Moments Matter

Boys Are From Mars, Girls Are From Venus: How to Up Your Parenting Game

I sat innocently bouncing on the large red playground ball. The day, overcast and dark, I enjoyed the moment of peace during fourth grade recess. I felt freedom and lightness.

Moments later, my entire body flipped backwards. Looking up, the rail-thin boy had come from behind and kicked the ball out from under me. In the distance, I watched him run towards the handball court clutching the trophy ball.boys_and_girls_010

With tears in my eyes, I brushed off my “attack” and ran to the yard duty with my tale of boy aggressiveness. The puffy woman, put her arm around me, and said plainly: “That’s just how boys are, dear. When they want something, they just take it sometimes.”

First clue: Boys and girls are different.

The Science Behind Gender-Based Learning
I considered this and a few of my childhood “boy-girl” experiences after attending a presentation entitled “The Minds of Boys and Girls” at St. Mary’s School in Orange County by Michael Gurian, a New York Times best-selling author and social philosopher who is helping demystify the differences in gender behavior, learning styles and focused interests of girls and boys drawing on emerging neuroscientific data.

Research now supports what parents of boys and girls have always known: Those brains are wired differently. Studies show that boys learn differently than girls. In general, more areas of girls’ brains, including the cerebral cortex (memory, attention, thought, and language) are dedicated to verbal functions. The hippocampus – a region of the brain critical to verbal memory storage – develops earlier for girls and is larger in women than in men.

In boys’ brains, a greater part of the cerebral cortex is dedicated to spatial and mechanical functioning. So boys tend to learn better with movement and pictures rather than just words, Gurian says.

Boys Will be Boys
Even though I have two elementary-aged daughters, you may be thinking, why is it important to understand the distinct differences between boys and girls? So what?

First off, by better understanding the behavior of boys, I hope to help guide my daughters in how to respond to the influx of situations they face when interacting with the opposite sex.

My daughter as a toddler at the park outnumbered by a group of boys. Little did she know this was only the beginning of her gender interactions.

My daughter (bottom) as a toddler at the park outnumbered by a group of boys. Little did she know this was only the beginning of her opposite sex interactions.

Recently, my fourth-grade daughter mentioned a boy in her class can be “annoying” when he makes funny faces and swings his feet under his desk. I responded with this simple explanation: “He probably wants to be outside running around. Boys have different needs than you do. They have different brains.” My daughter nodded her head, as if to understand clearly what I meant.

Gurian explains it like this in his book Boys and Girls Learn Differently, A Guide for Teachers and Parents: “Boys tend to experience more processing, and thus have both an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage is that they are active in their learning, spatial abilities, increasing right-hemisphere development. The disadvantage is that some boys are out in everyone’s space when they learn…especially in the early grades, when they haven’t learned to control impulses in the classroom. Thus they get in trouble for just being boys.”

He offers some parental tips to help address gender learning differences in boys:

*For Boys
Keep Him Moving, Focused, Organized

  • Encourage frequent breaks from homework to move around. Help him move around while studying. For example, tossing a football around while asking study questions, or maybe walk while reading or sitting on a balance ball rather than a chair.
  • Help him stay organized. Consistently take time to sit down with him, and review the week’s assignments and paperwork.
  • Before a narrative/writing assignment, encourage him to draw, or storyboard with color before writing.

Girls Will be, Well, Girls
The second reason it is important for me to have a better grasp at the boy-girl contrast is that by making some tweaks in how my girls learn, I can help them learn more effectively at school and at home.

Girls tend to mature a little faster than boys, developing language skills sooner, which may give them the edge over boys in reading, writing, and speech, according to Gurian. Knowing that, some parents of girls may worry that their daughters are praised for being good at reading and writing and not pushed to excel in math and science.

