Empowering Girls and Connecting with Boys
Simpsonville SC USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 5, September-October 2005, p. 204
I thoroughly enjoyed an afternoon session with Lawrence Cohen, author of Playful Parenting, on "Empowering Girls and Connecting with Boys." With the premise that our society tends to discourage boys from experiencing and expressing authentic emotions and that girls often end up subjugating their own values and feelings in favor of maintaining relationships (or their popularity) at any cost, Dr. Cohen offered concrete suggestions for parents who want to counter these cultural influences.
For example, with girls who are struggling with conflict in a relationship, a parent could listen, empathize, and then ask, "So have you thought about what you want to do about this?" This kind of question prompts a child to take an active role in addressing the situation. Concerning boys, Dr. Cohen emphasized the importance of early training in closeness and connection. He pointed out that adults often want to get babies and children to stop crying and will do almost anything to stop the crying (and relieve their own feelings of helplessness). But even after all basic needs are met, a child's tears sometimes continue. Cohen assured parents that it's okay to be with children as they cry to express how they feel. Sometimes the crying is not about the immediate thing at hand, but it may be about something they haven't expressed yet. As they grow older, children may verbalize those hurts as they cry, but sometimes they won't. Parents just need to realize that there may be more to a storm than meets the eye, and to let children work through it as needed.
Cohen also encouraged parents to study their children, especially through play, to figure out their particular ways of connecting, and to keep that atmosphere of connection with them when correcting their behavior (rather than resorting to lectures or power struggles). His book offers many more examples of how to establish and maintain this kind of connection with our children and to help them work through conflicts with peers.