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"You're Hurting my Ears!"
For the past year I’ve been spending a good deal of time reading about gender differences in children…looking for the most current information to my old questions:
What are scientists learning about the differences between boys’ and girls’ brains?
How many gender-specific traits does a child already posses when they land in our arms that first moment, and how many do they learn from us as parents?
From our culture?
It has been fascinating to “update” my training and learn about the new discoveries out there. And it has been full of new surprises!
The truth is, we’re learning that gender is a bigger package of traits than we thought. We are shaped and molded by our surroundings in a million ways, but the number of gender-specific physiological and cognitive traits that we’re born with is stunning.
Today I’ll just focus on one….hearing differences….but you’ll hear about more differences in future newsletters.
And it goes without saying, that when speaking about gender differences there will always be exceptions. There are lots of boys and girls out there who don’t fit the mold. But given the extraordinary number of boys and girls that do, it’s worth studying.
Gender Differences in Hearing:
We now know that hearing differences in boys and girls are not hormonally or environmentally influenced as we once thought. They are genetic differences. We also know now that the hearing differences only get bigger as a child gets older.
Girls hear higher tones and softer sounds with greater sensitivity than boys. Boys hear lower and louder sounds with more ease. These differences are evident at birth. As a girl grows she may be more fearful of dogs barking or sirens passing by than her brother. In school, she might notice a classmate tapping a pencil in the back of the room, while the boy at her desk may not notice it at all.
While often times boys choose to sit in the back of the classroom, they really need to be in the front. Their female teacher, with a higher pitched voice, is getting lost in the low hum of the air conditioning unit.
Girls (and their mothers!) will often tell dad to “STOP YELLING!” when dad feels he is using a normal voice, only speaking passionately. He’s then offended and feels misunderstood. His daughter or wife is shutting him out because his “intensity” is too much for them, and he just wants to be heard.
Mothers are often infuriated that their son is not responding to her pleas for putting shoes on or turning the TV off, nor did he acknowledge the “5 more minutes!” warning as she calls to him from the other room. She angrily storms over and yells at him for not listening, to his great surprise. This is the first he’s heard about the shoes. What’s she freaking out about?!
An exception seems to be boys who are highly sensitive, who often have highly tuned hearing and get overwhelmed with loud or repetitive sounds. And often times our girls or sensitive boys may appear to not hear as well as the research indicates because their focus on the details in front of them is hard to break. And sometimes….kids just ignore us.
So, some advice. First for all, you dads and moms out there with louder voices, even if you’re not angry or yelling and just “speaking passionately,” take it down a notch when speaking to your daughters and sensitive sons. You’ll have a much better shot of them not getting overwhelmed and being able to listen to what you have to say.
Secondly, when giving a communication you want to be heard do your part to make sure it is received. Get closer, touch their back softly, ask for a response. Those three times you shouted it from the kitchen don’t count.
Finally, forgive your child for being overwhelmed by the sound of sirens, fireworks, and helicopters…. …for being rattled when the door closes hard or a baby cries. Like with so many other things our grown-up brain has forgotten, it’s best to just give your kid the benefit of the doubt. Believe them if they tell you it’s too loud or too scary. Regardless of how silly it seems to us, our kids need to feel we understand it might feel differently to them.
I often ask myself this question to help put things in perspective when I’m frustrated:
Where does the biggest regret lie?
Will I regret missing the concert because my daughter is crying and covering her ears? What if she learns that she can change the plan by crying? Will she ever learn to cope if she’s not exposed to life’s realities?
Will I regret not listening to what my child is telling me?
What if it really does hurt her ears and she’s not manipulating me? What if she learns that she can’t count on me…that I don’t trust her?
I believe that children are exposed to many, many challenges….every day. Some big, many little. A school day provides a child with a plethora of challenges and requires them to adapt and modify their behavior over and over again. As parents we aren’t singularly responsible for “toughening” our child to survive the world. The world will teach them plenty about that.
Our job is to remind our kids how great they are…to encourage them to have their courage match their potential and curiosity so they can live a self-expressed and joyful life.
But when life is hard or overwhelming, or when they make mistakes, our children need to know we’ll be right there to hold and comfort them and wipe their tears…while never forgetting to set them gently back down to let them try again.