The Difference between Boys and Girls
We are all likely to agree that men and women think differently, but is this also true for boys and girls? And if yes, how does this apply to raising our children?
Here are some tips for raising our boys and girls.
Helping them make friends
When we think about how children make friends, boys and girls do so differently. In many ways, this is similar to us, as adults. Boys make friends through activity. In other words, they communicate shoulder-to-shoulder. They like to do things together, whether that be playing electronic games, watching TV, participating in or watching sport. They avoid answering direct questions and prefer to talk about whatever is the activity they are doing.
Girls, most commonly, make their friends through communication, in other words, face-to-face. While they will also do things together, what they do will usually involve lots of conversation. They are happier to sit and chat and wile the time away talking. They prefer quiet spaces in which to have these conversations.
Because of their preference for shared activity, boys favour ability. They like rewards – the bigger, the better. They recognise quickly who is the strongest, or the best at whatever the activity might be, and they admire that particular person. The other side to this is that boys will give up easily if they can’t be the best or master something instantly. When responding to stressful situations, boys usually resort to fight or flight – in other words they become aggressive or avoid the situation. Finally, boys don’t like to ask for help. They see this as a sign of weakness
In contrast, girls when faced with stressful situations are more likely to tend or befriend – in other words they will look to fix things rather than to challenge. They also value effort more highly than boys, and are more content with internal rewards. While all children have a desire to please, this can manifest itself with girls in class asking for help either too early or too often, so as to avoid the risk of getting something wrong. In this desire to please, there can be a danger that with their work, they can
end up spending more time on the presentation rather than the content.
Learning to read and write
Boys and girls will learn to read differently and will make progress at different times. The best thing to remember is never to compare your children. Each one is different. As a general rule, boys like reading non-fiction. They love facts, whether they be about trucks or dinosaurs or body parts, or whatever! Girls, on the other hand, are likely to have a preference for fiction or stories involving people. As a general rule, girls will learn to read faster as each gender has its own intellectual growth spurts at different ages. As adults, we have a preference for one type of book over another and we need to be careful we don’t either impose our own preference or despair when we see our children focusing on something we might find remarkably dull! The thing to remember is that we want to encourage children to read. What they read is essentially irrelevant as we can always encourage a wider variety of literature as they grow older. Equally, it is worth checking the readers at school to ensure they have both fiction and non fiction books.
Similarly, when they start writing, boys will tend to write stories involving action, whereas girls will write descriptions of events or people. There was once a study done of university students who were asked to write about what happened in the canteen one lunchtime. Almost without exception, the girls wrote descriptions of the canteen, mentioning sights, sounds, people and smells, whereas the boys wrote about the activities that occurred such as arguments, disruptions and fights. When reading your chidlren’s stories, remember that this doesn’t matter so much initially as the first step is to encourage them to develop a joy in, rather than a fear of, writing. As they grow older, boys will tend to favour writing critical responses as an initial response, while girls will favour personal responses. Both are important and we need to encourage our children to do both. It is not that they cant, it just needs practising.
Medical research tells us that boys’ vision focuses more on movement and objects, and girls’ vision focuses on faces, so trying to discipline a boy by giving him a look just will not work as he won’t ‘read it’, whereas it will work perfectly well with a girls. If you want your son to listen carefully, you need to make eye contact with him, and lower your voice. On the other hand, using a loud voice with your daughter will only scare her – a look is enough.
Keep in mind, too, that children can have difficulty in auditory processing. This means they are unable to process multiple things they hear at once. This difficulty is more common in boys than in girls but it does affect both sexes. An example of this is if we were to say to our child, ‘Go upstairs, brush your teeth, get your bag and meet me at the fort door in 5 minutes’, we have just given four instructions. If we then call out afterwards, ‘and don’t forget your homework’, we have added a fifth instruction. Some children will get upstairs and forget everything else. Rather than be annoyed with them, understand that perhaps they could not process so many instructions, so rather than wondering what was next to do, they simply stop, or they go and play with their toys. The way to overcome this is to break the instructions down into chunks, and to give them out a piece at a time. With boys, making eye contact, and asking for a response will also save you lots of frustration.
Talking to your children
So, when we talk to our sons and daughters, we need to remember these things. Encourage boys to have a go, or to try again, and encourage your daughter also to make her own decisions, rather than always rely on the teachers for their help. Encourage her to stand up for herself. When your son goes looking for something and gives up after about 10 seconds (a ‘boy look’ as it was known in my house), don’t accept it, rather make a joke such as, “look again, and this time have a girl look!” When your daughter is unhappy because someone wont be her friend as she is someone else’s friend, encourage her to make her own decisions… and congratulate her on being a good friend. With all your children, avoid false praise when they (and you) know they haven’t made the effort. Keep in mind, too, that boys (and men) discover quickly a ‘learned helplessness’. In other words, they understand that if they do things badly enough, their mother or sister will do it for them!
So, don’t accept second best, insist they learn to do things for themselves, suggest shared activities to do together, and take the time that is needed. You will have a much more rewarding relationship with them.
Dr Roderick Crouch
Dr Crouch is Principal of Victoria International School of Sharjah (www.viss.ae), a fully coeducational Australian and IB curriculum school. A highly experienced Australian educator, Dr Crouch has given numerous workshops and presentations in different countries on improving educational outcomes for children.