Is it harder to bring up boys or girls?

It’s an age old question – is it tougher to raise girls or boys? Research reveals both sexes have their challenges and here is how to deal with them…


Challenge 1: Discipline

“Boys don’t listen”

“Sometimes I’d do just as well talking to the wall as to Charlie,” says Annie White, 29, from Oxfordshire, mum to Charlie, 3. And she’s far from alone. So what is it that makes boys seem to switch off when you’re trying to discipline them? According to research, one simple factor could be that, from birth, boys’ sense of hearing isn’t quite as good as girls’. A 2007 study in Stockholm of 30,000 newborn babies found girls’ hearing is, “slightly but significantly” better than boys.


What works with boys?

The key is to give boys clear, simple and concise instructions. Boys respond best when given targets, play breaks, lots of encouragement and praise, and rewards to keep them focused.

“Girls talk back”

Girls, on the other hand, are generally better at taking in what you’re saying. In her book The Female Brain, Dr Louann Brizendine explains that because girls study faces more, they’re better at reading non-verbal signals, such as tone of voice. This means girls are more likely to respond to what you tell them, while their brother is still digesting what you’re saying.

The downside, however, is that girls’ headstart in language means that many quickly learn to answer back. “Maisie sometimes acts more like a teenager than a 3 year old when I tell her off,” says mum Chrissie Johnson, 31, from London. “She always seems to have an answer for what she’s doing!” Indeed, it seems that girls may start practising very early – Belfast University scientists have found that girl babies move their mouths more in the womb than boys!

What works with girls?

Acknowledge your daughter’s wish to express her opinions by letting her make choices and decisions, such as what to wear or what fruit to have for a snack.

Challenge 2: Play & friendship

“Boys love noisy, boisterous play”

“It’s sad that we have come to think of boisterous as bad,” says parenting expert Suzie Hayman. “It’s isn’t – it’s normal!” Let’s face it, most mums of boys know all about their unstoppable noisy energy and their love of physical, contact play with other boys. “When girls ride trikes about, they’ll avoid obstacles,” explains clinical child psychologist Claire Halsey, ”whereas boys will make a point of crashing into and aiming at others.”

What works with boys?

 “Allow boys to let off steam and embrace their energy, rather than control it,” says Suzie Hayman. Accept short attention spans and boundless energy by focusing on the positives and creating lots of ways to help him feel capable, such as using reward charts. During the winter months, try fun indoor exercises, such as jumping and running on the spot.

“Girls fall out with their friends”

Pre-school girls have an enormous capacity to bond, often forming one or two close friendships. “Over the years, I’ve found there’s often more eye contact between girls,” says Sophie McCook, 35, from Inverness, mum to Cosmo, 9, Alice, 12, and Gabriel, 14. “Boys seem to run around in large circles, having lots of fun, but are less involved in being ‘nice’.” However, girls’ ability to tune in emotionally can also mean plenty of friendship ups and downs. “I find boys get over fights, if not instantly, then within days – but it’s not the case with girls,” adds Sophie.

What works with girls?

Set up lots of different play dates for your daughter, so she enjoys a range of social situations, as well as giving her the chance to develop close friendships. If she has fallen out with a friend, talk over what happened and encourage her to see the situation from her friend’s point of view as well as her own.

Challenge 3: Behaviour

“Boys can be aggressive”

According to education expert Michael Gurian, boys have higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which inhibits aggression and impulsivity. This can make boys seem more volatile and impulsive. They can also have more difficulty in linking words with feelings. According to Claire Halsey, “Boys often express their hurt or anger through hitting, tantrums and aggression, known as ‘acting out’.” 

What works with boys?

Lead by example and encourage your son to talk about his emotions. When you read a book to him, ask him how a particular character is feeling, and at the end of the story, how he himself is feeling. Let him know it’s OK to be honest and open about both positive and negative feelings.

“Girls can be moody”

Girls, on the other hand, often ‘act in’ when they’re feeling frustrated or hurt, and may become withdrawn and look sad. “I find Carly’s moods quite difficult,” says mum Tracey Johnson, 26, from Wolverhampton, mum to Carly, 3, and Chris, 4. “She’ll become miserable and will stay like that for half a day. Her brother, Chris, is much more black and white. If he’s upset, you know it, but it all blows over in a matter of minutes.”

What works with girls?

Girls tend to be more eager to please than boys, so show that you believe in her. Encourage her with comments such as, “Getting dressed is hard, but I know you can do it!” Praise her personalitys, so she knows it’s who she is inside that matters.

Mums’ stories

“Life with Joe is one long, loud, fast adventure. He shouts rather than talks, can’t sit still for more than a minute, and rarely does what I ask. I don’t think he’s being deliberately naughty, he just doesn’t have self-control – there’s always something more exciting to do. His sister, Carrie, on the other hand, has always been happy playing quietly with her toys and loves ‘being good’ – which is not something Joe ever really worries about! Then again, Joe brings a lot of fun and laughter into our home.”

Sheryl O’Malley, 30, from Durham, mum to Joe, 2, and Carrie, 3

“Maybe I find Daisy harder because we’re so similar: we both challenge things, which causes conflict. Also, I think we’re harder on Daisy and expect more from her as she’s the eldest. I think she tries harder, whereas Jay is more carefree. As for play, he’s been keen on things that ‘go’, ever since he first saw a ball roll past. But for Daisy, play is all about socialising, and she’s far keener to play with someone.”


Antonia Chitty, 35, from London, mum to Daisy, 6, and Jay, 3


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