Raising Amazing Boys

Two 4 years old girls decide to play cars. First, each one picks out her cars, then some time is spent as they talk about which ones will be the mommy cars and which will be the baby cars. Next they decide they need to make a house for the cars. So, taking the bin of Duplo blocks off the shelf, they begin to build while talking about what the mommies are going to do. After they have completed the house they put their baby cars to bed. This whole process takes about 30 minutes and not once did they actually run the cars along the floor or make noises even remotely sounding like a car.
A group of 4 year old boys decide to play cars. They dump the basket of cars on the floor each grabbing their favorites quickly. Next, they begin to push the cars along the floor, the table, each other, any available surface making load car sounds. Running their cars into each other they simulate crashes, which are usually accompanied by more loud noises. This lasts a few minutes before they are off to do something else leaving the cars behind.
No, there’s nothing wrong with your child! This is normal behavior for both boys and girls. Since girls’ brains develop from the front (the thinking part) to the back (the doing part) they naturally spend more time talking things out, while boys’ brains, which develop from back (doing) to front (thinking) are more apt to jump right into driving their cars. This explains a lot and can really help us understand what normal behavior looks like and why boys and girls will play so differently, even with the same toy. Boys and girls are different – from the inside out. Of course, there will be some exceptions to this rule but generally speaking this applies.
You may also have noticed that compared to girls, the boys in your life need more room to play, use higher levels of energy when they play and use louder noises in their play. This is not because boys are unkind or (as it may seem at times) just trying to annoy you. This is because – put simply – they need it; it’s where they are in the developmental spectrum and it’s how they are made.
While all children need rough and tumble play – often called roughhousing – boys especially need ample opportunity for this. Roughhousing allows boys a safe setting to negotiate power, learn cause and effect, establish and follow rules including those for taking turns, and to learn give and take. It also helps in building relationships, develops gross motor skills, strengthens muscles, and nourishes their sensory systems. In fact, according to Anthony DeBenedet and Lawrence Cohen in their book The Art of Roughhousing, it can even make kids smarter! They go on to tell us that when children are roughhousing a chemical in the brain called brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDFN) is released. “BDFN is like fertilizer for our brains. It helps stimulate neuron growth within the cortex and hippocampus, both of which are vital to higher learning, memory, and advanced behavior such as language and logic.” Good stuff for sure! (The Art of Roughhousing: Anthony T. DeBenedet, M.D. and Lawrence J. Cohen, PH.D., Quirk Books 2010)
We need to provide boys safe places where they can establish personal power. Dan Hodges wrote in his book, Boys, that “personal power is not based on dominance over others. It is an ability to make choices and produce results. It is a skill that is used with and for others. It is based on a sense of self-worth. When we fail to provide boys with safe opportunities to develop personal power, they may respond by creating conflicts and chaos”…in order to gain personal power. (BOYS: Daniel J Hodge, 2009)
So, what can we do to encourage constructive healthy boy behavior?
First of all, begin with an understanding of what normal behavior in your son look
like. A healthy and happy boy is often loud, lively, rascally, and disagreeable.
Knowing this, the second thing to do is provide space and time for him to just be a boy…let him spend his energy to exhaustion.
Respect his space and play with him only if he welcomes you into his space, otherwise, be close by to observe and help when needed.
Head to the park with him and some friends where they can kick the ball around, get rough, establish their own rules and have some fun. Most children don’t consider organized sports as play so provide plenty of unstructured play time as well.
Provide him with capes. Good for super hero play
Keep a supply of water noodles (cut in half) on hand to use as swords so he can be a warrior or a super hero or a pirate.
Provide space where he can climb to the moon or dig to China.
Set out a variety of building materials, parts and pieces like rain gutters, pvc pipes, boards of varying sizes, cardboard boxes, paint brushes and buckets, old pot lids (which make great shields for sword fighting) and pots (which make great helmets), plastic and galvanized tubs and short ladders. This is a good start and most of it can be found around your house or at yard sales and thrift stores.
Give him access to water so he can dig moats, make lakes and rivers, build dams and generally just wallow in the mud. Truly, it won’t hurt him but it will help him to build important skills necessary for adulthood.
And last, but equally important, limit his time on the television and computers (this includes games on your IPAD or phone).
We need to have confidence that the ways in which boys think and play, grow and learn are OK, because they are. Actually they’re perfect…different from girls for sure but absolutely perfect for boys. All we who love and care for them need to do is provide the space, the tools, and especially the understanding and respect they need and deserve.
Following are a few of the many resources available to help you as you raise your amazing rascally boys. Enjoy!
Play by Stuart Brown M.D
The Power of Play by David Elkind Ph.D.
The Art of Roughhousing by Anthony DeBenedet, M.D and Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D
Boys: Changing the classroom, not the child by Daniel J Hodges
Earth, Water, Fire and Air by Walter Kraul
Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv
Chants, Fingerplays and Stories compiled by Bev Bos and Michael Leeman

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