About Your Boy
How can you bring out your boy's best? You may feel as if parenting and teaching boys is an exhausting and puzzling endeavor...
Did you know that scientists have discovered more than 100 differences between the male and female brain? That means male behavior differs greatly from female behavior. No wonder we are puzzled! When you understand the role of testosterone and the differences in brain development dealing with behavior will be more effective because you will be able to choose language and create situations that enable your boy to be his best!
Your Boy's Brain
Understanding how the male brain adapted to survive will give you new parent ideas. You will realize that boys are doing what they are designed to do — perfectly. Our brains have not yet evolved to adapt to the requirements of today's society yet there are many ways to adapt the environment to help your boy be his best.
A boy's brain development and a girl's brain developmen, aren't they the same?
When you consider human development over all of time, it becomes quite clear that males and females have developed to support specific tasks. We have lived in Hunter-Gatherer societies for 99 percent of our human time-line! Our brains developed in unique and gender specific ways that enabled us to survive as a species. Now we are living in the 1 percent of time and our brains haven't yet evolved to adapt to the changes. This puts our boys, especially, at a disadvantage!
Women Were the Connectors
Their survival depended on their ability to relate to each other and to the hunters who provided food. Their children depended on them to be able to bond and relate to them. Thus, the verbal and emotional centers of women's brains developed to support those needs.
Women Were the Gatherers
Their work was gathering seeds, roots and insects. They needed fine motor skills, and so their finger sensitivity and dexterity developed. Their work required attention to detail and allowed time for discussion. They needed a heightened awareness of the "big picture," which gave them a sense of caution of what was around them. Women's bodies developed smaller but they were able to endure greater hardship.
Men Were the Hunters
Hunting required short bursts of strong muscular activity (gross motor skills). They needed to be single-focused, with hair-trigger responses that supported their ability to find food. When the chase was on, there was no time to talk, someone was in charge and the hunters did as they were told.
Men Were the Providers
With hunting came recklessness and a certain degree of self-sacrifice. Men were willing to risk everything to provide food for their women and children.
How Do These Developmental Differences Play Out Today?
In the 20th century, the clear delineations of male and female roles have become ambiguous and murky, leaving men confused. Jobs have changed from those requiring manual labor to those requiring communication and social skills. Women have become more confident, taking more control of their lives, leaving less room for men to be the caretakers and providers. Women want to discuss and relate. Men prefer to talk less and move quickly to solutions. It is imperative that we redefine male roles and make a place in our world that supports boys. We must make a place in our homes and schools for their energy, single-focus and physical ability. I often remind parents and teachers that "every behavior is useful in some context."
It is up to us, and it is crucial, that we discover a new context for our boys!
The Testosterone Hormone
Normal testosterone is the key to why "boys will be boys." Fluctuating throughout their lifetime, male testosterone affects mood, energy, and risk-taking behaviors. When you know what it does, you will understand how it affects male behavior and how you can adjust your parent behavior.
You Could Say That It Drives the Bus
What does the normal testosterone hormone have to do with it? Boys will be boys, and that is so different from girls! But what does that have to do with male testosterone? While it is risky to generalize about genders, science is proving over and over that boys and girls really are different
Understanding Testosterone Will Help To Understand Male Behavior
More than just a growth hormone, it affects mood and energy, producing boisterous, energetic behavior and a need for competition and hierarchies. It boosts self-confidence, self-reliance, risk-taking and single-mindedness. Recognizing, nurturing and valuing these qualities in our boys is essential.
Through the Years
For a short period of time, in utero, 7 weeks to be exact, boys and girls are actually the same. The Y chromosome is an add-on chromosome that begins to act and gives the boy what he needs. As Steve Biddulph says in his book, Raising Boys, A male is a female with optional extras. That's why everyone has nipples, though not everyone needs them.
When the Y chromosome stirs, the testosterone hormone starts being made. By 15 weeks, testicles are fully developed and start to make extra testosterone.
At birth: A boy has as much testosterone in his body as he'll have at age 12! Two months after birth: Testosterone hormone levels equalize and remain the same as girls throughout the toddler years.
Age 4: A surge brings levels to nearly double. This leads to increased interest in action, adventure and vigorous play.
Age 5: Hormone levels drop by half and the boy equalizes again and stays similar to girls.
