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Girls better regulated, more successful at school

Have you noticed that preschool-age girls are more attentive and controlled than boys? A new study has affirmed this, along with the fact that these behaviours lead to better academic performance.

Researchers from Queensland University of Technology analysed teacher-reported behaviour of children in the first two years of school, taken from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children.

They found that not only did boys have less self-regulation, they were also more badly behaved than girls. Such “problem behaviours” included hyperactivity, antisocial conduct and emotional outbursts.

As a corollary of this, girls performed better in language and literacy tests. Though the QUT researchers have yet to test this, prior research shows that, longterm, boys continue to trail girls in language and literacy.

This matters because, as study co-author, early childhood education professor Sue Walker, put it: “By grade five, if a child doesn’t have sound literacy, he or she can’t engage in school learning”.

Walker speculated as to why girls might be better self-regulated: “If parents read to their child every day, this can aid self-regulation through the acts of sitting down and focusing”, she said. “Parents are possibly doing this more with girls.” She added that girls’ enhanced self-regulation may also be due to their social learning: they are perhaps expected to be less active, and more engaged in fine motor activities.

She also cautioned not to simply blame boys for their relatively bad behaviour, and therefore, their poorer school results: some may simply be “acting out” in response to frustration experienced because of an undiagnosed learning difficulty. “We know that language problems are strongly associated with challenging behaviours,” she said.

Walker and her colleague, Donna Berthelsen’s findings have been published in the Australasian Journal of Early Childhood.

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