At the Cincinnati Convention, I saw Michael Gurian’s The Minds of Girls. He is a neuroscientist and you can find more info at his website here: http://www.michaelgurian.com/
The 60 minute session was full, full, full – tons of facts about the brain and specifically how the minds of girls works. I’ll just share a few of the practical things that I learned from this session.
A comparison of the girl brain and the boy brain side by side show the most stark differences at the age of 10 years old. The differences are so sharp, it’s a wonder that girls and boys relate to each other at all! At this point, there are more differences in the brains of the sexes, than there are similarities. The brains gradually change to grow more and more alike. By age 20, there are more similarities than differences.
How Girls Think
A girl’s mind sees everything, and this all encompassing vision can paralyze them. They see what’s right and they see what’s wrong. This leads to frustration and the common phrase “I can’t do this!” Another thing that girls do is self-deprecate. “I’m stupid.” “I can’t do this.” This is hard wired in girls, and what has allowed girls to bond through the ages. Basically, by insulting herself, she’s essentially saying “I’m not threatening”. This is also how girls receive help. They cry out, and someone comes to help them. Gurian encouraged us, though, to not give in to the helplessness. Girls need to learn independence, and she needs to learn how to tackle things that are hard. He recommended these steps:
- Step away. Say “I’ll come back in 10 mins”
- Make sure she understands the first part of the sequence (whatever she is learning).
- Break it down into segments. Ask, “Do you know how to do this?”
- Allow her to explain.
The “leaving for 10 mins” is important. When a girl hits that point of frustration, her brain shuts down in order to process her emotions. Zero learning happens after she’s reached that level of stress. That’s why it’s important that parents do not use harsh tones, or trigger that stress. And once that stress level is reached, allow your daughter 5-10 mins to process and come back. Don’t give too long! But after 5-10 mins, come back and try again, using the tips above.
Teaching Girls Well
- ADD is underdiagnosed in girls. Girls can hide it well and still do basic tasking. The ADD girl is flighty and can’t do one thing in depth.
- Ears are more sensitive in girls. Girls are quieter. Tone of voice is important. A sharp tone will shut down cognitive function and cortisol levels increase. Provide a quieter environment with fewer distractions.
- Give full directions and answer questions before they begin to work.
- Girls need warmer rooms, generally, in order to work well (boys typically need cooler rooms to be comfortable).
- Girls tend to like collaborative work, but competition is also very good for them.
- Girls are typically motivated by grades and a desire to please.
- Small talk and relaxation before tests/quizzes
Competition & Risk Taking
We all know boys are highly competitive and take risks, seemingly without thinking! But girls think everything through, and don’t usually take risks. Some girls avoid risks because they have the perfectionistic genome. It’s important that parents give girls permission to make mistakes. Girls need to get comfortable with failure. Dads and their influences of risk taking are very good for girls. In fact, Gurian encouraged us that having two parents with different styles of parenting is GOOD. If one parent is having a difficult time reaching a girl in a certain subject, switch parental teachers. If Math is a problem subject for Mom & Daughter, have Dad take over on that subject. If you, the parent, aren’t having success – don’t be too hard on yourself – girls need diverse influence. Don’t be afraid to have another person (Dad, or outsource that subject to another teacher) teach that subject.
Girls experience, express, and expel. Allow your daughter time to express their feelings. As she is expressing, listen for the repetition. When she starts to repeat the same thought, stop her and paraphrase what she said. Allow 1-2 mins for her explain, and then when repetition sets in say, “Ok, I’m done. I got that you felt that way.” Listen for the gem or kernel in the complaint, but not the whole thing. Don’t try to boost self-esteem by saying “you’re right to feel that way, let’s make you feel better” – instead, say “I hear you, now how can we solve that?” It’s OK that they feel discomfort. Focus on problem solving.
Technology and Diet
Both technology and diet affect brain development. With technology, limit more when young. A 15yo can handle more technology than a 2yo – however, limits are important. Do not allow technology useage (TV, computer, smart phone, tablet, etc.) 1 hour before bed. Read a book, or do something that doesn’t involve a screen. So much of brain development happens during sleep, but technology invades that process.
Sugar also affects the brain. Sugar causes creation of insulin, which the brain must process, and then no learning happens during that process. So limit sweets during lessons! Girls tend to be more sedentary, so exercise is a problem for girls. Obesity affects self-esteem, and Gurian strongly recommended tackling weight issues now in youth. Allowing obesity to continue through childhood into adulthood triggers 3 obesity genes, and this is much harder to overcome later on.
STEM & Girls
It is a good idea to give spatial assignments to girls. Recognize that girls will want to use their verbal skills to work it through. The talking strategy helps them. Give one assignment allowing them to talk it through, and then give them another assignment that is silent, and must be worked tactily. These STEM skills can be developed in girls and it is good to give them these types of assignments.