Girls developing more behavioural skills than boys

A recent study from the latest edition of the Australasian Journal of Early Childhood found that girls are starting formal schooling with more of the behavioural skills that have been shown to predict academic success. Bedrock Journalist Sara El Sayed explores the prior to school setting influencers that have caused girls to pull ahead.

Gender Differences in Early Literacy and Mathematics Achievement and Self-Regulatory Behaviours in the First year of School: An Australian Study discussed the gender differences in prior to school competence and how they suggest that girls are entering school better equipped for learning and with better self regulatory behaviours than boys.

These skills are enabling girls to take greater advantage of school based learning environments when they commence Year 1.

Boys, along with showing lower self regulatory behaviours in the first year of school, were also rated by their teachers as demonstrating higher rates of problem behaviours than girls.

Co-author of the article, Professor Susan Walker said early interaction prior to school with parents and others are helping girls develop these self regulatory skills.

“These skills include being able to stay on task, pay attention and look after their belongings, which makes them more prepared to start school,” Professor Walker said.

Dramatic play

Professor Walker said a strong predictor in kindergartens of developing self regulation skills is dramatic play.

“Children who are engaging in dramatic play develop self regulation skills and the ability to inhibit behaviour as they have to stay in the role and have to maintain dramatic focus.

“Engaging in dramatic play with all children is a way in which teachers can develop their students’ self regulatory skills,” Professor Walker said.

Some academics argue that girls in the kindergarten age bracket of 3-5 years old display a higher frequency and level of dramatic play behaviour, and choose dramatic play more than boys do.

While kindergarten teachers and centre staff have the ability to plan activities for children, some behaviour such as preference of play can be out of their control when it comes to free play.


Professor Walker said simple games such as ‘Simon says’ and ‘duck, duck, goose’ are also helpful in improving children’s self regulatory skills.

“These games require children to inhibit a first response and think about their response.

“Sorting tasks or games are also a great way to develop a child’s self regulation skills.

“These can be as simple as asking children to sort objects by colour and then sorting by shape,” Professor Walker said.


Professor Walker said another strong influencer of a child’s behaviour is everyday reading.

“Children who are read to on a daily basis prior to starting formal schooling exhibit better self regulatory behaviours later.”

Professor Walker said it may be the case that girls are more willing to engage in shared story books with parents or other caregivers, or caregivers may see reading as something that girls would prefer to be engaged in as opposed to boys.

According to a 2016 study by Ozturk, Hill and Yates, girls reported relatively more positive attitudes to reading than boys did. Additionally, parents’ gendered views about literacy favouring girls correlated negatively with both girls’ and boys’ reading attitudes.

This suggests that not only do gendered views about literacy negatively affect boys, but have a negative effect on girls’ reading attitudes as well.

Professor Walker suggested Harvard University’s Activities Guide: Enhancing and Practicing Executive Function Skills with Children from Infancy to Adolescence as a useful resource for learning how to target the development of executive functions.

The guide can be found via


Gulsah Ozturk, Susan Hill & Gregory C.R. Yates (2016) Girls, Boys and Early Reading: Parents’ Gendered Views about Literacy and Children’s Attitudes Towards Reading, Early Child Development and Care, 186:5, 703-715, DOI: 10.1080/03004430.2015.1053477