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Caring For Boys Versus Girls

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Dear Elizabeth,
My 3-year-old son seems to be maturing later than his older sister. Do boys really mature slower than girls?
Kathleen Shetrawski
Elizabeth's Tips
Elizabeth Sanchez
Elizabeth Sanchez
Host
  • Boys and girls tend to develop, behave and learn differently
  • Encourage boys to express emotions, show affection and use communication skills
  • Emphasize intelligence and independence instead of appearance with girls
  • Set equally high expectations for achievement
Expert Advice
Michael Thompson, Ph.D.
Michael Thompson, Ph.D.
Psychologist
Do Boys and Girls Learn Differently?
There are too many variables involved to say that “Girls learn this way,” and “Boys learn that way,” but educators observe that boys have a harder time than girls listening to a lot of words. Girls tend to be more cooperative at the start of a task; boys may be more competitive and slowly become cooperative to achieve a goal.

When trying to encourage boys to learn, consider showing them rather than telling them. Use non-verbal cueing. Don’t always require them to sit still to learn. Boys can learn standing up and moving. Allow boys to work in groups and don’t discipline every infraction.

Biological Differences in Boys Versus Girls
Boys’ brains develop more slowly than girls’ in some ways. Boys may hear and see somewhat differently than girls. Girls’ hearing is more sensitive than boys’ hearing. Boys have more trouble hearing high pitched (women’s) voices than lower pitched (men’s) voices. Boys rely more on cues than voices. Girls are interested in faces while boys are interested in moving objects. Boys and girls are both more human than they are gendered; that is, when it comes to their psychology they are more alike than they are different. It is also true that individual variation, such as differences in temperament, mean that there is a huge range of what is boy and what is girl.

Developmental Differences
Girls, on average, take to language more quickly than boys, process language faster and use it more in their own social lives. Girls (on average) are more fluent verbally. Girls tend to have better fine motor skills.

Boys are, on average, stronger (greater ratio of muscle to body mass), have better gross motor skills---they throw a ball better. This may not be evident by two years old, but it is clear by four.

Behavioral Differences
Boys, on average, are more physically active, more impulsive and immature in comparison to girls of the same age. Girls are physically able to sit longer and listen to words. Boys are far more restless. By school age, three-quarters of the boys in the class are more physically active than ANY girl in the class. That is not as evident at two or three as it is by four and five. One-on-one competition and dominance seem more salient for boys than for girls.

Gender-Based Stereotypes
The most destructive stereotypes for boys are that they are born strong and tough and that they need to be treated in ways that will, “Turn them into men.” The most destructive gender-based stereotype for girls is that they need to be constantly protected.

The best thing you can do for boys is to teach them good manners and empathy for others. Empathy is what keeps someone from exploiting others. Also, encourage boys to show emotion and use their communication skills.

Challenge girls to take risks. Challenge them to hold the snake, handle the mouse. Encourage them to play sports competitively or swing on the high bar in gymnastics. Emphasize intelligence and independence instead of appearance with girls.
Child Care Provider Comments
Alma Martinez
Alma Martinez
Child care provider for 10 years
I have noticed differences between the boys in my care versus the girls. The typical boy thing is running around, jumping off the couch, throwing stuff, rough housing. They think it is fun. A typical girl thing is to sit down and look at books. I try to encourage both boys and girls to not fall into stereotypes. I encourage boys to show affection. I love to see the boys hug. I encourage girls to climb slides and have them hold their ground. I tell girls to tell boys, “I am using it” instead of letting a boy take a toy away.
Jonathan Weiss
Jonathan Weiss
Father of two
My wife and I are both believers in letting our kids be who they are and us facilitating who they are. We want them to do what they are interested in doing and be who they want to be irrespective of gender.
Venita Rhoden
Venita Rhoden
Grandmother of four
I try to encourage my grandchildren not to fall into traditional stereotypes. I have a playhouse and the children all have different roles in the playhouse. The boys play with the mom and kid dolls in the playhouse. We do role playing where sometimes Star plays the doctor, not the nurse. For Halloween one year, she wanted to be the doctor. She was the princess that morning and the doctor that afternoon. “I am every woman!” This is who I am and I am glad to be me. We go through saying, “I am glad to be me because…”

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Caring For Boys Versus Girls
Topic: Social & Emotional Development
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Related Episodes
Cross-Over Play
Culture & Child-Rearing
Resources
Parenting – “The Real Difference Between Boys and Girls”
Speaking of Boys: Answers to the Most-Asked Questions About Raising Sons
Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences
 
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