She Says… No Girls Allowed

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?


10 responses to “She Says… No Girls Allowed

  1. As a mom with two girls and then a boy, they have been different since before they were born. He was bigger and stronger before birth. He was holding his head up as a newborn and pushing himself to standing almost immediately if we balanced for him. He walked sooner and climbed more recklessly. Growing up with sisters, he plays dress up and dolls, but not in the way the girls do. The girls, while different from each other, are more communicative over all, more nurturing with their dolls, and less physical than their brother.

  2. Eli were at the pool today and the only other people there were a mom and her three little girls. One was probably 4 and the other two, who I think may have been twins, couldn’t have been much older than Eli. Our time at the pool was spent splashing, throwing plastic animals into the water so we could swim out and retrieve them, climbing up & down & up & down the steps, blowing bubbles in the water, squealing and throwing Eli into the water. It was a very fun & rowdy time. The family of girls? There was a lot of sitting quietly playing on the steps with toys. Singing songs. Taking turns slowly swimming with Mom. It was all very sweet & quiet. I had to laugh at my wild man 🙂

  3. Interesting, I have yet to notice any differences in the way my little guy treats boys or girls. He has a special lovey that he has since identified as a boy but as far as interacting with other kids, I haven’t noticed much. Then again, maybe it’s because he doesn’t really have too many play mates (he’s not in a day care or sees too many all the time). He has a few friends and they’ve all been boys by chance!

  4. Most of my friends here have little boys and it makes me so glad to have a girl. Toddler girls are just easier. I can plunk Faith down in her booster seat with crayons and she can amuse herself for 30 minutes, but toddler boys are just go-go-go.

    Don’t worry, it will come back and bite me in the ass during the teenage years.

  5. This post and your last have really resonated with me. I have a two-year-old girl that is getting pushed and hit by one particular boy in her class. While the teacher remains concerned, his mother’s response is that he’s two and that he’s a rough, physical kid. We have a physical girl too (runs, climbs, chases, tumbles, etc) but she doesn’t react to her classmates the same way. It’s so frustrating that the first thing she does at school is cry because she has been shoved…again. Clearly, you are an involved parent and I hope that’s what makes the difference to the little girls in Owen’s class. It’s still important to teach social skills and appropriate behavior even if they are only two.

  6. Another good book about sex and gender is Pink Brain Blue Brain by Lise Eliot. ‘How small differences grow into troublesome gaps – and what we can do about it’. If you haven’t read this already I highly recommend it.

  7. This is something that has been bugging me for awhile now, as I watch my little three year old socialize. He is a VERY active boy and has been since he was born (lifting-his-head-at-two-days-old kind of kid!) He loves running, jumping, rough-housing, cars, trains, etc. – all those typical “boy” things. That being said, he also ADORES dressing up, playing pretend, singing, and dancing, and he’s incredibly sensitive to others. When we talk about his friends at school, he mentions boys and girls, and I’ve been happy with that mix, both in his personality and in his socialization. However, I’ve noticed that there has started to be a separation by gender in his little world and it’s been breaking my heart a little bit. It’s been typical practice all year in his preschool class that those who are having birthday parties have invited the whole class. Then we found out that a couple of the little girls in class decided to have “girl” parties. Now, this is all well and good and whatever; I get that some kids have stronger opinions about this stuff and that’s totally fine. The part that made me sad was the reason given to me by one little girl’s mom: “Well, we were having the party at a dance studio with lots of dress-up and dancing and stuff, and that just seemed more like a girl activity to me.” I was furious – based on what she said, it wasn’t her daughter who made the decision, the mother did. First of all, these kids are 3 and 4 years old – are we really separating them by activity THIS EARLY? Second of all, this particular little girl is one of Ethan’s best buds at school. AND – he would have LOVED a party like that. He would have been in his element! So yeah, I know there are inherent differences between boys and girls. But I hate to think that we, as parents, might be forcing these differences even farther. Really, I have SO many strong opinions about this, because this topic has so many far-reaching implications, assumptions, etc., and I tend to get prickly about it. As a mother to two little men, I’m realizing how much harder it is for boys to “cross over” to a “girl’s” activity, and what might be said about them if they do. 😦

  8. I definitely think there are differences. But, as several of all of you have noted, it’s all down to the individual. While definitely being stereotypical of a 3-yr-old girl in many ways, she’s also very obviously a rough and tumble kid. It’s been really interesting to watch because her two best friends are a girl who is *very* into princesses and a boy who is *very* rough and loud. She definitely interacts with them separately.

    Recently, one of her friends’ mom setup a playdate. The friend is a boy from her class. We got to the playdate and found the other invitees were two other boys from her class. The four kids had a blast playing slip-N-slide in the backyard and then racing around in a wild game of SuperHeroes and BadGuys. I’m really glad the other mom invited her kid’s closest friends, regardless of gender, because Miss A had a really great time.

  9. I think you are bang on with your feeling that it is likely his need for attention. It certainly can be seen as a common denominator in some of those incidents. I totally understand your feelings and how hard it is to know which side of the line to walk as they grow into these new areas of development. Yes they are not even 2 yet, so it’s unreasonable to expect too much from them, but at the same time we want to be clear to them what is ok and what is not. Frig it’s hard. Bottom line is that you are always great at tackling all challenges of motherhood as a good critical thinker with wonderful mother’s intuition skills and I know this will iron out, you know, in time for the next parenting challenge to come around! 😉

    Our day care is putting on a workshop called “Embracing Boys” which I’m really looking forward to attending. I’m on vacation right now in California (holla!!) and I was going to have to miss it, but it was re-scheduled until after we get back so I’m happy about that. In the meantime I think I’m going to pick up that book you’re reading!

  10. @Kristy, So interesting! Those are the “typical” boy/girl differences and it is still surprising to me how much truth there is behind those stereotypes.

    @Casey, I hear you! Our days are very much the same.

    @meridith, Thank you for commenting. It is incredibly helpful for me to hear from “the other side” — like the girls who Owen is resisting.

    @Helen, I hadn’t heard of that one, thank you for the rec!

    @Carly, I couldn’t agree more. Gender stereotypes clearly leave out the “gray” or crossover areas, and it’s not fair for the parents to be putting their gendered ideas into kids’ heads by selecting certain friends or activities. I could totally see Owen in this same situation when he gets a little older. This is an excellent reminder for me not to do the same to the girls, even as Owen is going through this period of “no girls allowed”.

    @Jamie, That’s a really good point that kids can choose to interact with different friends in different ways. It’s possible Owen interacts with the girls in a different way in his classroom. Either way, I totally agree that friends should be friends regardless of gender, especially at this young and impressionable age.

    @Angie, Thank you! What kind words. Motherhood is nothing if not one challenge after another 🙂

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