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What are the differences between raising boys and girls?

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Gender differences brother sister playing boy girl children siblings
Being a mum to girls can be quite different from being a mum to boys. Here's what to expect from the different genders when potty training, at mealtimes and with their behaviour as they grow from toddlers to children

Aggression

Any mum of a toddler will know just how strong their darling is, and some readily agree that boys do seem to be more physical. 'Boys will need extra help to control themselves and not hit each other and girls,' says Steve Biddulph, psychologist and author of a number of parenting books including The Secret of Happy Children and Raising Boys.

It's common to see boys at playgroup running around barging into everyone and everything, throwing bricks or biting. But if you look more closely, you're likely to see that the girls aren't any better behaved. Quite often, they're more sneaky when displaying their aggression. And when frustrated, they're more likely to be scratching, pulling hair and hiding toys behind their backs.

Sometimes boys have a tendency towards acting aggressively when they have lots of pent-up energy. So it's important to give them lots of space and time for exercise.' If your son ignores you when you're disciplining him, it may be possible to blame it on gender.

According to Steve Biddulph, one big difference between the genders is that young boys tend to have growth spurts, which affect their ear canals and can lead to periods of hearing loss. 'Sometimes they're not naughty, just deaf!' he says.

Potty training boys and girls

Experts say it generally takes longer for boys to learn how to use the toilet. Kirsty Ballantyne, a former nanny and now a nursery teacher working in Edinburgh, says that in her experience girls learn to use the potty faster than boys: 'Girls start showing interest from the age of 2, while boys I looked after began at around 3-31/2 years of age.'

Most boys learn how to use the loo sitting down first. Provide an alternative: dads or older brothers can show boys how to pee standing up, rather than sitting down.

Language development in boys and girls

When it comes to speech, it's accepted that girls generally develop language skills at a faster rate than boys and show more advanced skills. When many girls are using three to four word utterances, boys are more likely to still be at the single word or babbling stage.

According to Dr Sue Roulstone, Clinical Research Director of the Speech and Language Therapy Research Unit in Bristol, boys are more at risk than girls of developmental delays and language problems. 'There's evidence showing that boys are slower to talk than girls, and we're investigating data to try and unpick the differences between boys and girls,' she explains.

Experts agree that talking and listening to your child, regardless of their gender, will help their language development. Many boys are interested in things that involve motion, such as trains and cars, and will often find themselves repeating words in a story if they relate to these kinds of things rather than, say, teddy bears, which might not grab his attention. If you show a child something he's interested in, he's bound to take in more.

Some great tips to encourage your baby and toddler to talk can be found at www.talktoyourbaby.org.uk, set up by the National Literary Trust.

Boys and girls at mealtimes

According to the stereotypes, a boy toddler is the equivalent of a human dustbin who'll eat whatever's put in front of him. Obviously, there are exceptions, but Fiona Hinton, dietitian and manager of the Edinburgh Dietetic Centre and mum to two active boys, notes that with male toddlers, it's quantity that counts.

'In my experience, most boys tend to be more active and therefore they'll eat extra food,' she says. 'This is because they're using up more calories through active play.'
Girls tend to have a reputation for being fussier eaters. When it comes to food, gender seems to be less of an issue. But use your judgment. If your daughter is a slow eater or doesn't eat much during meal times, be patient and don't overload her plate.

As mothers and child experts will tell you, differences between boys and girls in some areas are apparent from a very early age. However, as well as gender, other factors such as genetics, the level of care provided for a child, personality and socio-economic factors also have a huge impact on how your little one behaves and reacts.

Where to next?

Read one mum's account of potty training her daughter

Are you thinking about moving your toddler from a cot to a bed? We've got all the facts.

Continued below...


More info:
Tempting food for small children
Six things you never knew about your toddler
Is it time to give up the dummy?

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