L’il Boo is not a chatty toddler; well, not intelligibly. Oh, sure, he waffles on and on about blah, blah, woog, woog hiddle pie sheep, hilpy – which I know is something about Boogie’s pirate ship (‘pie sheep’ being ‘pirate ship’ – obviously), but exactly what I have no idea. So I guess I mean he is very chatty, but not a great conversationalist.
I recently went to an informal chat by a speech and language therapist and learned that by two (which he now is, by god, how did that happen?), he’s ‘supposed’ to have at least 50 words and be using some double word phrases. If I’m being uncharacteristically generous, I’d say he’s got, ooh, 5? I mean like actual words that the fabled person on the Clapham omnibus could understand (English legal joke, not very funny, but that’s English law for you). Though I did read something that said even unintelligble words count – which left me with the immediate thought: how am supposed to have any idea how many words he’s got then? The boy could be re-interpreting Shakespeare in Finnish for all I know and I’m just not translating properly. The boy could be a feckin’ genius.
What’s been striking is that when I discuss L’il Boo’s speech development (yes, I know speech and language are two different things, but it’s such a bugger to type the whole thing…), the first thing that any parent, or teacher, or innocent bystander will tell you is that in speech development ‘boys are slower than girls’. This is often accompanied by a knowing smile, or a little comment to the effect of ‘course they are, girls never stop talking, do they?’
But ignoring the stupid stereotypes, it started to seem as if (erm, whisper it) they might be right. Seemingly all parents of children of both sexes I know will say the same: my XX was much quicker than my XY, oh, yes. From my own personal experience, Boogie’s speech development left her brother’s eating dust; I don’t know about girls in general, but blimey, that girl couldn’t wait to talk – mainly, or so it seems lately, just so she could tell me exactly why I know jack shit about everything (she’s 5 – it’s a challenging age, or so I’m telling myself).
I’m not mis-remembering her development, either, because one of my many follies is writing a little letter to each of my children twice a year – y’know, just telling them what they were doing, what they liked, exactly why they were super-cute at that particular time, that sort of stuff. So I have it in black and white. So then I started to think that (don’t even whisper this!) that maybe Cordelia Fine was wrong; maybe there are inherent sex differences in the brain…?
And then I smacked myself about the head for being such an idiot.
Cordelia Fine wrong? My neuroscience goddess?? Are you kidding me??!?
How could I for a moment have forgotten the influence of both gender expectations and interactions on developing children and the hugely suspect impartiality of any scientific study undertaken which involves possible sex differences? I’ll be reading The Daily Male without crying next (although not the News of the World, which I cannot honestly say I’ll miss at all).
Looking around the ‘net, on parent sites and such, unsurprisingly, boys being later is taken as a given – everywhere. It’s just one of those it’s-so-true-I-forgot-to-bother-to-check-it things. Y’know, like, it’s well-known women are more intuitive, or, it’s understood by everybody that men think with their genitals. That kind of thing.
I didn’t undertake a full search of the scientific literature (hey, it’s wash day, you know), so i just found this by somebody called Carney Sotto, who seems like my kind of woman:
‘Q: Some parents believe that girls will learn to speak before boys. Is there any truth to this?
A: Yes and no. In general, researchers have found some differences between language development in girls and language development in boys. They’ve found that girls acquire certain words before boys and perform better on tests that focus on expressive language, like “more,” “please” and “bye-bye.”
But they’ve also found that parents tend to talk differently to girls than boys, using more open-ended questions and longer, more complex sentences with their daughters. So it’s not necessarily about innate differences between boys and girls-they are much more alike than different.’
Aah, the old gender expectations on and interactions with developing children bias! Girls are expected to talk earlier and talk more, so parents talk to them more, and in more complicated ways, earlier than with boys. Neat, huh?
That’s good enough for me. My adoring faith in The Fine is restored.
So did I? Did I use ‘more open-ended questions and longer, more complex sentences’ with Boogie than with L’il Boo? Jeez, you know, I never wrote that down. So I have no fucking idea.
I tell you what though, I’m going to really think about this shit when I talk to L’il Boo tomorrow.
Did I mention that this feminist parenting thing is exhausting? It’s so much easier for non-feminist parents. Really. A non-feminist parent will think, ‘oh, Boy is not speaking as much as Girl was at his age…hmm, should I be concerned? and will trawl the net or even speak to a real-live doctor or assorted friends and strangers. And they will read/hear the words, ‘Boys speak later than girls, doncha know?’ And that’ll be the end of it. Case closed, mind put to sleep. For me, that’s just the start of the really worrying part.
When will the thinking end??
Because I for one am getting a headache.