Age 11-13: Now levels rise sharply (eventually to 800% over the toddler levels!) and systems need to be rewired to accommodate this sudden growth. This causes boys of this age to be disorganized and goofy for many months.
Age 14: Levels reach their peak, body muscle increases, voices change and sexual feelings, restlessness and risk-taking urges are strong. IQ is also affected: boys catch up with girls in written and verbal ability and surge ahead in mathematical ability.
Mid-20s: While levels remain high, his body has gotten adjusted to them. Surges of creative energy, love of competition, desire to achieve and to be protective can be channeled into activities and career choices that will bring life-long satisfaction.
The 40s: Levels begin to decline, although there is still enough to endow him with high cholesterol, baldness, and hairy ears! He has less to prove and mellows into quiet leadership, steady friendships and may even go for days without thinking about sex!
For more about boys and testosterone, I recommend the following books: Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph, The Good Son (and other titles) by Michael Gurian, Why Gender Matters by Dr. Leonard Sax.
Understanding is the key to compassion and gives us the ability to shape a supportive and nurturing environment for our boys. It is our job to understand the role this hormone plays in our boy's development. And it is our job to guide all of the amazing gifts of boys into healthy directions so they can thrive!
Ten Parenting Tips for Boys
Ten changes you can make to help your boy be his best. When you know that boys need more time to process your request, that they need you to make that request in fewer words and that sometimes you'll get better results when you write it down, you'll be on your way to supporting childhood behavior in a positive way.
Ten Parenting Tips will deepen your understanding that the job of children is to: try out a wide range of behaviors and the job of parents is to interpret those behaviors and feelings for them and then guide them into a socially acceptable range. Think that may sound easier than it really is?
Choose one or two of these Ten Parenting Tips to begin to bring out your boy's best. Begin slowly and soon you'll be surprised by the change! Remember to give yourself grace as you practice and fine-tune your technique.
Ten Parenting Tips
1. Define the problem. When you define a problem together, you will be amazed at your boy's creativity in finding solutions. Brainstorm simple, clear rules together. Remember to set and agree on the consequences, too. Posting them in written form will facilitate non-verbal reminders when necessary. Then, it's up to you to enforce them fairly and consistently. And be sure you are an example of following the same rules that have been set.
2. Gesture only. Boys key into physical gestures more than long-winded verbal instructions. Simply gesture to the rule as it has been posted or gesture to the infraction. For example, gesture towards the door that has been left open.
3. One word. And one word only! Resist filling in details, it overwhelms your boy's ability to process what you're saying. Speak firmly and calmly, choosing nouns rather than verbs. Jacket. (Dads do this much more naturally than moms.)
4. Give information. Repeat the rule again, as information. Keep your voice neutral as you describe specifically what needs to happen. We can go to the park as soon as your clothes are picked up off of your floor and put into the hamper.
5. State how you feel (and then drop it). You are teaching boys an emotional vocabulary as you describe your feelings. Do this in a neutral voice and then take a deep breath and move on. I was disappointed when I came home and saw that your chores weren't done. [shift voice tone] I'm looking forward to going to the park with you when you're done.
6. State expectations in the positive. Rather than telling your boy what you don't want him to do, before you speak to him, ask yourself: What do I want instead?
7. State what needs to happen. When you can describe in simple, clear detail what specifically needs to be done, your boy will be able to follow through. Be sure to focus on the object rather than the person. I want you to take the plates from the table and put them in the dishwasher before you leave the kitchen.
8. Write it down. Post the rules in a visible place, refer to them with a gesture. When you want to praise your boy, write a note or card, which allows you time to think about what you want to say and allows him a chance to digest what you've said. I saw how you stopped your game to play with your baby brother today. You helped me be able to cook dinner for all of us!
9. Adjust your boy's outer environment. Are your boy's physical needs being met? Boys are easily overstimulated and guard against it by acting out. A quiet, simple environment will support your boy's development. Be aware that children take in images and words literally, with no ability to filter. Media images, including video games, have long term impacts on behavior, stress, learning disorders, and social adjustment.
10. Feed your son's inner life. Staying connected may take more time and more patience but it's important that all adult's in the boy's life persist. Provide healthy male role models in real life and through literature, movies and other arenas. Remember to acknowledge all of his feelings while setting limits on his behavior. Enlisting his help in finding a solution will redirect his behavior. I see how you can get frustrated when your brother crashes your block tower down but it's still not okay to hit him. What's another way we could keep your brother from doing that?
