Parenting Boys - Understanding the Inner Workings of Boys
Parenting boys ...
... means that my life is full of challenge and adventure. There's something about "boy energy" that leaves me feeling exhilarated, but I have to admit that I didn't always feel this way. Before I was able to appreciate and understand the ways in which boys naturally express themselves, I spent my days frustrated, unhappy and exhausted. If you are the frazzled parent of a high-energy boy or a boy who is having difficulty in school, then you'll appreciate this article.
Boys are different girls. Although this is obvious, anyone who fails to acknowledge this fact, misses an essential truth. Boys have their own language—a language which expresses itself primarily through action. This doesn't mean that boys aren't verbal (in fact, both my boys are highly verbal), but movement is the primary mode through which they learn and find their voice.
Parenting boys can be challenging particularly when problems arise at school, where children are expected to sit quietly in their seats. Expecting children to do what they're barely capable of is a setup for everyone involved. While some teachers see girls as more mature because they are better able to conform to adult expectations and control their impulses, boys are seen as lacking focus and self-control. Perhaps the problem is not our boys, but our perception of them and our lack of understanding of their nature.
When we fail to understand another's spirit, we often end up squashing it. If we took a poll, I wonder how many male readers out there would be able to recall an event or series of events at school that dampened their enthusiasm for learning. Many men have had terrible experiences in elementary school that they repressed, but that flood their consciousness when their own boys get into trouble.
Parenting boys requires understanding them and their need for physical expression
Are girls really better learners than boys or is it more likely that our educational system doesn't have an effective way to channel male energy? Maybe if we let kids have their feelings, homes and classrooms would be less chaotic than we think. Instead of screaming, acting out and vying for adult attention, maybe boys would feel seen, heard and appreciated and be more likely to act appropriately in certain situations.
In parenting boys, I've had to knock heads with the local school system many times due to the pervasive lack of understanding of development and seemingly normal boy behavior. For instance, one day at school, my six-year old son, Dakotah, was punished for jumping up and blurting out an answer in class. Rather than smile at his excitement to give the answer and then ask him to raise his hand next time, the teacher reprimanded him harshly in front of his peers and sent him to a classroom of eleven-year olds, where he was made to put his head down on the desk. Since he was forced to assume a position of shame, the older kids teased him mercilessly.
When I picked up Dakotah from school that day, his little shoulders sagged from the weight of his humiliation. As soon as he climbed into the safety of our car, he told between sobs what had happened.
Parenting boys: why use shame and humiliation when you can simply and kindly teach your children what they need to learn.
After soothing him, I made an appointment with his teacher. We talked about what had transpired and I explained to her that in our family, my husband and I, believe that punishment teaches nothing but self-loathing and can do irreparable harm to a child. I pointed out that it seemed unjust that my son was made to pay for his behavior twice—first in front of his peers and then by being humiliated by a classroom of older students. Since my son came home with a detention, I also knew that in other families, he might have been punished a third time for receiving a citation. No wonder many boys lose their burning desire to learn.
When you're parenting boys, you have to stand up to the school system because it's just not geared for boys. You'll have to start to ask yourself why adults make children pay repeatedly for simple acts of misbehavior. (Of course, in my humble opinion, blurting out an answer hardly qualifies as misbehavior.) What is the point of "teaching a child a lesson" when the punishment makes a bigger impression than the lesson?
While I can understand how exasperating it must be for a teacher to be interrupted constantly by students, I think that a simple, "You need to raise your hand" should have been enough. If you're willing to repeat this phrase often enough, the kids will eventually get it. In school and at home, we should expect to have to teach kids the same things over and over. That's how they learn. Even as adults, we often learn by making the same mistake repeatedly.
In American society, we often fail to notice how essential differences require different tacts. It's ironic that we think of ourselves as a nation of individuals, while we neglect to tailor the schooling of our children in a way that celebrates basic gender differences. (Maybe the European system of separating boys from girls had it right.) How can we grow up boys to be genuine, caring individuals if we squash their vibrancy and transform their enthusiasm for learning into greying embers of dispassion?
Parenting boys requires sticking up for them in school
In our schools, girls behavior is the yardstick by which all behavior is measured and that's just the beginning of the abuse. As conscientious adults, how can we justify apple-to-oranges comparisons and use blame and shame to teach?
