Ask the Expert: Tips for Raising Boys: It’s All Right!
by Shannon Ford, MA, ECE Professional Development Specialist
If there’s something I knew about raising a boy solo, it was that I would need a mantra to guide me. Funny how things happen. My Jacob came into this world screaming and crying while the Beatles hit song, Here Comes the Sun was playing in the background. You know the one that goes, “And I say, it’s all right?”
Screaming his head off during a 12-hour road trip to Wisconsin? “It’s all right.” Dumping his milk into the VCR? “It’s all right.” Cutting his finger with his new pocket knife? “It’s all right.” Coming home covered head to toe in mud? “It’s all right.” Trip to the ER? “It’s all right.”
From the Hot Wheels to the sports to the stink, it’s our job as their parent to nurture the wonderful qualities our boys bring to the table. Here’s what I wish I had known 16 years ago:
Boys will continually test their manhood by taking risks.
Boys often misjudge their abilities. There is no tree too high, no bike too fast. Our first trip to the ER was the result of a bike crash. Helmets and knee pads come in handy–use them. As parents, we long to safeguard our children from mishaps in life. However, kids need healthy risk opportunities to develop judgment, character, resilience, self-reliance, skill, and confidence. Fear stops children from trying; often it’s our fear. Life in a bubble can be more harmful than taking a healthy risk.
Boys go, go, go.
As the saying goes, from SON up to SUN down, our boys never stop moving. One minute he’s building a track for Thomas the Tank and the next he’s getting stuck under the coffee table. He has two speeds—fast and faster.
Don’t force him to slow down. Instead, divert his excess energy into positive outlets. Individual and team sports begin at an early age and offer boys an outlet for energy and an opportunity for social interaction. Have him help around the house by assigning age-appropriate chores. His brain is far more active during physical activity than when sitting passively. An active brain is a healthy brain.
You will step on a Lego (and you will scream).
Communicating with him is like pulling teeth.
My afternoon greeting with my son used to go something like this: “How was your day?” “Fine.” “Anything exciting happen?” “Nope.” “Did you get to go outside?” “Yep.” “Do you have any homework?” “A little.” “What did you have for lunch?” “A walking taco.” “Anything else?” “Apples.” Exhausting, absolutely exhausting, is how I now describe my failed attempts at connecting with my son.
Today, I utilize many more open-ended questions. We even have the tradition (going 7 years strong, I might add) of him telling me three things about his day. When we first started this, I would say “tell me three.” As he finishes up his sophomore year, he still “tells me three.” Additionally, boys are action-oriented; they communicate and bond by doing. Want an even better conversation with your son? Try chatting while playing a board game or shooting hoops.
He has emotions, too (and they need to be addressed).
Why do we comfort our daughters when they come to us crying with a skinned knee but we tell our sons to “buck up?” Research says we encourage our daughters to talk more about their emotions and feelings than we do our sons.
The result? Boys grow up feeling ashamed of their emotions and become men who don’t communicate well—holding it in or lashing out. That makes it hard for them to relate to their peers and develop, nurture, and sustain relationships. When it comes to young children, feelings are their world. Repressed feelings don’t go away–they go underground. Each feeling a young child has is an opportunity to teach him how to cope with the happy, the sad, and the mad. Acknowledge and accept his feelings just as you would want someone to do the same with you.
As a parent, sometimes we simply need to remember “it’s all right.” There is no manual. There is no report card. We are all doing the best we can. Sixteen years later, the words “Here comes the sun. Here comes the sun, and I say, it’s all right” are always just a hum away.