Boys need language for self-control

MICHIGAN STATE (US) — Developing language skills appears to be more important for boys than girls in helping them to develop self-control and, ultimately, succeed in school.

Thus, more emphasis should be placed on encouraging boy toddlers to “use their words”—instead of unruly behavior—to solve problems, says Claire Vallotton, assistant professor of child development at Michigan State University.

“It shouldn’t be chalked off as boys being boys,” Vallotton says. “They need extra attention from child-care providers and teachers to help them build language skills and to use those skills to regulate their emotions and behavior.”

The study, which is the first to suggest language skills have a bigger impact on boys’ self-regulation than on girls’, appears in the Journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

Researchers examined data on children as they aged from 1 to 3 and their mothers who participated in the National Early Head Start Research and Evaluation study.

As with previous research, language skills—specifically the building of vocabulary—was found to help children regulate their emotions and behavior and that boys lag behind girls in both language skills and self-regulation.

What was surprising, Vallotton says, was that language skills seemed so much more important to the regulation of boys’ behavior.

While girls overall seemed to have a more natural ability to control themselves and focus, boys with a strong vocabulary showed a dramatic increase in this ability to self-regulate—even doing as well in this regard as girls with a strong vocabulary.

“There’s been a concentrated effort lately, through policy and programs, to emphasize that kids build their social and emotional skills by the time they reach kindergarten so they can be ready to learn in that environment and throughout their school careers,” Vallotton says.

“Self-regulation is increasingly talked about as a pivotal skill.”

Researchers from Harvard University contributed tothe study.

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