Blue for boys, pink for girls: We often use this to express the difference between the sexes shortly after birth. Children usually adopt “sex-typical” behavior from their parents – and do so at a very young age.
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Quiet and quiet or loud and excited: Girls and boys define themselves differently even as children. According to behavioral researchers, hormones are to blame. But the upbringing or expectations one has of the gender in question also affects children.
The truth is that genes and behavior cannot be separated. “By nature” neither girl nor boy behaves. Much of what distinguishes women from men can be traced back to the first years of life. They shape how children identify with their gender and what role they depend on.
An attempt to decipher seven typical behavioral patterns:
Boys are more impulsive than girls
Even when they are children, many boys act louder and more demanding than girls. The reason for this is the sex hormone testosterone. “The amount is much higher after birth than in girls,” says Reinhard Winter, a gender researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences in Tübingen. This ensures that the reproductive organs develop according to biological sex. During the first year of life, testosterone levels drop again. However, boys often remain the most impulsive and active children.
In addition to the innate differences, breeding comes from birth. “Many parents raise their children according to gender, as they would expect,” Winter says. If the boy showed his strength and was favorably recognized, then he wants to experience more. This works for girls too. Only: “Girls can regulate impulse control faster. Then they automatically become more rational.”
Car owner or doll mom
From the age of one, girls pick up dolls and boys catch cars. “You can play in a more differentiated way with a doll and a bag,” says Gabrielle Hogg Schnabel, who directs the Human Behavioral Biology Research Group.
For boys who drive back and forth, play is often limited. Expert Winter recommends expanding the game: “So there are not only cars crashing, but also a hospital where injured drivers recover so they can go home and cook together,” he says.
Craft scissors or football
There are also differences in sports and creative exercises: boys are more interested in climbing, football and body-oriented games. Girls love to design creative things with scissors. “This increases until school age, when gender stereotypes are promoted,” says Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist Ines Brock of Hull (Sal).
In kindergarten, when youngsters have their first group experiences, alternative performances are important. This is how they both train their weaknesses. To make sure play areas are exciting for both sexes, behavioral biologist Haug-Schnabel recommends adding them. “For example, combine woodwork, trim, letters, and numbers,” she says.
Tradition secures identity
Whether you’re a boy or a girl, kids only learn over time. “Kids between two and three years old can categorize adults by gender, and only then rank themselves,” Winter says. From the age of three, gender becomes closely related to identity. “Children look for all the stereotypes in their environment that make it easier for them to categorize them,” he says.
Adults of the same sex, such as mothers, fathers and educators, play an important role in this. “They’re trying to secure their identity with their copycat behaviour,” explains Ines Brock. It’s more difficult for the boys. “Because of the large increase in the number of female caregivers in nurseries and school, it is difficult for them to feel at home because of their masculinity,” she says. As a result, boys orient themselves more toward boys of the same age than girls, according to Winter.
The psychologist advises: “If there are male teachers, they should do crafts with boys and not play things for boys.” This is how they get to know a different kind of guy. This also applies to parents: “The new generation should feel at home with a new role model.”
Clothes as a gender sign
What kids love, they also show with their clothes. Pink or blue T-shirts, decorated with unicorns, dinosaurs, rainbows or fire trucks: Researchers know that children use the task they have learned to identify themselves. “But we have to be sensitive about that, so that a boy who wants to dress like a princess isn’t criticized, just like a girl who doesn’t want to wear a skirt,” says Ines Brook.
Girls learn from adults that clothes decorate. “If you tell them, ‘You dress nicely,’ it shapes their affinity with good looks,” says Gabriele Haug-Schnabel. “Boys learn that clothes have a function. They’re told a lot more than that they’re in real literal pants,” she says.
Is fighting just for the boys?
Young girls often hesitate when it comes to a new challenge. Boys are different. They love competitions and enjoy winning. “What makes boys’ groups is hierarchical,” Brooke says.
The reasons can be inferred from anthropology: “Because of their physical stature, men have always been the ones who defended their families and members—and this still has an effect today,” she says. This also explains their desire to fight and wrestle. “You can satisfy the need, but when you get into a fighting tendency and socially unacceptable manly behavior, we have to step in,” Winter advises.
Girls orient themselves equally. Gabriele Haug-Schnabel knows that if they show themselves as fighters, they have same-sex role models. Above all, these are grandmothers and mothers who want the best for their families.
“Man’s word, woman’s dictionary”?
Girls act somewhat more people and relationship oriented than boys and talk more. One reason is the somewhat faster maturation of the brain, and the other is the early study of people. “Even while nursing, girls stay on their faces longer,” says Ines-Brock. As a result, they see moods and speech more clearly.
In order not to confuse the boys, short and clear ads help. “Long explanations or relationship appeals rush into the past, and they can’t quite understand what is meant,” Winter says. This also helps boys with attitude or posture. “If the mother positions herself lovingly but clearly as the principal, the position is clear: it is worth following,” he says. On the other hand, long ads look uncertain, so resistance is worthwhile.