I have been waiting for the right time to write this post. In the back of my mind, for the last year or so, I have had this feeling that baby development charts are for girls rather than for boys… and now, as my little girl turns two, I am more convinced than ever.
For the record, let me state that I have three boys, right in a row (5, 4, 3yrs), who are all very intelligent. They are very different from each other, too, and some developed ahead in areas where their siblings were behind, and vice versa. This is post is not about stereotyping or maligning boys. I love them, and they are very, very special.
But when my little girl arrived on the scene (last), I began to notice that observing her development was a different experience entirely than my boys’. Even my husband noticed, and he normally has no eye for these types of things. We mainly noticed that she needed hardly any “education” that our boys needed… just magically, she developed on her own, usually right on or before the standard developmental landmarks. Mere exposure seemed enough to teach her things. And she picked up vocabulary easily, like with one use of the word. We didn’t have to have little lessons with her, or teach her to talk, teach her to use her imagination, or teach her social/independent skills like how to come get Mommy when there was a problem. With little siblings to watch, she just picked them right up. Her language comprehension seemed way ahead, and she was able to follow one -step then two-step directions very early. She was even ahead (by months) in the physical timetable, walking by 10months etc. We didn’t have one worry about her development, and every time we checked in with her doctor, or we consulted a book, she was right on time.
This was just not the case with my boys, whom we worried over continually, at least in isolated areas. Even with my third son who had siblings to watch, there were still things to teach, to make sure he got, to clarify. Each boy had areas where we felt like we were constantly trying to make sure didn’t decline when we weren’t looking: with one boy, it was language; with another it was gross motor skills; with another, it was independence. And the charts, with their icons like “two words put together at two years old, three words put together at three…” were absolutely no help; I never saw that with anyone. We were very diligent about making sure we had educational toys, videos, and ways of interacting. And it wasn’t all for naught, nor was it bad! It was just different: my little girl needed almost nothing to thrive.
Now that my little boys are slightly older, and stronger in their initially-weak areas, I realize that the developmental charts caused more panic than necessary.Their development, as male, was simply different than female. My girl was essentially learning through relationship, imitation, communication, and observation. And she learns while multi-tasking (i.e. wants to sit in your lap, hug a bear, read a book, and have a movie on, talk to you, all at the same time). My boys essentially learn individualistically, through personal practice, by analysis, and order/sequence/rules. They process one thing at a time, not unlike my husband who can’t talk with the radio on, and do well with systems, routines, structures. My boys, even at 1 and 2yrs, had all kinds of skills not on the charts, especially in their strong areas, but were spotty in all kinds of areas for their first four years. And their verbal development is very different in nature than my girl’s, even though I had one early talking boy who is still very insightful verbally. I can see why it was harder for them to excel in some areas because they are more “in their own little worlds” than my girl is. They are also more singularly-talented instead of well-rounded, and personality-typed/consistent. Socially, they have higher walls to climb, and more carefully constructed inroads, than my little girl.
In fact, when reading special needs literature, I realized there was a careful (but important) boundary in describing the qualities of special needs children from just boys in general!! Many of the descriptions, especially in the areas of language and social skills, sounded like my boys at times; never about my girl. I believe this is why boys are so much more likely to be classified as autism spectrum or developmentally delayed. I am certain this is why so many boys end up in special ed preschool, compared to girls. They are more likely to be one-sided in development, harder to engage, and/or harder to teach.
So my conclusion, after six years of raising three little boys, and two years of raising my girl, is that we have to be careful not to pathologize our boys. They may be slower to mature than girls (at least, comprehensively) or in some way more delicate, more susceptible to autism and other disorders. But this should call us to perhaps reverse the de-genderizing trend of the world and re-discuss any patterns that are inherent to male development, versus female. Of course we don’t want to confuse personality, gifting, or birth order with gender. We don’t want to say girls can’t be aggressive or boys can’t be verbal. They can be! But the human world observes gender differences that the Academy seems adversed to. I would be interested in seeing if there is correlation of gender to learning style or processing style. And seeing if there are timetables that are more relevant to boys as opposed to girls, just as height and weight charts have long documented. Perhaps there will not be, and I will be proven wrong. But perhaps there will be, and the mothers of boys in future generations can be spared much anxiety as they have charts and milestones that accurately represent their sons.