Boys and girls learn social skills on different paths, according to data

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Gender can significantly affect the development of social skills among children, a Texas A&M University researcher says.

Daniel Hajovsky, school psychology expert in the Department of Educational Psychology, investigates gender differences in children’s social skills growth trajectories in his most recent research published in Applied Developmental Science.

In this study, he focuses on the previously collected data of more than 1,000 elementary school kids and tracks their social skills growth trajectory from kindergarten through sixth grade. For each year of school, teachers would rate their students on three social skills components, referred to as assertion, cooperation and self-control. 

The teachers’ ratings were based on their perception of how competent both male and female students were in asking for information or introducing themselves, helping others and sharing and responding appropriately to other actions by taking turns and compromising. 

Hajovsky explains the reason for this study is to look at gender differences in social skills development, because of the potential national and even global implications and to date, there has not been a lot of research within this topic. 

“We study a lot of different developmental processes within the concept of diversity, however, one of the areas where we need to continue to do more research is looking at gender or sex differences,” Hajovsky says. 

Findings of this study show that girls were consistently rated higher than boys by teachers, which means females were demonstrating relatively better social skills than boys as early as kindergarten, and this advantage persisted from elementary school to sixth grade. 

He explains the teachers’ ratings may relate to broader findings that girls tend to better adjust and adapt to the social nature of the school learning environment. After all, learning environments in the classroom, especially in the elementary years, are a social learning process.  

“One of the things we found was that when you measure girls’ social skills in kindergarten, it is a good predictor about where their social skills will be later on in life, in terms of teachers’ ratings,” Hajovsky says. “But for boys, boys actually showed a decline in social skills over time.”

He explains that girls were rated moderately higher in social skills from kindergarten to sixth grade, and boys generally exhibited more variability in social skills over time.

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