Child's behavior linked more to personality, not gender
BY NOUR HABIB World Scene Writer
Monday, October 01, 2012
10/01/12 at 3:55 AM
Parents who have both sons and daughters will tell you, often quite assertively, that there were differences between their children.
Their sons were more active, their daughters more dramatic. The boys didn't obey as well, the girls were whinier.
And some parents, depending on which of those traits they have a harder time dealing with, will make judgments on who was harder to raise. But a behavioral pediatrician and clinical professor with OU Physicians said parents have to be careful not to attribute a child's personality traits and the difficulty of raising that child solely to the child's gender.
Robert Hudson, who works with parents whose children are "not easy" - he doesn't use the word "difficult" because it implies children are purposefully misbehaving - said children's temperaments are based on how their individual brains are wired, not on their gender.
"The difference from child to child is more important than differences from gender to gender," he said.
Many of the qualities that parents attribute to gender can be traced back to stereotypes that society has assigned to those genders, Hudson said.
A parent whose son is immature will say it is because he's a boy, and one whose daughter is sensitive will say it's because she is a girl. These stereotypes, Hudson said, can cause parents to brush off certain behaviors rather than look more deeply into their child's personality to try to understand them.
But, as even Hudson concedes, stereotypes often are built upon at least an inkling of truth.
Several area parents shared their thoughts on the differences between girls and boys, based on their experiences with their children.
Natalie Woody has four children - an 8-month-old son, a set of 3-year-old boy and girl twins, and a 5-year-old son.
Before having kids, she'd heard from other parents that boys were harder to raise than girls while they were young but that girls became more difficult when they hit their teen years.
"So far, I have to agree with that," she said.
Her daughter can entertain herself for hours, whereas her sons have shorter attention spans and need more constant interaction. Her daughter is more perceptive and obeys her parents more quickly, while her sons have to be reminded to complete the tasks asked of them and usually won't notice if their mother is upset.
Woody said she thinks these qualities are inherent in her children because she and her husband treat their daughter the same way they treat their sons.
"We raised them the same," Woody said. "We give them the same discipline, the same praise, the same opportunities."
Rachel Bright, who has 3-year-old twins - a boy and a girl - said she also is having a harder time with her rowdy and less-obedient son. But unlike Woody, Bright had heard from friends that girls were more difficult because they are more needy and particular. Boys, she was told, were easier to please.
And Bright said that, although she wishes she didn't have to, she often uses different techniques with her son and daughter.
"She is much more affected in general when I'm upset," Bright said of her daughter. "When I raise my voice, she corrects herself immediately."
Because of that, she often doesn't get as many timeouts as her brother, who is less likely to obey.
Bright also noticed that she praises her son more when he does listen to her because it is less of a norm for him.
Parents say they've noticed differences between their boys and girls during their teenage years as well.
Sherri Lynn, whose children are now 25, 22 and 17, said her two daughters were harder to deal with emotionally than her son, who is the oldest.
"As girls get older, their hormones come in to play much more strongly and it becomes an emotional game," she said.
But she said her girls also matured faster than her son.
"He took longer to grow up."
While in school, she noticed her son was more interested in his social life than his schoolwork, despite maintaining a good GPA.
"Both my daughters were much more academic-oriented, and their social life took a secondary role," she said.
But although Lynn said she thinks there are inherent differences between boys and girls, she also believes each child has their own character nuances that should be respected.
As a kindergarten teacher, she saw that even children of the same gender were different from one another.
In contrast to what these mothers said and heard from other parents, father-of-three Glen Schmidt said his sons actually became more difficult during their teenage years.
"A 16-year-old boy has to be the most difficult person in the world to get along with," said Schmidt, whose sons are now 26 and 24, and whose daughter is 20.
At that age, Schmidt said his sons had "the whole attitude of, 'I'm smarter than Mom and Dad.' " They refused to share their problems and felt they could take care of everything themselves.
Girls go through the same phase, Schmidt said, but he said the attitude is spread over more years and never becomes as intense. Plus, his daughter was more emotional and shared more of her problems than her brothers did at the same age.
Amanda Morris, a professor in OSU-Tulsa's Human Development and Family Science program, said her studies have shown her that there are "inherent developmental differences that cannot be ignored."
She backed the claims that girls mature earlier than boys and that boys are often more active than girls.
She also said that boys and girls manifest aggression differently, with boys being more physical and girls employing more "relational aggression," such as spreading rumors or putting others down with words.
Tailoring to your child
Although noticing these differences can help parents in certain areas - such as being on the lookout for signs of emotional bullying when their daughters go to school, rather than just the physical signs they'd look for with their sons - Morris said they do not mean different parenting techniques are in order.
The same kind of parenting - authoritative parenting where parents are involved, warm and responsive to their kids while still putting in place rules and limits - is good for both boys and girls, she said.
"If you're involved with your kids, you know who they're with, you know what they're doing, you will recognize their needs and be able to tailor your parenting," she said.
Hudson said it is important for parents to look at their children as individuals, not as boys or girls.
Parents who have children of both genders should be careful when comparing their kids. Sometimes, he said, parents blame the child's gender for a certain "difficulty" that is really just a difference in that particular child's temperament.
When that happens, such as blaming a son's excessive energy and level of activity on him "being a boy," it delays parents from recognizing a potential problem and seeking help for it, he said.
"Pay attention to who the child is; see the weak and strong points," he said.
Original Print Headline: Boys and girls
Nour Habib 918-581-8369