, when she and her husband adopted their six month old daughter. All of her very involved, attachment-style and hands on parenting experience was with boys. She knew the ropes, had it all figured out…and then along came a girl! Three years later, Nicki says, “Parenting  Addy, after 15 years of parenting my boys, is an insane ride to me. She is just so…different. Very, very different!”

Nicki can easily list lots and lots of things that make her daughter very unlike her three brothers: Addy’s love of board games and her need to adhere strictly to the rules, her detailed and accurate drawings, her dislike of free time during structured activities such as gymnastics, her intense desire to learn to read at a very young age…and the list continues. Of course Nicki doesn’t have a preference for one sex over the other -- she is just amazed at the gender differences.

It's more than just a feeling -- they're not the same
Dr. Anthony Rao, an expert in child psychology who has spent over 20 years in the field, recently authored The Way of Boys: Raising Healthy Boys in a Challenging and Complex World.” Dr. Rao has both researched and observed children extensively and has concluded that there are in fact notable differences between the sexes. He contends that there are three main areas of variation between boys and girls that are noticeable from birth: eye contact, hearing, and motor activity. It only makes sense that these biological differences would result in dissimilar behavior.

1. Eye contact
Dr. Rao says that from birth, infant boys do not look at faces as much as girls and therefore do not make as much eye contact.

2. Hearing
Boys’ hearing is not as acute as girls’ in the range where speech discrimination occurs. Dr. Rao contends that as a result, girls pick up language earlier and better.

3. Motor activity
Simply put, boys move more! They are generally more exploratory than girls in the physical sense and tend to touch more.

What does it mean?
In Dr. Rao’s words, “Boys are not delayed! They are just stylistically different than girls.” The bottom line is that gender differences exist, but this does not make one “better” than the other. And, of course, don’t forget that there is great variability within each sex – there are certainly plenty of boys who want to read at an early age and plenty of girls who would rather play outside than learn the alphabet. These are generalizations that, while they may hold true for a great portion or children, are just that: generalizations.

Differences do affect behavior
How many times have you heard a mom say, “My daughter was so much more verbal than my son at this age?” During the early years, girls tend to have more advanced language skills. At the same time, you’ve probably heard parents who talk about their little boys being very active and loving to play outdoors. Well, different development means different behavior.  As kids progress through school, their actions will vary. Experienced teachers might tell you that during confrontation, girls are likely to use their words while boys are more likely to use, well, their fists.

How to approach parenting boys vs. girls
Parents tend to do a great job figuring out how to parent their children. However, realizing that there are real differences between the sexes might help you view their behavior ina different light. For example, Dr. Rao notes that elementary school teachers are predominantly female and as such, classroom education is, although probably inadvertently, set up to best accommodate girls.  Activities such as working in groups and sitting for longer periods of time are sometimes easier for girls. Dr. Rao feels like parents of boys should be aware of this so that they don’t mistake normal “boy behaviors” as disorders or behavior issues. Instead, parents can learn to work with their sons.

Likewise, we all know a lot of girls go through the drama stage during their later elementary school years.  They form cliques, name a “queen,” and maintain perplexing and sometimes unkind social situations. Dr. Rao says that at this age, girls can become hierarchical and powerfully emotional. It can be very intense for parents who were accustomed to their generally sweet daughters. At the same time, boys may show more aggression, impulsivity and assertion. As a parent, it is helpful for you to keep in mind that these are “normal,” albeit frustrating, actions for kids that age when reacting to and anticipating behaviors. Your approach to your daughter’s behaviors might not be the same as your approach to your son’s.

Boys or girls, they're our kids and we love them!
Even if you discover, as Nicki did, that parenting a girl after parenting boys, or vice versa, is incredibly different, one thing doesn’t change: we love our kids! It is perfectly normal to be challenged by some behaviors, especially when they are new, and just like you did with your first child, you learn as you go. Even with all of her years of successful parenting, Nicki jokes, “Sometimes have no idea what I’m going to do with this girl who makes me feel both proud and out of my element!” But like any great mom, she’ll do just what she did with her boys and figure it out as she goes. Differences make the world an interesting place.

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