It’s a common stereotype, enforced by anecdotal evidence in classrooms across America: Boys are wild and impulsive, while girls have much more self-control.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In three Asian countries, a new study found, there was no difference in how well little boys and girls regulated their own behavior.

The findings might help boost the performance of boys in American school settings with a focus on on self-regulation, which describes a child’s ability to control his or her impulses, follow directions and stay on a task.

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“In our study, self-regulation was good for academic achievement for boys and girls,” said lead researcher Shannon Wanless, now at the University of Pittsburgh, in a press release. “That means this skill is important for both genders and we should be supporting self-regulatory development for all children, especially boys. Low self-regulation in preschool has been linked to difficulties in adulthood, so increased focused on supporting young boys’ development can have long-term positive benefits.”

For the new study, researchers used several methods to assess the behavior and performance of 814 children, ages 3 to 6, in four countries: the United States, Taiwan, South Korea and China. The researchers tested the children directly on school-readiness activities and also asked their teachers to rate them on measures of self-control.

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In the United States, girls were better than boys at self-regulating, the researchers reported in the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly. In Asia, on the other hand, objective tests showed no difference between the genders, though teachers did rate the girls higher on a subjective scale of self-control.

“What can we learn from Asian cultural and teaching practices about how we can support girls and boys to be successful in school?” said Megan McClelland, an associate professor in Oregon State University, in the press release. “When we see differences in developmental patterns across countries it suggests that we might want to look at teaching and parenting practices in those countries and think about how they might apply in the United States.”

Image: iStockphoto