How do you explain the difference between a boy and a girl? - Mothering Forums
Life with a Toddler > How do you explain the difference between a boy and a girl?
ilex's Avatar ilex 05:19 AM 02-16-2003
My 21mo has, for awhile now, called all little people, irregardless of sex, a boy. When it is a girl she is speaking of I say..."that's a girl." and she repeats me. obviously at this age she can't quite grasp the concept of girl and boy, or the difference rather. But I was thinking today of how I am going to explain that one to her...rather than the obvious penis/vagina comparison what do you say? A bit tricky I imagine...Or am I forgetting the obvious?


simonee's Avatar simonee 05:29 AM 02-16-2003
My dd (3.5) says that the difference is that girls have long eyelashes, and boys have short ones :

She knows that boys have a penis and girls a yoni, but to her that's secondary. Even though the eyelash rule is often broken according to her :LOL

Don't worry, she'll figure it out.
ilex's Avatar ilex 05:47 AM 02-16-2003
oops, I meant to say Yoni. Still trying to unbrainwash myself...
Cindi's Avatar Cindi 05:54 AM 02-16-2003
A book I am reading now says kids don't usually differentiate between sexes until about three years. I think I would just say "that's a girl" and "that's a boy" to individuals and let ds tell me what the common thread is...I'm sure I could learn from him. Maybe if he asked outright "What makes a boy a boy and a girl a girl?" I would offer anatomical distinctions, at whatever level of understanding is appropriate at the developmental stage. But definitely I'd be more interested in what he thinks and would probably ask the question right back at him, What do you think?" and then respond to that. I also might add that there's not a huge difference, but girls can grow up to be mommies and boys can grow up to be daddies. (Like the Free To Be You and Me song.)

Simonee, the eyelashes are how drawings and animations show the difference. Do you think that's where she got it?

I have a friend who's 2.5 year old insists that she is the "big brother" and that her baby brother is the "little sister."
teachma's Avatar teachma 01:48 PM 02-16-2003
I agree with Cindi about letting the child determine the common thread after telling her the right name. After all, when a child learns any other word to describe a noun, we don't launch into complicated definitions of what makes it a whatever. Think of "dog" and "cat." Before he was a year old, my son used to refer to all 4-legged animals as dogs. I never explicitly described for him the specific anatomical differences between dogs, cats, cows, etc...but he sure figured it out, and pretty quickly! I'm not one for making a big deal over gender distinctions, either, so that could be part of it. My son still thinks he'll grow up to be a mommy like me, and I figure there are plenty of people who will ruin that one for him later, so I'm not about to do it now!
Marlena's Avatar Marlena 12:54 AM 02-17-2003
Originally posted by Cindi
A book I am reading now says kids don't usually differentiate between sexes until about three years.
To my shock, dd (21 months) is very good at differentiating between men and women (less so between boys and girls). She's picked up very well on gender clues (particularly on hair length), and distinguishes men and women in photographs in conventional magazines and so forth with good success. This disturbes me, frankly - she's internalized these gender cues SO EARLY. What have I done wrong, I ask myself. Is it because she has a Barbie? I must've done SOMETHING wrong....

However, on this n = 1 example, I do think the notion that kids don't pick up on gender till they're 3 or so is, frankly, not correct.
simonee's Avatar simonee 02:33 AM 02-17-2003
Cindi ~ no doubt on the animations and drawings!
kama'aina mama's Avatar kama'aina mama 05:54 AM 02-17-2003
hhmm.. Interesting. The boy/girl man/woman thing doesn't come up that much in my house and now I find myself wondering why. All children are "baby" so far (my daughter is 2 1/2) and most generic men and women are mama or papa. It's lovely to stroll through a department store and have her point at all the beautiful, airbrushed pics of models and call the Mama or Papa... sure.. me= Isabella Rosallini. I can live with that. Another intersting thing thus far is that race seems to have no standing with her. She calls that one model.. something Diggs (Tea?) Papa despite the fact that her actual Pa is a tall skinny white boy.
AmandasMom's Avatar AmandasMom 01:42 PM 02-17-2003
My dd, 2.5 has showered with both my husband and I since birth, so she knows that daddy is different them mommy. I just tell her that daddy's have a penis so they are boys, and mommy's don't have a penis so they are girls. But she just knows who is a boy and who is a girl. No idea how, just something instinctive maybe.
ilex's Avatar ilex 07:21 PM 02-19-2003
You are all such wise women! Thank you for your replies. I actually kind of figured that she would just figure it out like everything else. I guess I just wonder what could you say without planting some gender stereotype in their head? One of the reasons I asked was because I was wondering what if she asked me what is the difference, what would I say? But, I think she would just know instinctively, and it's just my brain over analyzing everything again.

It's a bit depressing to hear parents explain to their children what a makes a boy a boy and a girl a girl when those qualities are just generalized sterotypical traits or pigeon-holes and any human could have them.