It's a Girl!
Raising a little lady? Then prepare to gab with your girl. Whether they're trying to maintain eye contact with you as newborns (research shows they excel at this more than infant boys) or saying their first words sooner, girls thrive on communicating with you. You can expect all or some of those characteristics to blossom in your baby girl:
They're made to mimic. As early as three hours of age, girls excel at imitation, a precursor to back-and-forth interaction. In a study conducted last year, newborn girls did better than boys in trying to copy finger movements. As toddlers, girls zoom ahead of boys on imitative behaviors such as pretending to take care of a baby but, interestingly, are no different from little guys when it comes to pretending to drive a car or water the plants, actions that are much less about human interaction.
They're good with their hands. Infant girls exceed boys when it comes to fine motor tasks, a head start that will stick with them until preschool. They're faster to manipulate toys; they use eating utensils sooner; and they write sooner (and more neatly), too.
They may be better listeners. Recent research shows that girls are more attuned to the sound of human voices and seem to actually prefer the sound to other sounds. Shake a rattle and you'll see no difference between newborn girls and boys, but when you talk, the girls will be more likely to become engaged.
They like face time. Girls are more likely to establish and maintain eye contact, and are attracted to individual faces -- especially women's. They're also more skilled at reading emotional expressions; if shown a frightening face, for example, they'll look at Mom or get distressed, but they'll be fine if they see a happy one. Boys take longer to notice the difference, according to a meta-analysis of 26 studies on kids' capacity to recognize facial expressions.
They talk sooner. All that watching and listening pays off: Girls start using gestures like pointing or waving bye-bye earlier than their brothers, and they play games like patty-cake and So Big sooner, according to a study of children ages 8 to 30 months. Girls understand what you're saying before boys do, start speaking earlier (at around 12 months versus 13 to 14 months for boys), and will continue to talk more through the toddler years. At 16 months, they produce as many as 100 words, while the average boy utters closer to 30. Although girls remain somewhat ahead through toddlerhood, the gap does begin to narrow, and at 2 ½, both boys and girls have 500 words, more or less.
Speaking of words, my daughter's first was "shiz" (as in "shoes," lots of them). But despite her obsession with fashion, she always surprises me with a confidence that often makes her tougher than her brothers. And my boys can be incredibly sensitive when I least expect it. The truth is, gender is only a part of what makes them who they are. If only science could study, and I could understand, the rest of them so well!
Babytalk contributing editor Anita Sethi, ph.d., is a research scientist at the Child and Family Policy Center at New York University.