Parenting boys requires celebrating and guiding boy energy for productive play and learning. Boys are thought-in-motion, constantly squirming and worming, jumping up and down and bouncing off the walls. Boys are spilling over with wired energy and ideas.
Sadly, most adults are intolerant of this energy. Is it because the demands of the modern world (and in schools, these demands are reflected by practices such as "teaching for the tests") that we have so little energy of our own? Or is it because our own indoctrination to "speak only when spoken to" has been so effective that we reflexively squash the spirits of our offspring. The answers to these questions are painfully personal, but our response should be the same: to give our boys what we didn't get.
Parenting boys: sadly, most adults of intolerant of children's high energy.
Recently, I had an experience that taught me much about parenting boys and how they work. I took my boys to visit my friend, Tia, who lives on a ranch outside of town. We spent the day hiking and playing with the animals. Later, as we sat in Tia's living room, petting her dog and cat, my eldest son mentioned that he knew the names of all 150 Pokemon characters. With a twinkle in her eye, Tia challenged, "Name them. I'm going to count, so don't leave any out."
My son smirked with the easy confidence of a six-year old and began reciting the characters' names. My four-year old son, Colt, chimed in and Tia counted, as they spouted off more names. As the count grew higher, remembering names became increasingly more difficult.
As I watched my boys struggle to remember, I noticed how they used their bodies to jog their minds. All in all, listing the names of 150 Pokemon took well over an hour, so I had plenty of opportunity for study. Sometimes, they drew a blank for long minutes at a time. When this happened, they'd start rolling around, tossing the cat's toy back and forth or jumping on me or wrestling each other.
Parenting boys: boys use their bodies to jog their minds.
As I realized what they were doing, I saw that this wasn't random action, but a form of intelligence: a way of giving the brain a breather to stimulate further thought. During most of this exercise, I wondered if they would be able to recall all 150 names. But they didn't give up—they knew intuitively how to jog their bodies and stir their brains to remember.
They'd roll around, swat the air, jump up and down and suddenly, they had another name. The process seemed to take forever, but whenever an interval passed in which they couldn't come up with a name, they'd start agitating their body/mind connection again.
Now imagine how such a scenario would play itself out in school. If a young boy was having trouble remembering how to spell a word on a spelling test, he might start tapping his pencil, but the teacher would tell him right away to stop. Of course, anything more active than pencil-tapping simply would not be allowed.
In this way, boys are being prevented from using their bodies to gain entry to their minds. And boys need to jog their minds to get facts in and then jog them again to get them out. (When I discovered this simple reality, I tested my son on his spelling words by having him jump up and down on my exercise trampoline.) After being repeatedly discouraged from retrieving information in a way that is natural, boys' fascination with learning fades and they turn to sports and other things.
Obviously, I realize that teachers can't have a class of thirty children rolling around on the floor during test-taking. But maybe we can start by allowing a bit more spontaneity—by allowing kids to stand if they need to, by allowing a tapping pencil now and then, by having windows of time in which we accept activity and outbursts in the classroom. It's a wonderful occasion when we can, let children's energy flow where it will, when as adults, we are willing to trust their vibrancy and follow their lead.
Parenting boys at home and putting into practice what I've just laid out for you means encouraging your child's spontaneity and physical expression. For instance, get down and wrestle with your boys. I do this all the time and have to say that it's liberating. And if my boys get petty and I suspect an argument is brewing, I take them outside and we let off some steam by shooting hoops.
Since my boys don't fully understand how to reinvigorate themselves in this way, I guide them and ask them if they feel better. This is what good parenting is all about: recognizing what your children need to flourish and finding a way to present the lesson, so they can learn it for themselves.
Parenting boys can be delightful and challenging and is both a privilege and a wonder. As parents, if we will stand up for them and encourage them to discover how they work, then we can teach them to use their energy to do good things in the world.
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About the author: Laura Ramirez is the publisher of Family Matters Parenting Magazine and the award-winning book, Keepers of the Children: Native American Wisdom and Parenting. Her book shows parents how to raise children to develop their natural strengths and lead uniquely purposeful and meaningful lives. Click on parenting book to learn more.
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