Developmental Differences in Boys and Girls

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Pink and blue, dolls and trucks. Girls and boys may not be as different as toy aisles make them out to be. Not all girls like ballet and nail polish, and not all boys want to grow up to be firemen and football players. However, research indicates that they aren’t exactly blank slates, free of gender predispositions, when they are born. For example, a girl raised to be rough-and-tumble may end up a tomboy, but she is also still likely to excel at skills unique to girls. Parents should be sensitive to their children’s unique attributes while keeping in mind that gender does make at least a small difference.

Physical Development

According to the BabyCenter website, boys and girls grow physically at a similar pace until their late elementary years. In late elementary school, girls generally gain height at a more rapid pace than boys, but in a few years, boys hit their growth spurt and grow taller than girls. Whereas girls grow about 3 inches in a year, boys grow between 3 and 4 inches in a year.

Motor Skills

Boys develop gross motor skills such as running and balancing at a slightly faster pace than girls, says BabyCenter online. Girls develop fine motor skills such as writing and holding a pencil at a faster pace than boys. According to the 2009 edition of “Child Development Principles and Perspectives” by J. L. Cook and G. Cook, boys tend to show higher levels of physical activity than girls from the time they are infants until later in life. Since girls are less active and since they develop fine motor skills faster, they may be at an advantage over some boys when it comes to school.

Spatial Skills

Although differences in most skills are generally insignificant—and some have actually changed due to the way society treats people based on gender—one major difference between the genders is that males perform better than girls on tests of spatial skills, according to Cook and Cook. One example of spatial skills is the ability to mentally envision an object if it were viewed from a different angle. Boys begin to excel at this between the ages of 9 and 13 years and into adolescence.

Language Skills

Although males have the upper hand when it comes to spatial skills, females excel at verbal and language skills. Anita Sethi, Ph.D. writes on Parenting online that girls have a tendency to talk at an earlier age, use more words, and exhibit a higher level of language understanding and language complexity than boys in their early years. For example, girls tend to produce up to 100 words by age 16 months, whereas boys of the same age may produce around 30. This extends into the school arena, where writing, spelling, and overall language tends to come easier to girls than boys. Some differences in these skills diminish over time, but skills such as writing remain consistently advanced through the years.


Girls mature into teenagers and adults faster than boys do, according to BabyCenter online. Some girls begin puberty, developing breast buds and pubic hair around age 8, but others may not start until around age 12. Girls then have a growth spurt and menstruate within five years of developing breasts. Boys don’t generally see the first signs of puberty (testicular enlargement, then penis growth and pubic hair) until around or after age 9.