Boy Brain: What Moms Need to Know

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To prepare for a recent talk I gave about marriage to a group of moms, I did a lot of reading on the differences between how males and females think. The crazy thing is that since I live in a house of all males, this actually helped me to understand boy brain and why my sons and I tangle about certain things.

Boy brain vs. girl brain means compartmental vs. global:

Males tend to think compartmentally. They focus on one thing at a time.

If you think about it like a computer, they have one tab open and they are hyper-focused on that. If they need to do something else, they will completely close down the tab they were working on and open a new tab for the new task.

Women, by contrast, tend to think globally. They are multi-taskers.

To use the computer analogy again, we like to have lots of tabs open at once. We are constantly bouncing between them and relating them to each other. We open more tabs as we see they are needed, while keeping all the previously opened ones open.

Other folks have explained this boy brain and girl brain difference describing men as being waffles—the squares on the waffle are all separated and the syrup stays in each little square—and women as being spaghetti—all those noodles are intertwined and wound up together.

This compartmental and global difference affects our lives and the way we look at things far more than we think—especially as it relates to husbands and wives. (More on that in an upcoming blog post.) But as I was researching and speaking, it became obvious that this male/female information relates just as well when dealing with parents and kids.

Boys and girls think differently. That's important to understand as a mom of boys.
Let’s be real for a second, mamas. Boys are different.

Boy brain: moms, understand that your sons are compartmental.

It is especially important that a mom understands this compartmental thing about her son’s brain. It’s going to save you so much stress. Seriously.

Lucky for you, I’ve got an honest and embarrassing real life story that just happens to very vividly illustrate my point.


The situation that perfectly demonstrated boy brain vs/ girl brain (compartmental vs global thinking):

Place: Our living room.

Issue: Math. They couldn’t remember how to do something.

And I. was. frustrated.

(Looking back, in their defense, it was something we’d just introduced the week before. Something I thought was easy to grasp. Something they apparently did not.)

Anyhow. They didn’t understand something. Again.

Now, you know what happens, moms. At some point, the tabs start opening up and your brain defaults to:

They don’t understand this? They’re either lying and just don’t want to do math or I’m a horrible teacher.

I’m wasting my time.

Is homeschool even working?

This is so stupid.

Why are we even doing this?

What made me think we could do this?

And while my sons sat on the couch, my brain whirled around (opening more and more tabs) about how I probably need to hire a math tutor

and everyone is going to think I’m a horrible teacher

and this is all probably because they play too many video games

and for serious whyyyyyy do I even bother

and I should just put the kids in school and go back to school myself or get a regular job

and I am so wasting everyone’s time!

Here’s the thing, you guys. While I’m freaking out—there sat my sons on the couch, still wondering how to solve the math problem I’d given them.

There they sat, completely confused about how they got from “I don’t remember how to do this thing you explained a week ago” to “mom is freaking out in the kitchen, something about a waste of time.”

Guys. Are. Compartmental.

Gals. Are. Not.

Take heart, mama. Sometimes the issues you have with your son is because he has a boy brain, and you don't. Let me explain how this comes into play...

Boy brain works differently than girl brain.

When a guy is dealing with something, he’s dealing with that thing (math problem).

When a gal is dealing with something, tabs that might sorta kinda relate start popping up, which makes her think of other tabs to open up and pretty soon she’s a kazillion miles away from what the original thing was she were doing, discussing, or solving.

You know, like…a math problem.

What does this mean? It means that Mom ends up attaching a multitude of things to the one issue the boys were supposed to be dealing with.

It also means it can be super helpful when Dad is involved in your homeschooling: you all see things differently!

(It may also explain why Dad might think differently about homeschooling than Mom. Was it hard to convince Dad that homeschooling was a good idea?)

Hold up! Isn’t global thinking good and useful?

Gals will sometimes refer to their global thinking as multi-tasking or the ability to look at an issue from all sides. And sometimes that’s a good thing.

But at other times, this could actually just be called an inability to focus on the real issue at hand.

It’s sometimes blowing things out of proportion.

It’s sometimes a failure to live in the moment and deal with right now.

Boy brain and girl brain: we process differently and it’s important to understand how.

Since I have realized the difference between boy brain and girl brain, I am not kidding you—I feel like I have a way better grasp on how my sons are processing life. I’m not as quick to get discouraged when they don’t seem to be where I am. I understand now that so many of the times we’ve been frustrated with each other have simply been because we process the situation differently.

It’s not that they are just being boys who don’t pay attention, it’s that we literally focus in different ways.

Deep breath. Exhale. I get it!

Any female who interacts with males needs to understand the huge difference in how men and women deal with processing information. A boy brain is different! For moms of sons, this is incredibly important to understand.

Boys think differently than girls -- which is important to understand if you're the mom of boys!

Tired of the sugarcoated version of homeschooling? Read my book The Homeschool Highway: How to Navigate Your Way Without Getting Carsick.


5 thoughts on “Boy Brain: What Moms Need to Know”

  1. Well, I do believe you’ve described be perfectly! But, the way you wrote it made me laugh and encouraged me. Thank you!

  2. Besides the obvious differences between the cross-bridging of brains between males and females you might want to consider that the concept you taught a week earlier is one you have grasped and your children have yet to. They may be boys but they are also children. We tend to lay far too many expectations on our children and tend to go off the hook when something isn’t going as we would anticipate. Boys tend to be both highly visual and kinesthetic learners. You may want to consider how you are asking them to look at a task or relate to it.

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