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How to Encourage Healthy Interaction Between Genders

Here are tips to minimize embarrassing situations for boys and girls and encourage healthy interaction between the genders.

Just as Lucy screams “dog germs” when licked by Snoopy, third-and fourth-grade boys scream “girl germs” when they have to hold hands with girls. And girls scream “boy germs” just as loudly!

Why is it that, almost overnight, third and fourth graders develop a disdain for the opposite sex?

Use these tips to minimize embarrassing situations for boys and girls and encourage healthy interaction.

“They’re in love!”

Third and fourth graders may act as though they hate each other because they don’t want to be teased about having a girl- or boyfriend. They fear ridicule from their peers.

Earlier this year, 9-year-old Sara tearfully complained that when she sat on the bus by Kenny, her friend since kindergarten, the other children teased her about “going with him.”

Don’t make them choose.

Match girls and boys together. It can embarrass boys and girls when they’re forced to pick children of the opposite sex to work with. When Mark picked Misty as a Bible Buddy, winks, whispers and giggles followed. If you make the choice for them, it won’t be as difficult.

Don’t isolate kids.

When prearranging groups, never make a child be the only boy or girl in a group. It can be very uncomfortable for that lone child.

Avoid Touching Interactions

Forms of body contact and touching—that were previously okay—seem somewhat awkward for kids this age. If you plan activities that involve touch, some children will refuse to participate. Others will make inappropriate or hurtful comments.

Don’t plan “touchy-feely” activities.

Asking children to hold hands for a prayer guarantees embarrassed giggling. Group hugs are out. And don’t plan games such as Pass the Orange—a game where kids pass an orange to each other using only their necks.

Be aware of kids’ comfort zones.

Even standing close can be embarrassing. One choir director solved this by alternating her second and fourth graders. The older children didn’t seem to mind standing next to younger boys and girls.

A teacher who couldn’t get children to volunteer to be Mary and Joseph in a play discovered that it was because she’d indicated that Joseph would stand with his hand on Mary’s shoulder. When she proposed a change in the placement of her actors, she had several volunteers for each part.

Plan for Successful Interactions

Activities that worked well in the primary grades may not be appropriate for third and fourth graders. But you don’t have to quarantine your boys from your girls; kids can learn from each other and have fun working together.

Let kids know what you expect.

Establish rules for your situation. The golden rule is still the best basic rule. This may need to be translated for third and fourth graders to specify “no putdowns.” Require “two-fors”—two compliments for every negative comment.

Get kids working together.

Encourage cooperation during interactions. If children are working together on a Sunday school assignment, facilitate cooperation by providing one answer sheet instead of several. Students who collaborate develop considerable commitment and caring for each other no matter what their initial impressions.

Avoid activities that pit boys against girls. This only increases their animosity toward one another. If you’ve planned a game where students race to find Bible verses, form teams with boys and girls on each team.

Think big, but start small. Before third- and fourth-graders feel comfortable sharing meaningful experiences, they may have to learn to share markers. Your girls may continue to say, “Boys are dumb,” and your boys may continue to brush off “girl germs,” but with your loving guidance boys and girls will learn to respect each other.

Ellen Javernick is a children’s author and elementary teacher in Colorado.

Looking for more teaching tips? Check out these ideas!

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