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Voices of Children: How Gender Differences Influence Adult-Child Connections
By: Former Upper School Director Gail Clark
One of the most gratifying experiences over my seven years at Rossman has been greeting students at the front door of the school each morning. It is a perfect place to be situated to recognize the children’s differing characteristics and idiosyncratic behaviors as they start the school day.
The way they look, act and speak are distinctive and age appropriate due to their gender and personality. My brief morning greeting and the opportunity to hear a snapshot of their sports team, music recital or a family activity connects me to them and fulfills my goal to show Rossman cares about them from the minute they walk in the door. It is the concerted efforts by both parents and the school to promote these early morning home and school interactions working together that sets the tone for their day.
Gender Research and Adult-Child Connections
Research shows that there are definite biological differences between boys and girls. By understanding how their brains develop differently before and after birth and throughout childhood and the teenage years, we can better understand how to communicate in order to form a stronger connection and help them grow. At any age, we know children will bring with them the worst problems to bear as well as the most heartwarming, extraordinary moments to light. Learning how to talk through good and bad issues in life, based on an understanding of their personality and gender, can lighten their day and strengthen the parent/student bond.
At Rossman, we apply gender research to connect with your child, but also we apply research-based methods regarding how to listen, share observe and interact. In the book Voice Lessons for Parents, What to Say, How to Say it, and when to Listen, author Wendy Mogel states, “It is about words and tone, cadence and timing, setting and demeanor, to deepen your relationship with your child.”
Boys: High Energy Family Heroes
How we apply these interactions is determined by boys’ and girls’ temperaments and actions between the ages of 4 and 11. Boys love to run, shout, tumble and be adventurous in open space. Their high energy makes it difficult in school to adjust to our nation’s culture of sitting for long periods of time. Thus they seem squirmy and inattentive at times. Boys love to learn and recite facts and feel a great sense of accomplishment about learning and applying concrete and usable information. They love to be a hero in the family, whether they are in charge of an important task or a master of information, like naming all the dinosaurs or baseball players, knowing worlds records, or recalling amazing facts.
Research also shows boys’ sense of hearing is not as acute as girls, which means they receive sound 6 to 7 decibels lower. Boys become more involved in activities such as board games, building with Legos or just plain immersions of the mind in whatever they endeavor, that they honestly do not hear you the first couple of times you ask them to do something. Because boys process emotions and sensory data slowly, they take longer to respond, and at the same time they will become upset if they feel someone is shouting at them. Verbal expression and listening are slower to develop in boys. Therefore, they have fewer verbal and cognitive tools to make sense of their feelings.
Girls: Early Masters of Conversation
In contrast to boys, girls between the ages of 4 and 11 are often rule followers and love to be adored for who they are and what they do. They master conversation early compared to boys. They will, at times, act more worldly, but understand girls are really young emotionally. With their pouts, pleading and/or demands, words come easily and feelings are intense. Girls get immersed in activities, but they tend to be more verbally aware often repeating what they hear in their more socially predisposed activities. Their self-expression may take the form of a princess, a YouTube star or a dancer, which will change often as they experiment with whom they are. A way-out hairdo is an expression of her individual personality or gender identity. Clothes- and body-conscious, they watch their mothers carefully. Mom is her model. Girls like to roam free, and at the same time remain more tethered to home than boys, but they do want guidance and a chance to explore today’s real world. Along your daughter’s pathway of experiences, praise her stamina, courage, enthusiasm and curiosity, not her physical appearance.
Often dads interact with their daughters differently than moms, as they are not the one who schedules appointments and activities and are not deeply involved with their daily emotions. Their conversations cover different topics outside of the personal realm, such as sporting events, gardening, cooking and joking with one another, or lightheartedly listening to music or eating together. Forming a relationship with both mother and father when she is young will breed trust and friendship for life.
Practicing Effective Communication
Mogel suggests six ways to practice effective communications with boys and girls.
1. Volume and Pitch
Respond to boys in short and direct sentences with a firmer voice when conversing with them. If they are not listening, put your hand on their shoulder, look them in the eyes and gently repeat your request. For girls, interject more modulated voice pitches in communicating with them. When disagreeing, rather than getting into a power struggle, get into her world and suspend for the moment your own agenda. In a normal voice say, “I’m sorry you feel that way, can you explain what happened? You seem so angry, can you explain why?” If you lack patience at the moment, be honest and say you are tired and will think about it overnight, allowing both of you to calm down and process the issue at hand.
Boys won’t necessarily hear subtle differences in tone like sarcasm or sighs. However, as they grow into young adolescents, they will become ultra sensitive to parents’ tones. For both boys and girls, try to sound nonjudgmental when conversing.
When talking with boys, talk at a slower pace and be patient as they try and articulate their thoughts to respond to you. “Boys language skills develop more slowly than girls, and this includes their ability to listen as well as speak.” Girls on the other hand have the early capabilities to respond quickly. Take the time to really listen to what she is saying. However, exploring her point of view does not mean you agree.
