While common sense begs a “Yes!” answer to this question, it is still worth figuring out which things are truly essentially different between girls and boys. Not everything you hear assigned to gender is actually gender-caused; culture and birth order have a lot to do with development, as does parenting strategies and individual personality.
Yet anyone who has had both girls and boys in the same household will probably tell you they sensed at least some essential differences in their offspring, even very early on. Many differences can be covered up or accentuated, depending on the parents’ desires, but some things really do seem to pop up “straight out of the womb.” It is not politically correct to say so these days, because the idea of “different” fearfully leads to the stigma of “unequal.” But—sorry world—girls and boys are different!
I had three boys first, so I got to know boys pretty well. And they had three VERY different personalities and developmental tracks. But needless to say, I was shocked when my girl came on the scene. Here are some things I noticed by the 18-month mark:
Fine motor control: much earlier in my girl. She was actually very upset if she couldn’t hold her crayon just right at 15 months. Verified by my pediatrician as gender-related.
Imitation: the foundation of her learning style. By 18 months, she was imitating the way i put on my purse, how I brushed my hair and teeth, even how I hugged my husband or patted my boys. Without any direction on my part, she launched into imitating Mommy.
Detail orientation: sometimes mistaken for perfectionism (which my second son has!), detail orientation in my girl had to do with whether or not she was imitating something exactly right. If it was not exactly right, she’d whine until she got it or I helped her.
Relationship-oriented: stronger in my girl. While all three of my boys are charming, friendly, and loved attention (and one of them was a strong extravert), my girl “came out” interested in people and processes rather than stuff. Whereas my boys were glued to anything that moved or was shiny from the time they could crawl, and were always reaching for things, making things, or making noise, my girl was pretty disinterested in toys and preferred to be a pal, even from the tender baby months.
Food: pickier and less interesting for my girl. I am sure this is more of a toss-up because I see plenty of picky boys. But for example, whereas my boys got trained to have breakfast in the morning first thing (and would cry if I wanted to change them first), my girl was definitely less interested in breakfast and would just “pick.” She liked only one kind of Cheerios and wanted to be changed first, etc. And she spontaneously shared her food with us as if she cared less, which my very young boys NEVER did (they cried if we asked for a bite or tried to share). We usually had to feed her breakfast twice to make sure she got enough to eat by 10am.
Maternal nature: Immediately interested in babies, mommies, animals, and flowers. Patting, consoling, even trying to change her older brother’s diaper by 15months. Everything was “aww” and cuddly by 12 months. While my other boys each had a stuffed animal they HAD to go to bed with, and loved that one, my girl was the only one who considered a batch of stuffed animals to be satisfying “toys.”
Language: generally more communicative at a younger age. In my sons, I had one late talker, one on-time, and one very early talker. So it wasn’t the words per se that differed as much as the KIND of talking. My little girl was a huge requester and explainer by 18 months (i.e. cracker? bear? not thisside, overhere), even when she didn’t have words. My boys were bigger on nouns and comments (i.e. car, cat, hereyago, thereitis). They wer also much more repetitive when they learned something, practicing and rehearsing things like their letters, colors, and animals repeatedly. My girl learned less deconstructively, more in context, so less repetitive. She was always pointing and trying to get us involved in her successes/problems. My boys were more interested in our watching and praising, sort of more of a parallel or external involvement. (Everyone loved one on one time, though, and learning activities).
Touch/Proximity: our little girl had the love language of crawling on us from six months old. Everything still has to be on our laps or somehow touching our bodies!
Tenacity: this is another toss-up because it could likely be due to birth order, but my girl actually crawled earlier, walked earlier (9 months), climbed up better, did the stairs, and generally had a more tenacious attitude about physical milestones than any of my three boys. I think this was due to her imitative nature plus three older siblings, but I wonder if she had been a boy if she would have developed more on an independent timetable like my third son did.
independence skills: Whereas all my babies had to hang around Mommy taking a shower, getting dressed, and using the bathroom, my little girl was the first one to WANT to (routinely) brush her hair, brush her teeth, wash her hands, use the toilet, and get herself dressed. Toilet training my boys was like pulling teeth, but my little girl actually told me after she peed and ran to the toilet happily at 17 months. Can’t figure this one out at all.
Now I did not make this list to definitively describe girls from boys, but just to give you an idea of what I have seen in my own home. Today gender-related observations are rather taboo—except for height and weight, I have never had a doctor or psychologist give me two different expectations for my boys versus my girls. But it seems to me that ignoring gender is sort of ignoring the elephant in the room, so to speak. And I did enroll my little girl in a baby experiment affiliated with Boston University with professional developmental testing every three months, which also compared her development to her oldest sibling’s, so I am not making completely casual remarks here. But maybe you have noticed similar or contradictory things.
As a psychology and education student, I am most concerned with the timetable aspect of development which might differ with gender than I am with gender-linked traits. If your boys are sensitive and maternal, and your girls aggressive and risk-taking, then fine. But now that I have had four little ones right in a row, I am concerned that most developmental timetables I am familiar with are biased towards girls and against boys. My girl met all the deadlines right on time, my boys were more spotty. And we have a very educational and engaged parenting style! While i have met several moms concerned about their little girls’ development before age 3, I have met many more moms with boys who are. (With one exception, the moms with girls were first time moms.) So as a psychologist, I am convinced that many moms are fearing their firstborn’s and little boy’s development without cause. There is just no way that, on the whole, my boys developed as fast (all-around) or as communicatively as my girl. And I had one boy that was very precocious with speaking and emotional intelligence, even by 18 months, so I am not trying to cite the traditional language gap only. It just wasn’t the same, though. My girl had an intrinsically relational and imitative learning style which encouraged her independence skills at a far earlier age. And her learning was much more contextual and self-initiated than my boys’, who really needed more support or props to develop fully in all areas.