At pickup yesterday I asked Owen’s teacher if the “No”, “Push”, “Bite” behavior was limited to certain friends. The reason I asked is that I only really hear him say one or two names in those blanks. He talks a lot about other friends in more positive ways (building towers with Tristan, pretending to have a pickpick/picnic with Caleb, hugging Jonah), but I always hear the same two or three names when he reenacts the “No ___” behavior.
As it turns out, there is a theme.
Owen only resists girls. (At least at school. I’ve seen the “No” and “Push” behavior on our public playground with older boys as well, which I think stemmed from being scared by their size and speed.)
If Owen were older, I think this would upset me. Picking on girls? Being mean to girls because they are… girls? Inappropriate. But, as he is not even two yet, and is only juuuust beginning to understand there are any differences at all between the sexes, I don’t think I will rush to blame it on latent sexism.
Instead, I think it is yet another example of how wrong I was when I used to think that boys and girls start out exactly the same and culture changes them into the distinct genders we accept as adults. Growing up at an all girls’ school with tons of positive female role models, I was taught that girls could do anything boys can do. We are equal.
But what it took me a lot longer to realize is that equal doesn’t mean the same. (And, you know, the complex relationship between sex and gender. That’s another issue altogether.)
In high school and college I would bristle at statements like “men do X and women do Y“. Even throughout my masters program and in the workplace now, I have a hard time reading articles about how women lead like this and men lead like that. I hate drawing lines on gender. I always want to raise my hand and say, “But men can lead like this, and women can lead like that, so why are we talking about gender at all?”.
But having a son and watching my nieces and friends’ babies has opened my eyes to the differences between the sexes that exist even in newborns. And how respecting those differences, rather than trying to eliminate them, can benefit everyone.
In the very little time I have in my life to read, I’m currently in the midst of reading “It’s a Boy“, by the same author as “Raising Cain”, which I’ve heard is outstanding. This book explores the way that boys develop and how parents can support their growth by understanding what their brains and bodies are going through at each age/stage. I’m reading the toddler section right now and it talks a lot about how boys are often kinesthetic learners, meaning that they learn by moving their bodies. The pushing, and even biting, is Owen’s way of learning about his environment. He’s testing limits, physically and mentally. He’s engaged in his learning when his body is engaged. This is especially apparent to me when we are in music class together and he is tapping and dancing and repeating hand motions. He learns best when he’s moving. While I would say this is universal to toddlers as a group, I think it is often even more so for boys.
This physical learning style combined with the fact that most girls tend to develop language skills earlier than boys sets up an interesting dynamic in a toddler classroom. The kids are communicating on different planes. Owen is very advanced in the verbal arena, but he’s still a boy at heart (SUCH a boy, as evidenced by his wild and fearless physicality and need for space to climb and jump and run around).
So I’m going to watch and see how this “no girls” thing plays out. It’s possible he just identifies more with the boys since they learn and play in similar ways. Someday he’ll need to learn that he can’t pick on girls just because they are girls, but I think we have a long time until that lesson needs to be learned.
Have you noticed gender differences in young kids? Does your child align with the typical “boy” or “girl” characteristics?