Is it more challenging to raise boys or girls? We asked Children's National pediatrician Lee Beers, MD, director of the Generations Program, about how girls and boys see and move through the world differently. Dr. Beers, who has a son and a daughter, acknowledges differences in the way their brains develop and their bodies grow, but cautioned against generalizing when comparing boys and girls.
Every child is an individual
When asked about the differences in girls’ and boys’ brain growth and how those differences affect behavior, Dr. Beers noted the emotional, physical, and physiological differences at various stages of their lives, but also emphasized how environmental influences and individual difference play a part.
“In general, boys tend to acquire verbal skills a little later and they tend to be more physical, particularly when they’re younger and express their emotions in a more physical way.” Dr. Beers said, “Girls tend to enter puberty and their growth spurt earlier. But when boys do, they tend to be taller and bigger and stronger.”
“There are differences socially in how they interact,” Dr. Beers said. “Young girls’ interactions between friends tend to be more relationship-driven, while boys’ relationships more activity-driven – boys are friends with others they play with on the same team, for example. Relationships formed with people who they do things with versus who they talk to all the time.”
The pediatrician noted that it’s important for boys and girls to “nurture relationships with other sexes so they can interact with other sexes in a healthy way.”
Some differences are detectable from birth
“Different personality types can be detected early on,” Dr. Beers said. “There are a lot of environmental influences as well. It’s important to be aware of them. Kids don’t grow up in a vacuum. They grow up with a certain set of expectations.”
Are little girls wired to be people-oriented and boys more action-oriented?
Boys tend to talk later than girls and early on have more trouble connecting feelings with words. As infants and toddlers, girls tend to maintain longer eye contact and draw with vivid colors to express their feelings. Boys are more prone to be physically active, but when girls are given a chance to explore, they also thrive in physical activities, according to Dr. Beers.
Is it more difficult to instill a healthy self-esteem in girls versus boys?
“When you look at the science, actually in early learning years, girls are either equal or more confident in math skills, but then when you start to get to middle school, that flips,” Dr. Beers said.
There’s a lot of evidence that girls are not really encouraged to excel in those subjects. That’s why you are really seeing more of a concerted effort. You have a lot of girls who appear to embrace a perceived bias that girls aren’t as good in math as boys.”
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach
“As a parent you have to pay attention to their personality,” Dr. Beers said.