Now, That's Do-Able, Right?
Some of these Ten Parenting Tips come from a book by Lucinda Neall, Bringing the Best Out in Boys, Communication Strategies for Teachers, available at Hawthorn Press.
As a wise man once said, When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
Play With Guns
Does your boy turn everything into a gun? This is a familiar parenting question and complaint. With some ground rules, gun play is possible, yet, understanding what childhood behavior underlies the desire for gun play may help you guide the play into other avenues.
They'll Make a Gun Out of Anything!
To allow play with guns — or not: What parent or teacher of boys has not struggled with this question? Early childhood teacher, author of Heaven on Earth, A Handbook for Parents of Young Children and mother of three boys, Sharifa Oppenheimer believes that while we can recognize the desire for the grand adventure, for the drive and daring energy that gun play involves, we can still discourage the violence. She believes it is the excitement and the energy behind gun play that is so compelling for many children, not the violence. You may find the following ways in which Ms. Oppenheimer handles gun play in large groups and at home helpful as you decide how to handle this hot topic.
Kids Playing With Guns in Large Groups
In large groups of children, Ms. Oppenheimer maintains the policy of no weapons. If children use fingers or sticks, she reminds them, no pointing. She then offers children who want to play with guns these alternative ideas that are filled with the adventure and excitement, with the hiding and intrigue that gun play involves...encourage them to be arctic explorers, caught in a blizzard, or paddling down the Amazon in a boat with huge pythons slithering by, or even firefighters saving dozens of people. She says that usually this kind of suggestion sparks ideas of their own, and they are off and running.
Playing With Guns at Home
At home, Ms. Oppenheimer handles the gun play issue differently. Her natural inclination was to forbid gun play but feared the forbidden fruit syndrome. She found a compromise by giving her sons a small dose, with very specific parameters. She allowed her sons to play with little wooden rifles on Saturday mornings.
Play With Guns Ground Rules
Her ground rules:
- Everyone has to be on the same team
- It is absolutely forbidden to point the guns at each other
- Everyone has to be having fun
She continues, If any of these ground rules were broken, the game ended, the guns were put away, and they could try again next Saturday. Ms. Oppenheimer found that because her sons had so much experience playing games that were thrilling and intricate without the use of guns, many Saturdays came and went without their rifles, because they simply forgot about them! She concludes that if they remembered later in the week, she would allow one hour of gun play and then they were put away until the following Saturday.
Often, the challenge for parents is to come up with some enticing alternatives to play that involves guns, see the article on Adventure Games instead of Gun Play.
Adventure Games Instead of Gun Play
These childhood games offer adventure and intrigue without the guns. Offering play alternatives that meet the needs of children will satisfy even the most die-hard Rambo.
Sharifa Oppenheimer, author and mother of 3 sons, offers these ideas for war-free adventure games:
Make bows and arrows: Put time into finding just the right sticks and feathers. Sharpen the arrows by rubbing tips on a stone or cement. Create a quiver out of a cardboard tube, painting it and decorating it.
Hunting games: Capture wild ponies or hunt for buffalo, accompanied by the bow and arrows.
Child-made, parent-supervised campfires are magical. Teach the essentials and finish off the adventure with skewered apples, marshmallows, or toasted bananas. Of course, proper roasting sticks must be found and carefully prepared.
Magic potions: berries, clover, mud, baking soda and vinegar. Often games of mystery and intrigue result.
Scrap lumber, hammers, nails (roofing nails with big heads). Use two low, wide stumps as a work bench. Stack a few pieces and hammer together (don't make them perfect) — call this a boat. See what your child creates! (I still have a hill and house scene that my daughter made at age 7). Get the paint out, too.
Small, dull pocket knives for sixes and up: Cut bush branches, peel bark. Decide the rules together. Are they always supervised? Always on the porch? Only when no other children are playing?
Sleepovers: in tents in the back yard. Lots of chores beforehand: clear rocks, haul leaves for padding, make a rock fire-ring, gather sticks for fire, fill water bottles, fix food, etc.
Fort building: Use branches, scrap lumber. Child may need help tying basic stick structure together.
Water play: Shallow creeks, boats to sail, puddles, hoses, all offer opportunities to discover the qualities of water.
Be open to your child's creativity. Let him or her take the lead. You will be amazed at the adventures he or she will create. Have fun with their adventure play!