Gurian gives some suggestions for parents of girls when it comes to learning:

*For Girls
Keep Talking & Offer Creative Learning Opportunities

  • Offer activities that encourage building and manipulation, like puzzles, construction toys, etc.
  • Keep the dialogue going. When stuck on her homework, she may benefit from discussing the problem and various approaches to solving it. Or she can write you an email describing her struggle to solve the problem.
  • Point out everyday math and science concepts. For example, when you slice a pizza, show her how you’re using fractions.
  • Let her use a computer or technology program that help come to her own conclusion based on the required assignment, or apply them to a real-life project at home.
  • Build leadership in the areas of science and math. Encourage your daughter (with teacher support) to take a lead in a subject matter she may not thrive in, such as a group science project. Girls may excel at leadership yet tend to pull back and let the boys dominate.

For both boys and girls, Gurian encourages parents to ask for alternatives from the teacher if your child is tuning out in subjects he or she feels less comfortable with, such as producing a podcast versus writing a narrative. And when it comes to after school, don’t be rushed to have your child start their homework right away – just like adults – kids need time to decompress.

Intellectual Intelligence = Emotional Intelligence
Gurian cautions, though, not all kids fit the pattern. Generally speaking, boys tend to learn better when they have pictures, graphics, and physical movement to help them grasp concepts. Girls often benefit from the opportunity to talk about how to solve a problem and work with others on a solution.

After reading Gurian’s book and attending his presentation, I feel better armed with the tools and information to help my daughters cope more effectively in the crazy life of boys and girls. I won’t be able to prevent my daughters from getting the ball kicked out from under them every time, but I can at least try to make sense out of why it’s happening. I can also take a more proactive role in helping shape a healthy learning environment for my daughters – one that embraces their neurological makeup.

As Gurian pointed out, “A great deal of intellectual intelligence depends on emotional intelligence.”

Did you have distinct memories in your childhood that demonstrate the stark contrast between boys and girls? Which one stands out most in your mind? As a parent, are you gearing your child’s learning environment and strategies based on gender? If so, how? If not, might you consider implementing some gender-based changes?

*Partially sourced from online research.

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Staring Down Diabetes

I worry about her. For good reason. My five-year-old still wets the bed. She seems tired. Could she have it?

No.

I’m just being a mother. But her cousin has it.

Courteney (far right) with her younger sister at the hospital soon after her diagnosis of Diabetes. It was also her birthday.

Courteney (far right) with her younger sister at the hospital soon after her diagnosis of Diabetes. It was also her birthday.

Probably for life.

This horrible, miserable disease named Type 1 Diabetes can develop at any age, but it is frequently diagnosed before adulthood. It accounts for about ten percent of all diabetes cases, and affects approximately one in every 400 to 500 children in the United States.

Why do I even worry?

As I’ve written previously, my niece, Courteney, battles type 1 diabetes. She has been found on more than one occasion in her bedroom unconscious.

Near death.

Scientists do not know exactly what causes type 1 diabetes, but they believe that a combination of genetic and environmental factors are to blame.

Which is why I watch and worry. I Google key words about diabetes, scan data about genetic linkage, symptoms and studies every few months.

In my mind, I should not live in fear of this cruel disease. But fear grips my very soul. I sometimes lie awake at night in a sweat. My mind flashes to needles, blood and ice cold bedrooms…

Unexpected Prayers
This past week, I thought of my niece in the most unexpected way – while doing a return at the retailer T.J.Maxx. At the counter, I saw the circular-shaped donation card. The cashier explained the Give-a-dollar Campaign benefits Joslin Diabetes Center, the world’s largest diabetes research and clinical care organization (affiliated with Harvard Medical School).

I made my small donation, but I knew this was a sign of something more.

I hadn’t thought of diabetes in a few months. But I know my niece thinks of it every day.

IMG_5662As I wrote her name in black marker with a heart, tears filled my eyes. I prayed in this moment. I prayed for Courteney’s continued strength. I prayed for a cure.

I also recognized that it was her strength and courage that inspired me to now let go of my own fear.

Diabetes will not win. Fear will not prevail.

I love you, my dear, niece. You are the bravest girl I know.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer.
 Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
 I will face my fear.
 I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
 And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
 Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
 Only I will remain.” – Frank Herbert

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