Too many parents want their sons to behave like tiny adults. How nice it would be if our little boys would always play quietly, never pick a fight, never get their clothes dirty, and go to bed without throwing a tantrum. In order to do that, our children would have to view the world through adult eyes and process input the way we do.
Of course, we all recognize that these expectations are somewhat unreasonable. Yes, we can teach our little boys how to behave in school, at home, at the store, and at a neighbor’s house, but this training should not be a straitjacket. When parents discourage their children from moving around, exploring, and testing their boundaries, they are robbing them of one of the natural ways that children learn well – by “doing.”
Both young girls and boys are concrete learners. As they move objects around, they begin to comprehend cause and effect, gravity, inertia (forward motion), and centrifugal force (spinning). Free play combined with guided play teaches children how the physical world around them works and shows them that these forces are dependable. This gives them a sense of security.
At some point, parents realize that while their daughters are moving on to abstract thinking during the later elementary school years, their sons seem to be stuck in concrete thinking mode. Why is that? This is because the brains of girls and boys develop at different rates. Researchers have found that girls generally are able to switch back and forth between the left and right hemispheres of their brains when they are processing input. This means that they can connect verbal labels (words, phrases) to actions and consequences sooner than boys and are able to plan ahead more easily. This comfortable link between the logic and detail-processing part of their brain (the left side) and the spatial, “big picture” side (the right side), gives them a definite advantage in the classroom where they are required to integrate these concepts on a daily basis. Girls also can easily slide from reasoning to emotion and back again. This allows them to better govern their own behavior, which is why most teachers feel that girls are easier to teach than boys.
Boys, on the other hand, grow up with this gap between the two halves of their brain. The neural connections that develop early in girls seem to be delayed in boys. Boys function for the most using their right hemisphere, which gives them an early predisposition towards working with objects rather than words – doing rather than speaking. Since they always see the “big picture,” or a kind of overview of every situation, they may fail to understand why paying attention to details, sequencing and logic are so important. This puts them at a disadvantage in the classroom. As a result, they would prefer to get up, move around and do something instead of sitting quietly in class or doing their homework. This gap also limits how well boys can perceive cause and effect, which is a left-hemisphere function, requiring noting specific details and recognizing the order they need to be in. The right hemisphere may perceive that an action is happening or about to happen, but the necessary neural connectors are not yet in place to transfer that knowledge from the right to the left hemisphere, where it can find steps for dealing with that action. Hence, boys may run out into the street after a ball without looking first to see if a car is coming, even after they have repeatedly been told not to.
Understanding how boys learn and how their brains work can save parents frustration, aggravation, and worry that something might be wrong with their child. Most likely, there is nothing wrong with your son. He is just behaving normally in response to the way his brain perceives the world. Parents whose first child was a girl sometimes panic when they discover that their son seems to be operating under a completely different set of rules. The truth is, he is. Boys and girls are different in ways that are biologically hard-wired and that is okay.
As a parent whose son is now grown and a mother of four, here are some helpful tips that really worked in our family:
Capitalize On Your Son’s Natural Way Of Learning
Take advantage of your son’s natural learning power and give him lots of opportunities to explore his world, watch how things work, take things apart and put them back together, and, yes, get dirty. But, add one key element to his experiences: Talk about what he is doing, seeing and testing out. Give him a working vocabulary for every action and reaction he experiences. Then, have him tell you what happened first, second, third and so on so that he gets a sense of time passing and the order of events. Encourage him to describe what happened and how he feels about it. This will prompt his brain to start making those critical neural connections between the two hemispheres, connecting words and feelings with what he is experiencing. As he becomes more comfortable sharing what he is learning with his parents, he will become more confident participating verbally in the classroom.
Role Play With Your Son
This may seem like a silly activity, but it is absolutely vital to enable your son to start integrating his emotions with logical thinking. Most girls have little problem blending their emotions with everything else that they do. The two hemispheres of their brain share information easily, allowing them to put themselves in another person’s shoes and see the situation from that person’s perspective. Early on, they learn how to empathize. Most boys, on the other hand, have to be taught how to do this. It does not come naturally, and if they never learn how to empathize, they will struggle all their lives saying things that are taken wrong and making others angry at them.
Your son is a concrete thinker. He has to experience a concept in a concrete way before it will make sense to him. Until it makes sense, he cannot make it his own. Role-playing lets your son act out specific situations with you in a concrete way and experiment with different ways of handling them. Select situations that he most likely will face in school or with his friends or even with bullies.
You must do one extra step to make this effective: After the role playing, have your son describe in his own words what the situation or problem was, how he felt about it, what was the wrong way to handle it, what was the right way and why – including how doing the right thing made him feel. If this situation involves a family rule, like “don’t take something that doesn’t belong to you,” also have him recite the rule out loud. These steps accomplish the following: They can give your son a repertoire of solutions to problems he will likely face. They will make him confident that he can do the right thing, even under peer pressure. They enable him to express his reasoning and actions verbally. Finally, they teach abstract thinking and empathy – growing those neurons!
Pointing Out Key Things to Remember
Another problem that boys have is the inability to prioritize facts. This is the result of relying too much on the right side of the brain for all information processing, making them struggle to determine what is important to remember and what isn’t.