4. Body Language
Seeing your face when giving directions to boys helps their attention. Unlike with girls, if you are having a casual conversation together, boys are more comfortable walking side by side or doing something else while you talk. Girls are extremely aware of facial expressions, tone of voice, and a tilt of the head or rolling eyes. Control your delivery when allowing your daughter to explain her point of view. Give her enough time to thoughtfully answer any questions.
5. The Work-Arounds
Boys in difficult situations often do not show remorse, as they are more prone to think they did nothing wrong, where as girls tend to “worry” more about the consequences of their behaviors. When discussing a situation with boys, avoid using abstract alarming words like “disruptive,” “focus” or “inappropriate.” Instead, give them very specific examples of what you mean. Even older boys need to hear examples as you walk them through a consequential situation.
6. Big Feelings
Boys often don’t stop to think why they did things or why a friend may have said or done something unkind. To help them understand their emotional reactions, you will need to start by relating to their feelings. “You must have been frustrated when…” Then, you will have their attention. Also, recount a scenario when you were frustrated. It helps them to learn to reflect before reacting to an emotional challenge.
Knowing how boys’ brains operate differently from girls, Mogel suggests ways to communicate calmly with girls as they grow and develop. When dramatics can come into play: “This is the worst thing that has ever happened!” ... “It’s not fair!” ... help her talk through the situation and name the feelings with a more advanced vocabulary level — embarrassment, betrayal, jealousy, etc. It will gradually help her to understand herself by naming specific feelings. Mogel states, “Self-reflection leads to self-knowledge, the foundation of good judgment.” Learning how to talk to your daughter when she is young helps to understand her own feelings, as she grows older.
Connecting with Your Children
Times with parents when there is not a scheduled activity or directions to be given, helps your child to not only bond with you, but also strengthen their interpersonal skills. Wash a car together, take a walk in the woods or along a creek or pond. Both boys’ and girls’ curiosity will be stimulated. Mogel makes a point that, “Boys, much more than girls, need practice with person-to-person relationships.” Boys need to learn how to communicate, control real-life impulses, articulate thoughts and feelings, compromise and read people’s expressions. For girls, these learned skills and behaviors come to them more naturally.
Connecting with your child(ren) lets them know adults care about who they are and want to help them with their concerns as well as join in their happy moments each day. Our goal should be to help them feel appreciated, listened to and understood, from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed. Understanding their differences in gender and personality can guide us in helping them master who they are as people. Taking just five minutes from our busy day to have a one-on-one conversation while doing something else, such as walking the dog, cooking dinner or driving to sport’s practice, lets them know you care about what they think and how they feel. Mogel shares, “When you slow down, when you put down your phone and turn up your curiosity and enthusiasm, you deepen your connection.” They will in turn speak from their hearts!
I have had the privilege of peeking into your children’s lives for seven years, but you as parents have the gift of knowing them and helping them to grow for a lifetime.
From the time they get out of their car in the morning, I witness a moving picture of each child walking into school in their own world. I couldn’t help but to write a few comparing and contrasting thoughts about things I see that emulate who they are as wonderful, unique children as well as identify the clear differences between the girls and the boys.
Rossman in the Mornings
Watching individual children get out of their cars,
A kiss good-bye, a hug, a wave, along with an ‘I love you,’
Setting a tone for their busy day ahead.
Girls’ with brightly colored bows and bands adorn their hair,
Along with their perfect braids and bouncing ponytails.
Boys’ with rustled up hair and shirts half tucked,
Breakfast still painted on some faces while chewing their last bite.
Girls’ sparkling shirts, patterned leggings, or ruffled skirts,
Sneakers running the color spectrum, matching socks.
Boys’ Rossman sweatshirts, or cozy fleeces,
Sport shoes’ laces trailing behind, begging to be tied.
Girls’ backpacks roll or hug their shoulders,
Others zipped neatly with tiny treasures dangling.
Boys’ hanging bags gape open with papers tossed about,
Books slip down their body as they juggle their belongings.
In all, some heads held high with a smile and a hello,
While others look down, deep in thought, contemplating their day.
Energetic or sleepy, they either bounce or trudge toward the door.
Some hug, sharing a bit of news from their week … and that makes my day!
Voice Lessons for Parents…What to Say, How to Say it, and When to Listen by Wendy Mogel, PhD
Emotions, Learning, and the Brain by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang
Raising Cain by Dan Kindlon, Ph.D. and Michael Thompson, Ph.D
Rossman School, nestled on a 20-acre campus in Creve Coeur, is an independent private preparatory school for students in Junior Kindergarten (four years old) through Grade 6. The school’s mission is to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence. Dedicated to developing personal, nurturing relationships with each child, Rossman’s experienced educators provide a solid foundation in academics, athletics and arts while emphasizing strong character development and leadership skills. Request a free Rossman School brochure here.