It's all over the news these days - even though it's age-old. Boys and girls are different. They learn differently. They play differently. Any parent can tell you that - and we'll also tell you that it's not a simple black-and-white 'boys are this way, and girls are that way'. There's a continuum - for both genders.
A recently published article asked "Are experts creating a gender war?" and quoted a number of thoughts from Michael Reist, who recently published Raising Boys in a New Kind of World.
I was fortunate enough to attend a workshop led by Mr. Reist - specifically on the topic of Boys and Girls Learn Differently. I also have the honour of being the mom to two boys - one of which fits the 'boy' stereotype to the nines, and the other who is on the opposite end of the continuum.
So do I think that experts are creating a gender war?
I think experts are bringing more awareness to how boys (and girls) behave, and helping us as parents - particularly as moms - understand how the male brain works.
I'm a well-educated person, I'm part-way through teacher's college, and I parent two boys full time. I've volunteered in primary classrooms for 4 years now. And I love boys. I don't always get them, but I love them. So you'd think I would have a pretty good handle what makes them tick.
One night at a workshop, and I took away about a million things (and bought the book!) that would help me better parent my sons, as well as advocate for them in the classroom.
Here are five things that changed the way I parent right away:
1. Boys are listening, even when they're fidgeting, avoiding eye contact, or fiddling with something.
What did our parents say? "Sit down, stay still, and look me in the eye". For some boys, this raises their stress level. Mr. Reist says one of the reasons for this is that boys' visual senses are heightened. Eye contact is not as comfortable for them as it might be for others.
Game changer for me - talk 'side by side' with my son, on the walk to school, or in the car, or while he's playing with his ministicks. He WAS listening. He DID hear me. And when I told him he didn't have to look right at me all the time, he said "oh great mom, because I really don't like that."
It was a complete relief to me to understand that I didn't have to parent face-to-face all the time - at least with son #1.
2. There's a reason they love video games so much.
Well that's not going to be a big surprise to the parents of most boys, but certainly for me some of the research helped me get 'why' they are important to boys. Video games are visual-spatial, the kind of interaction that many boys prefer. They feel like they're moving, which they crave, and the visual world is in their control.
Game changer for me - Does this mean son #1 can play video games all day? No, but it at least allows me to understand the need for him to de-stress a bit each day with the Wii - and allows me to think about other outlets for the visual-spatial need.
3. Boys love to move. And that's OK.
The movement part - we know, most boys love to be in motion. In the confines of a classroom though, it's not always possible without distruption. Michael Reist believes that classrooms need to change their environment to better accommodate boys. I agree, however since that's not going to happen overnight, we need to accept their need to move.
I've been fortunate to have teachers for my son who 'get' boys and have a high tolerance for movement. But that doesn't mean there aren't notes home about carpet time.
Game changer for me - realize that yes my son has to fit into the classroom decorum, but it's natural and OK for him to need to move. He's working on what fits in the classroom but I'm no longer stressed out that sometimes he needs to roll around on the carpet.
4. Boys have a harder time transitioning than most girls.
Again - we're saying 'many', not all. I have the perfect control group in my house, because my second child behaves more like (stereotyping here I know) a girl, than his very-boy older brother. So when we leave the house, son #2 can follow a complex series of directions and is ready to go before his older brother who got distracted by his reflection in the mirror (there's that visual sense again!).
Game changer for me - realize that this is part of who he is. I'm not doing something wrong. He's not broken. He needs more time, simpler directions, and more guidance. He just does. Does it frustrate me sometimes? Yes, but knowing it's part of him and a bit out of his control makes it easier to accept.
5. Boys like one-step, simple directions.
Wow - totally hit home for me (and this time I'm including my husband in the 'boys'!). Pick up your toys, put your coat on, get your boots from the back door, don't forget your hat and mitts - I'll meet you in the car.
Game changer for me - say LESS. It's very hard for me and Michael Reist cites in his book that women say 20,000 words a day. Men say 7,000. Holy cow. So I'm trying to be more direct, and say things simply - once. It's not a magic bullet but I definitely notice a difference. And I also notice that if I revert to the usual 'explain things 3 different ways hoping the 3rd time someone will listen' that it's pointless - they stopped listening after the first direction...
I hope some of these nuggets gleaned from what I've learned and what educators, researchers, and parents are starting to realize about boys and girls, will help you in your interactions with your children.
One of the most poignant things that I heard during the workshop was that we need to stop considering boys a 'problem' in classrooms, in families, in society - and find ways that work for them to be successful. It's not easy when your own female brain has trouble understanding a boys' natural needs - but it sure does help to have some insight into what makes them tick.
And maybe makes you love them just a little bit more.