As a parent, you can make studying so much easier for your son if you work with him so that he gets the hang of finding key words and concepts as he reads his textbooks. It is worth making copies of parts of chapters so that he can highlight or underline important names, dates right on the pages. This way he can draw colored boxes around formulas and concepts in Math and Science. Have your son jot notes in the margins and make lists or outlines in his notebook. Even encourage him to try to scribble down every important word that his teacher says in class.
Another way to reinforce this skill at home is to have your son summarize the plot of a movie or TV show he just saw just by listing phrases that describe it. Little by little, he will get in the habit of picking out the important facts from everything else.
Although the above tips explained mainly on the differences between the brains of boys and girls, there will always be some overlap between the sexes. Your son may not be demonstrating all the above tendencies or your daughter might be. That’s okay, too. Every child is a unique individual, influenced by genes, family life, parenting techniques, and his or her experiences in school and with friends. If your son seems stuck in concrete mode, is not quite catching on in social settings, or is missing too much in class, give these tips a try and know that they will help to boost vital brain connections.
Recommended Reading For Parents Raising Boys
Why are boys so different? What makes them tick? How can moms help their sons grow up to become men of honor and integrity? Using extensive research and humorous personal experiences, mothers, including grandmothers and teachers, will find wise counsel and reassurance in this practical and helpful book that offers the advice, understanding, and support every mom is looking for when it comes to raising godly sons.
Rachel Balducci is a writer and the mother of five lively boys. In her book, she chronicles the exuberant, awesome life of boys through conversations overheard, rules she’s been forced to make, and the many episodes of boy behavior that continue to mystify mothers worldwide. From the care and feeding of her team, to travels out in public, to their wide-eyed adoration of Walker, Texas Ranger, this laugh-out-loud celebration joyfully explores the sweet and wild side of boyhood.
This worthy, engaging owner’s manual on boys aged two to 22 is written from a reserved, supportive Christian perspective. This informative, practical, and encouraging book will help parents guide boys down the path to healthy and authentic manhood. Wild Things addresses the physical, emotional, and spiritual parts of a boy, written by two therapists who are currently engaged in clinical work with boys and their parents and who are also fathers raising five sons.
Additional Ideas And Tips On Raising Boys
Note: The following are some other suggestions and lessons contributed by other mums on parenting boys. Many thanks to mommy Rachel and Lena for the following great tips.
Boys Never Stop Moving
Ever. Boys are constantly on the go playing, climbing, exploring. You WILL need to baby-proof EVERYTHING. He will use the cushions from your couch as a slide. He will dive from his dresser to his bed. You will probably make a few trips to the emergency room in his first 5 years. That is okay. He will need space to play and you will need to go to bed earlier. It will be the new normal.
This is a term I learned from another mom. It basically means that you need to plan things in the morning that help to burn their energy so that they will have a nice nap in the afternoon. Boys have tons of energy! They love to jump, run, throw and climb. Going to a bouncy house, park, walk, bike ride are all great things to do.
Boys Will Turn EVERYTHING Into A Weapon
Boys will ALSO play with dolls. I have friends who have a no gun rule. That is fine, but their son still turned sticks into swords when he was barely 18months and made knives out of cardboard and duct tape when he was four. Even if you ban it, they will still play fight and maybe even kill their opponents. This does not mean they will be aggressive or violent as they grow older. These same little guys will play Daddy. I don’t mean that they put on a suit and pretend to go to work. They will play with dolls if given a chance and will rock, diaper, bottle or breast feed a doll while parenting it. This is also okay too. They are practicing the parenting skills that they are learning by watching their own loving parents. Don’t worry about their sexuality. Worry about the example you are setting for them as you parent them. They will likely parent in many of the same ways that you do.
Get Involved In What They Love
Boys tend to love things like planes, trains and automobiles! But they can also like babies, dolls and houses. We have a police and fire station “doll house” I would never thought of this until a friend gave us one. It is very cool and they love it. Another great resource is www.twentytrucks.com. These are videos on construction vehicles and catchy songs that teach you the names. Very helpful for boys, but also for Mom!
You Are Going To Struggle With Gender Roles
Put aside expectations of what boys should be. If your boy eschews trucks and trains and prefers flowers and gardening, who cares? He is still yours and you love him. Remember that when you shop for his birthday or Christmas presents. Buy according to his interests and not what you think he should be interested in.
Allow Him To Express His Emotions
Tell him it’s ok to express emotion. Even when boys are little they need guidance on their emotions. No more, suck it up son. Your little boy needs to be able to cry when he is sad and constructive ways to handle his anger. He also needs to be able to celebrate with the people in his life. Modeling appropriate ways to deal with our emotions teaches all of our children to empathize with others and also how to be in healthy relationships with others. I personally have a quick talk with my sons at the end of the day and go through the events. I ask them how they are feeling and how they felt when something happened. I let them answer. If they got into a fight with a playmate I quickly talk to them about it and have them tell me what they thought and how they felt. I know that in the future they will talk to me about how they are feeling because I am doing this technique with them everyday.
Teach Him To Talk It Out
So many of our boys in men grow up internalizing everything or externalizing too much. Boys need to learn to express their needs so that they can be met, to talk about their feelings so that they can heave healthy relationships with future partners and to just do better in life, it is better for them to be in touch with their feelings and be able to express them.
I wish I had known these things before I had kids. Remember, you aren’t just raising your son, you are raising someone else’s first crush, husband and father. — Mommy Rachel