I was waiting for my daughter outside nursery and had my 15-month-old son in the buggy. There was a little girl next to us, a few months older than my son, and I got down to her level and starting asking her questions. She nodded her head, used the words that she knows to answer the questions she understood and giggled.
When her mum came out of the nursery I commented on how well her daughter is speaking. And then I thought: hold on, would my son be talking more if I got down to his level and asked these same questions; if I gave him the same opportunities to converse?
We have different expectations for girls and boys
It’s very hard to determine whether gender differences are based on biology or conditioning. Most research reveals that it’s a mix of both. Hormones may play a part. Brain size might too.
But when it’s drummed into our minds, by society, that boys are active, while girls are passive (and chatty), it becomes difficult to ignore this and treat them equally. And so how can it ever be fairly tested, when we make gender assumptions from birth – and treat them accordingly?
There’s an additional layer of complexity with my son, because he’s also the second-born. So I definitely talked more with his older sister, as it was often just the two of us. My son came into a family of three so has never been the sole focus of our attention.
So where the child is born in the family might have an impact on their speech and language development – the more we speak to them, the more likely they are to speak. But with a demanding toddler (who can already speak), the younger child is often a little sidelined.
There is definitely a gender issue here, though. I felt myself playing to it, with that girl outside nursery, and I see other families doing it: going for a coffee with their daughter, and ‘chatting’, then taking their son to the park to ‘let off steam’.
And it then feeds into the toys we buy them. Footballs and cars for boys; dolls and books for girls. We build various layers that perpetuate the gender stereotypes. It goes from being an expectation to being a life we are carving out for them (clothes, play, activities).
And when the kids start making friends, of the same sex, who are being exposed to the same expectations, it further imprints. It becomes ‘normal’ for girls to love fairies, unicorns, princesses and dolls, and for boys to be into superheroes and action men.
It’s no wonder, then, that so many of us quote the old adage: ‘girls talk, boys walk’. As soon as they’re born, we’re expecting boys to be able to run, climb and kick balls. And girls to sit quietly, play with dolls, and have intellectual conversations with their mummies.
Now, excuse me while I go and have a big chat with my son before we go to collect his sister from nursery…
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Copyright or Author: Annie Ridout
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