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Boys and Girls: Different but Equal

posted Dec 6, 2017, 10:04 AM by Eric Banks   [ updated Dec 6, 2017, 10:10 AM ]

"It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men."

   Frederick Douglass


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If you have ever had kids, worked with kids, seen kids in the grocery store, or remember being a kid, you know this truth to be pretty much self-evident: boys and girls are different.  That’s right, they are different—they think differently, grow differently, act and interact differently, and they learn differently. 

Boys and girls learn differently, in part due to differing brain development, but they can learn, do, and accomplish the same things.  But because they learn differently, there is evidence that they should be taught differently.  With that last thought in mind, the below may be quite helpful: 

Boys, in general:

·      Need to move, a lot, during learning

·      Need to be challenged or they get bored and lose motivation

·      Understand spatial, mathematical, and mechanical reasoning sooner / easier than girls

·      Will challenge authority, a lot, and frequently

Girls, in general:

·      Exhibit greater impulse control

·      Tend to seek to please authority figures

·      Are more sensitive to words, tone, emotional energy

·      Understand verbal directions quicker than boys of the same age

·      May need more encouragement and positive cues

·      Are more in touch with their emotions

Earlier this year, I read two insightful books written by Leonard Sax, MD, PhD, one on boys and one on girls: Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men and Girls on the Edge: Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls.  In each book, Dr. Sax presents a generous amount of interesting, easy to understand data and detail about boys and girls, how they learn, what they need, and what can be done to help them overcome the challenges of this present age.  

I’ve been teaching boys and girls traditional karate since 1996 and began working with them in other educational and community capacities several years prior to that and I can attest to the truth in the above statements on their differences.  Of course there are outliers, those children who buck the system, beat the stats, and just don’t conform to the standard model. 

Most of my learning about how to work with boys and girls has been non-academic, meaning, it was experienced right there in the middle of the frying pan, inside the school of hard knocks through trial-and-error.   Now, I’m using more of a “laboratory” or scientific approach: research the theories and test them, research further based on the test results, adjust, and then test again.  One of the most interesting challenges for a dojo, church group, classroom, or the home setting, is the fact that kids are creatures of constant change—what worked yesterday probably won’t be as effective tomorrow, but it may work again next week, if you’re lucky.  (Sci-fi moment: in this way, kids are like the nearly unstoppable Borg from Star Trek; under most circumstances, they can and will quickly adapt to whatever you throw at them, and then, they take over the world…)  

Kids also need order and consistency and actually appreciate routine.  While it can be a challenging paradox, finding the correct mixture of allowable change and consistent routine while keeping the kids engaged, it can be done.  One of the best ways to do this is to team with the kids to build the right mix.  It won’t easy, but it is possible.  Just last month I finished what is probably one of the best books on motivating kids by empowering them and partnering with them.  Self-Motivated Kids: Creating an Environment Where Children Listen and Cooperate is a pretty quick read filled with simple but effective principles.  It is focused on the home, but can be adapted to other settings.  As such, I’ve adapted what I learned to the dojo laboratory and I am beginning my experimental implementations of its strategies now (cue lightning flashes, mad scientist laugh, etc). 

If you have kids, have worked with kids, or vaguely recall being one yourself, that boys and girls are different doesn’t come as a shock, but it is probably a good reminder that these weird and wonderful little humans are unique with specific, targeted needs, and in order to grow to be their best, we, you and me, have to meet their unique needs right where they are.