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What Little Boys Are Made Of

I grew up in a household of girls.  With four daughters and no sons, my father was, quite literally, the odd-man-out.  We used to tease my dad on a regular basis about being the only male in an otherwise all female household.  As an adult, the tables are turned at our house.  I am the lone female in a house of boys.  Granted, the numbers aren’t quite the same (I only have two boys as opposed to my father’s four), and at some point the game may change.  But for now, I have figured out that my life in a family of all girls left me woefully unprepared for little boys.  It actually took a while for me to settle down and realize that my eldest son was normal.  And it took even longer for me to curb the instinct to squelch those normal, little boy behaviors that did not make sense to me because I was a girl raised among girls. So, for the benefit of others who may feel lost in boyland, here are a few things I have learned in the last five years about my little boys:

1) My boys are loud.  Whether it be growling, making siren and engine noises, or stomp-marching around the house, my boys are rarely quiet.  And when they are,
 you might want to go check on them because they’re probably up to something.  They still need to learn how to be quiet at the right times, but I figured out that expecting them to play quietly all the time, especially when they are shut up during winter, was unrealistic.

2) My boys like to get dirty.  Dirt and mud are an irresistible temptation to them.  It is like a magnet that draws them in.  Even if you expressly forbid them from touching the dirt/mud, they will “fall in” or “drop something” and have to get it out.  Don’t fight it, just go with it and get a routine down for cleaning it up.  I limit my boys to one romp in the mud a day, and make sure that they are dressed appropriately.
One of each of my boys' boots after a muddy day

3) My boys like to get wet.  Everything mentioned above about dirt and mud? Yeah, it pretty much goes for water as well.  Especially puddles.  The upside of this is that I get plenty of “help” when I do dishes. 

4) My boys are on the go and have a hard time sitting still. I have a few friends who have families of all girls.  Their girls will sit and look at books, they will snuggle with mom or dad, they will make all kinds of crafts, and do all of these things for long periods of time…or at least what feels like a long time to me.  These friends talk about how their daughters will entertain themselves for hours with one activity.  My boys constantly move from one activity to another.  And when they do an activity, it is always accompanied by plenty of movement.  Their little legs are always swinging as they sit in the chair to cut and paste or color, and sometimes they go so wildly that the rest of their bodies move a little, too.  We went swimming at a friend’s house last summer and her girls were perfectly happy to swim or float around in the pool.  My boys, in contrast, were constantly in and out of the pool, usually with much splashing and noisemaking to boot.  My boys NEED lots of physical exertion, and they use their gross motor skills to their fullest extent through climbing, jumping, swinging, running, and any other appropriate adverb they can think of. When we go to church, my boys are expected to sit or kneel in front of their seat, but squirming is something we don’t get too upset about yet.  We also let them color or draw or play in our felt quiet books to keep them occupied.

5) Its all about competition.  If I can turn it into a race, it is more likely to get done.  When putting on shoes and coats, putting on seatbelts, cleaning a certain area, etc., I tell them that whoever does it fastest wins and I’m amazed at what they will do.  Will it always be done right? No, but part of the race is doing it right or they can’t win.  This also has a down side, especially when you want a little boy to take his time.  My 5-year-old tries to do everything faster than everyone else, which sometimes leads to not following directions or not absorbing information as well as he could otherwise. 

6) My boys play aggressively. When my eldest discovered a box of my old Barbie dolls two years ago, I found half the dolls flying around like super heroes attacking the rest of the dolls who were the bad guys.  To be honest, I was concerned that he would play so violently with his toys. This turned into playing good guys and bad guys with friends and other toys and, *gasp*, even led to playing “guns” and “shooting them dead.” He was never violent or overly aggressive to the point of hitting or kicking or even actually hurting anyone, but pretending to kill bad guys, even imaginary ones, seriously disturbed me.  This is the behavior that led me on a search for what was normal and okay for boys, because my husband, who was a boy, kept telling me that it WAS normal.

Only after the constant reassurance from my husband, and then reading a few books on boys did I realize that this kind of play was normal for a boy and didn’t mean he was going to grow up to be a serial killer.  For some reason, boys need this good vs. evil imaginative play.  And even grown up men crave the reassurance that they are the “hero” of the family (Read The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands by Dr. Laura for more on this topic).  It is what drives adult men to go out and provide for their families.  As I searched, I began to realize how hostile our society is to little boys and their natural behavior, how it vilifies masculinity and tries to make boys more like girls. Perhaps it is the squelching of this natural instinct in childhood (because who wants their child to be the one pretending to kill people…even if it is villains and bad guys) that has led us to a generation of young men who have no motivation to do anything.  I don’t know for sure.  But this was the tallest hurdle for me to get over.  Every instinct told me to nip the “violent” play in the bud.  BUT, everything I was reading told me to let my boys be boys, or they wouldn’t be functional men as adults.  So, we allow them to play super heroes, police men, and I buy them action figure so my Barbie dolls will be safe for any possible future daughters.  And, since boys tend to make whatever they can into a gun even if you outlaw toy guns, we even let them play with toy guns, with some caveats.  I don’t like the guns to look real.  Space-agey lazer beams, nerf guns, and other similar types are fine.  We have even let a cowboy six-shooter in the house because it was bright orange and yellow.  But I don’t like the kinds that look like real weapons because, honestly, how are they then to tell the difference if they come across an actual gun?  That is where I drew the line, but I know other families who take a different approach.  My boys like to wrestle with each other, and they like to chase and tackle.  We don’t allow hitting, kicking, or biting, but roughhousing is okay, even if it is rougher than I initially feel comfortable with.

There were a couple of books that helped me to figure out that my boys were normal and just fine.  The most influential was The Good Son: Shaping the Moral Development of our Boys and Young Men by Michael Gurian. I dind’t buy into everything that Gurian wrote, but he was influential in helping me to understand what was normal aggression in little boys, such as the good vs. evil play. He also talks about channeling a boy’s natural behavior for their good and best development.  He talks a lot about the difference between girls and boys and how they derive their self-worth, and how our society is failing your young men.  It was an eye opener for me. A second influential book was Raising Real Men: Surviving, Teaching and Appreciating Boys by Hal and Melanie Young.  I loved reading this book by two parents with a large family mostly consisting of boys.  They had some great tips and insights.

I am not going to suggest that all boys fit into one cookie cutter mold.  Some boys are quiet and like to hold still.  Others don’t like to get dirty.  And some girls are more aggressive and noisy.  This is just me sharing what I have noticed with my own boys, as well as the advice that I received from other mothers who have raised sons.  As a girl, it can be really, really hard to keep up with little boys, and for me it was good to be able to get advice from other moms who had done it before, especially since I had had very little experience with boys myself. What has helped you to better understand your children?


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