The Grunt and the Gurgle: The Secrets of Communicating with Boys and Girls (Part 2)
Today's a good day! We get to dive into Part 2- "The Gurgle." In Part 1 we had the gift of learning some of the secrets to communicating with boys from the one and only David Thomas. And today, I am so thrilled to introduce you to Sissy Goff, who is going to help us learn some of the secrets to communicating with girls. I adore Sissy's heart. And I'm in awe of her wisdom and experience. It is pure joy to have her on the blog today!
By Sissy Goff
I am honored to join you on Jeannie’s blog today. As David said in Part 1, the three of us have become fast friends…so fast that I invited myself to visit Jeannie in Connecticut before I had ever met her in person! Maybe that gives us a hint into the communication skills and methods of girls…
I’ve been privileged to counsel girls of all ages for 21 years. In our counseling practice, David and I spend a great deal of time with parents and with kids. We love to educate parents on how to better connect with, learn from, and listen to their children—whether those children are grunters or gurglers. David established it well. Boys and girls connect and communicate quite differently…from their very earliest stages.
Just a little recap for the parents of boys—aka grunters: talk around a task, take advantage of bedtime and read between the lines. Many of the secrets of learning to communicate with boys involve drawing them out. If you have a daughter—let me rephrase, if you have a daughter under the age of 13, drawing her out doesn’t seem to be the issue. (We’ll come back to those over 13 year olds and the secrets of connecting with shortly).
David established that boys communicate as a means of reporting information while girls communicate to establish rapport. They are hard-wired to connect. That’s the way God designed it. From her earliest stages, God designed her brain to be primed for relationship. For example, her brain secretes more oxytocins, considered the nurturing hormone, than that of her male counterpart. The occipital lobe of her brain is more highly developed, which helps her take in information and sensory data. She has more facial expressions and is more verbal than boys of her same age. From her very earliest stage of development, your daughter is creating a safe web of relationships. She craves security and connection. And she is doing everything she can to communicate with you to facilitate that connection.
If you have a daughter who has not yet reached adolescence, you may, in fact, feel that she over-communicates. The hippocampus, which is the region of the brain related to memory function, is much more developed in your school-age daughter than her brother of the same age. Therefore, your 3rd grader will get in the car after school and download to you every detail of her day: from what the teacher was wearing, to every time she called on her, to who played with whom at recess, and who was left out of it all.
Throughout your daughter’s development, much of her memory and her communication will be emotionally-based. From the earliest stages of her development, your daughter is an extremely intuitive and passionate little creature. Every bit of her relationship with you and those around her will reflect the depth of feeling she experiences.
Because of the complexity of her memory and emotions, in her elementary school years, a girl will often need help getting to the heart of what she’s trying to say. She begins with one story about one friend and, thirty minutes later, is talking about that friend’s cousin’s friend’s dog, who is sick.
With your daughter, you may need to help her focus. Summarizing is a very important skill in the life of a girl, and one that you have a unique voice in helping her develop. Over the years, she will have countless boys in her class tell her to “Stop talking” or even more bluntly, “Shut up.” She’ll have girls who’ll tell her what she’s saying is stupid. Those children will not, in any way, be acting out of her best interest. But you are. She knows that you love and are for her. It helps to remind her of that often. And, as you do, you can give her guidelines in her story-telling. “I’m a little lost in the details. Can you summarize that for me?” is a gracious way to help her focus, although she’ll need a lesson on what summarizing means in the beginning. Then, at the end of the conversation, you can add your own version of a summary, “So, when Ryan was pushed out of the swing today at school, everyone laughed and it made you sad.” As you repeat this process for her in different ways over time, she’ll come to understand that all of the details aren’t necessarily-necessary.
As a side note, parents of teenage girls will do well to connect in many of the same way parents can connect with boys. As an adolescent, she gets awkward with intimacy and does better with what we refer to as a “back door” way to connect. She needs you to engage with her when she doesn’t realize that’s what you’re doing. Talk around a task—or a cup of coffee. (Teenage girls think that coffee is really cool.) Bedtime is a great time when her defenses and defensiveness are often at a minimum. And read between the lines. Watch for teary-ness or irritability beyond the normal hormone haze.
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One of the primary frustrations of teenage girls in my office is a parent who doesn’t listen and jumps to fix a problem.
Second, to even understand what she’s saying to you, she will often need to dial down the drama. And drama is no respecter of ages: she will have the potential to be just as emotional as a toddler or a teen. She will regularly use phrases like, “She’s the meanest girl in the whole school!” or “I have never been as mad in my life!” Everything will end with an exclamation mark. In these moments, her descriptions often have more to do with drama than what she really is feeling. Anger can hide hurt feelings and genuine sadness lurking underneath. Clarifying questions like, “Tell me what happened?” and “What did you do next?” can help her start with the facts of the situation. Then, she can talk about her feelings in a way that you are able to hear her heart and offer the support she needs, without the distracting drama.
Third, listen for ways to affirm her. Girls of every age are profoundly hard on themselves. In our counseling offices, we hear stories of girls as young as pre-schoolers who call themselves fat or stupid. And, as adolescence looms, those feelings of insecurity just get stronger. Again, as a parent, you have a voice in your daughter (or son’s) life like no one else. She needs you to affirm her. She needs you to call out the good and the strengths that you see in her. As she gets older, tell her the ways you admire her.
Your son and daughter communicate differently. But, as you learn to listen through the grunt and the gurgle, you will hear not only what they say, but the truth of who they are. That kind of listening is a gift, and one that will strengthen your relationship for a lifetime.
Jeannie’s blog will help, too. She does a beautiful job of reminding you of your impact, peppered with much grace for you and your child. One of our favorite quotes from Parenting the Wholehearted Child is this: “God’s extravagant grace forever eliminates the burden of perfection and performance, and it compels us and our children to live out of the freedom and fullness of his wholehearted and unconditional love in Christ Jesus.”
Thanks be to God. We get to live out of, parent within, and communicate through that glorious freedom and fullness.
Thanks for having us on your blog, Jeannie. And thanks for being a reminder of God’s wholehearted and unconditional love for us all—parents and children alike.
Sissy Goff, M.Ed., LPC-MHSP spends most of her days talking with girls and their families, with the help of her counseling assistant/pet therapist, Lucy the Havanese. She has worked as the Director of Child and Adolescent Counseling at Daystar Counseling Ministries in Nashville, Tennessee since 1993, with a Master’s degree from Vanderbilt University. A sought-after speaker for parenting and teacher training events such as d6, dotMOM, and Lifeway Kids Conference, Sissy has spoken to thousands of parents, teachers, and girls across the country. Sissy is the author of a Lifeway video parenting curriculum called Raising Boys and Girls, as well as six books including parenting titles, Intentional Parenting and Raising Girls. Sissy is also a frequent guest and contributor to media shows and publications such as Moody Midday Connection, the Chat with Priscilla Shirer, as well as Today’s Christian Woman and Parenting Teens magazines. You can find her and follow her blog at www.raisingboysandgirls.com.