Boy oh boy or girl oh girl - different ways of teaching discipline

Whether you favour a nature or nurture philosophy when it comes to raising your kids, there’s little doubt that boys and girls are different – and you can use those differences to your advantage when it comes to bad behaviour.

Boy vs Girl: Is There Really a Discipline Difference?

Most mums who have one of each will tell you that no matter how hard they’ve tried to avoid gender-stereotyping, their little boy will bend that doll at the waist, hold her by the legs and use her as a gun, and their little girl will turn that toy truck into a cot. Boys and girls just aren’t the same – so why would you use the same discipline techniques with them?

Aggressive behaviour is perfectly normal in preschoolers – in fact, it’s a sign of developmental progress: a building block for your child’s confidence and self-esteem as he gets older. But sometimes the new assertiveness your child is showing can manifest itself in anti-social behaviour – excessively rough play, kicking and biting are obvious examples – and you’ll need to take steps to rein him in.

If you’re going experiencing discipline problems, prepare to embrace the differences and try these approaches the next time you’re battling their bad behaviour…

"That’s my toy!"

Sharing is one of the main tantrum triggers among siblings and playmates who are close in age.

Girls: Focus on feelings - Girls tend to be more considerate and are better able to express empathy. Say this: "Alice will be so happy if you let her join in your game and play with your ball."

Boys: Play on the practical - Boys are  great at problem solving and co-operate better if  they can see the upside. Say this: " It’s great to have someone to play with and it’ll be such fun, so which toy could Alice have to join in?"


Young children are smart enough to know that if they scream or act aggressively they’re more likely to get their way, especially in a public place.

Girls: Talk it over - Verbal skills progress much faster in girls than boys – girls generally string words together earlier and their sentences are longer and more complex. Say this: "You don’t have to shout, tell me quietly and we’ll make it better."

Boys: Veto the violence - Because boys aren’t as good at expressing themselves verbally, they often express their frustration physically by hitting, biting or kicking. You may need to remind your son he can use words to tell you what’s wrong. Say this: "Don’t hit or bite. Calm down and speak to me about what you want."

"Gimme that!"

If toddlers and pre-schoolers see something they want, they take it – and it won’t matter if another child is playing with it at the time.

Girls: Criticise constructively - Because girls are more sensitive they’re much more aware of what others think of them. Say this: "You’re usually so kind to the other children – they might not want to play with you if you snatch toys away."

Boys: Spell it out - Because boys are more direct and confrontational they’re not so interested in what other kids and adults think of them. This means you need to nip some behaviours in the bud right away, without going into a long-winded explanation as to why he’s done wrong. Say this: "Stop that right now and give the car back."

"I want sweets!"

It’s every Mum’s worst nightmare: a meltdown at the shops when your toddler sees the sweets display at the checkout queue.

Girls: Put her off positively - Girls are better able to give in gracefully when it comes to delayed gratification. Say this: "Why don’t we wait until we’re home and I can make you a peanut butter sandwich?"

Boys: Cut the whining quickly - Boys tend to want instant gratification and don’t deal well with delays, so it’s unlikely that friendly persuasion will work. Nip it in the bud, then try distraction or getting them involved. Say this: "I know you want it but I don’t have enough money so we can’t buy it."

Related links

See what Supernanny recommends to stop your toddler from sinking his tiny teeth into his parents and playmates with Put a Stop to Biting.

Calming your kids: how do you tame a wild child?

How to Prevent Tantrums: No parent wants to live with tantrums - they're exhausting, upsetting and embarrassing too. Now top parenting expert Elizabeth Pantley explains how to tame those tantrums - before they've even started!

You and your partner need to agree on how you will discipline your children – consistency is the key to success. Watch this clip of Supernanny’s Same Page Technique in action.

Discuss bad behaviour with other parents in our forum.

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