Failure hits girls hard. Much harder than boys. Research backs up this premise. Ouch. As the mother of twin girls, this hits all too close to home.
When girls fail, they think it's based on ability - they feel they don't have the skills to be successful. Compare this to boys who think other factors within their control are at the root of the issue. Unfortunately, it is much harder to change the processing with girls who think they just aren't good enough...and won't be.
One specific study focuses on 5th grade girls (yes, this now hits way too close to home as mine are in 5th grade) as a group of girls are tasked with an assignment that is intentionally vague and confusing. Girls struggled with the lack of clarity and could not complete the task. And who were most challenged? The girls with the high IQ. Compare that to the boys in the study who didn't have the same issues, were more resilient on the specific task, and finished.
So it starts in 5th grade, huh? Hmmm...
Other reports suggest that girls are talked to differently, starting in school. The feedback they receive is based on their ability. In turn, the boys are often talked to for their behavior and interventions around sitting still, keeping their hands to themselves, reducing the wiggling, and staying focused on their task.
What does all of this mean for educators, and parents of girls (yes, I'm included and I'm listening)?
Rescuing girls is the worst thing we can do. We need to teach our girls to persevere, talking them through their thinking, validating their effort, tapping into their intrinsic motivation. Reinforcing the intrinsics enable girls (and boys....this isn't just pertinent to one gender but valuable to both) to stick it out and work through the challenges, even if it means taking a break or talking it out with others.
Let's face it. What we know about girls is that they are pleasers. They want to do well. They want to make others happy. They have a tendency to be more interested in the positive feedback from their teachers and parents and are more sensitive. Their motivation and autonomy must be regularly fostered.
Praise needs to be shifted. Girls need to be praised for effort, not the traditional "smart", "nice" or "pretty" phrases that undermine their intrinsic motivation. When girls are successful, especially in the upper elementary and middle school grades, they respond better to comments that acknowledge they "worked hard" rather than they're "smart."
Phrases that should be used, altered, and repurposed include:
- You really did well when you shot on goal.
- I can tell you tried hard when you practice your spelling words in the car on the way to school before the test.
The praise we give our bestow is helpful as we teach them to fail well. The way we support them and allow them the time to build the skills and gain confidence is the best gift we can give.