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Child Development 101: The Differences Between Boys and Girls

March 7, 2011
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Ask parents who have a boy and a girl about the differences in the early years of their children's development and you're likely to get an earful. It's not mom and dad's imagination that their son is more physically active and their daughter is the better communicator.

Research suggests many gender differences are evident from birth and may even be hardwired. Children begin to identify themselves as a boy or a girl as early as 18 months, and between the ages of 2 and 6, they start to demonstrate characteristic behaviors of their sex.

Here's what gender research tells us:

  • Girls start speaking earlier (at about 12 months compared to 13 to 14 months for boys). At 16 months, girls have as many as 100 words in their vocabulary, while boys have around 30. The gap begins to narrow by 2½, when both boys and girls can produce about 500 words.
  • From infancy on, boys show higher activity levels than girls. They squirm, kick and wiggle more than girls, and are more physically aggressive and impulsive, as revealed by studies of their brains. Not surprisingly, infant boys are more likely to end up in the emergency room with injuries, according to new research.
  • Boys' gross motor skills (running, jumping, balancing) develop slightly faster, while girls' fine motor skills (holding a pencil, writing) improve first.
  • Between rapid growth stages of infancy and adolescence, boys and girls grow in height and weight at about the same slow-but-steady rate. There aren't major differences between them until late elementary school, when girls start to grow taller, faster.
  • Girls are potty-trained earlier than boys, though it's unclear whether this is due to physical differences or if it's because mom typically handles potty training duties, which may make it easier for girls. In addition, fewer girls wet the bed.

Gender is only a part of what makes children who they are, but understanding the differences between boys and girls can help parents better support and meet their needs.

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