7/10/09

He's a boy. Deal with it.

Constantly apologizing for the actions of my two year old son is numbing my brain. I'm overly annoyed! Don't tell me that because your child sits still, he's/she's "good", but when my child runs around and jibber jabbers he's "a handful", "hyper", "disobedient". That's for me, his mother, to decide! News flash, boys act differently that girls. There. I said it. Yes, there are differences and it's not a "socialized" thing. The "thing" is, is that there are boys, and there are girls. Different, period! Don't write off my son's actions (or others like him) with strong-willed, aggressive, high energy, defiant, or naughty. Does that mean your child's actions are slow, not-able, docile, conceited, lethargic? Let my son explore his surroundings. He's a boy. No explanation necessary. No, he's not going to ransack the place, just peruse it with curiosity. He may even chase down the next person, pet, or plant he sees just to give a "hello tap", "tag, you're it" hit, or the test-the-waters touch. After spending hours on end crying myself to sleep over what a monster my two year old boy had become, (because I thought he would readily sit quiet during church, story time, and play with little girls while mimicking their temperament), I decided to dig deeper into the world of boys. Why? Because my boy wasn't sitting quietly all the times I wanted him to. He would hit and run, laugh after spitting on some random object, say no to anything and everything, run away from me, and pretty much try and do the opposite of what we were focusing on at the moment. Here are some interesting thoughts I found on pbs.com. I've decided that my son is going to have more play, less structured time (more unstructured play without me yelling "NO" every five seconds), and is going to be a boy. He is a boy, he's going to be a boy until the day I die, and there is nothing you can do about it, so neener, neener, neener if you get offended that my son flushes your toilet or plays drums with your building blocks. He may even hit the nearest object to get a reaction. Oh no! So, one final time, "I'm sorry."

Aggression Has Become a Label
"Calling boys 'aggressive' is an attempt to punitively try and control behavior we are not comfortable with. We rarely use this word in a positive way, so when we start by calling boys' behavior 'aggressive' we are already prejudicing how we look at it. Children use their bodies and express their feelings by pushing, grabbing, and fighting. This is age-appropriate for young children — they are in the motor stage of development. Teachers and parents need to help children find ways to resolve these conflicts. But the problem isn't that boys have these impulses and interests; the problem is that we over-react."

Joseph Tobin, Ph.D.

Professor of Early Childhood Education, Arizona State University

What did the boys play at recess today? Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader. Batman vs. the bad guys. And Batman won.

In most games, young boys clobber, kill, or cream someone. If four girls are playing house in a preschool classroom, it's not uncommon for four boys to go in and rob them. These games and fantasies, while disturbing to some, are not unusual. In fact, they are the norm. However if someone gets hurt during this play, a boy gets in trouble and is often labeled aggressive. But is he? And is this cause for concern?

What does it mean to be aggressive? According to Webster's Dictionary, aggression is "a forceful action… the process of making attacks… hostile, injurious, behavior… caused by frustration." Real life boy examples include physical fighting, name-calling, and rough-housing that results in injury. Aggression is part of the human repertoire. "All human beings have the ability to protect themselves and attack others when in danger," explains Thompson.

Why do boys become aggressive? Sometimes boys are aggressive because they are frustrated or because they want to win. Sometimes they are just angry and can't find another way to express that feeling. And some may behave aggressively, but they're not aggressive all the time.

An active boy is not necessarily an aggressive one. "We often see young boys playing out aggressive themes. It's only a problem when it gets out of control," comments Thompson.

Competition, power and success are the true stuff of boys' play. Many young boys see things in competitive terms and play games like "I can make my marble roll faster than yours,""my tower is taller than yours" and "I can run faster than you." But these games of power and dominance are not necessarily aggressive unless they are intended to hurt.

Fantasy play is not aggressive. A common boy fantasy about killing bad guys and saving the world is just as normal as a common girl fantasy about tucking in animals and putting them to bed. "Most boys will pick up a pretzel and pretend to shoot with it," comments teacher Jane Katch. "If a boy is playing a game about super heroes, you might see it as violent. But the way he sees it, he's making the world safe from the bad guys. This is normal and doesn't indicate that anything is wrong unless he repeatedly hurts or tries to dominate the friends he plays with. And sometimes an act that feels aggressive to one child was actually intended to be a playful action by the child who did it. When this happens in my class, we talk about it, so one child can understand that another child's experience may be different than his own. This is the way empathy develops."

Only a small percentage of boys' behavior is truly aggressive. While "all boys have normal aggressive impulses which they learn to control, only a small percentage are overly aggressive and have chronic difficulty controlling those impulses," says Michael Thompson, Ph.D. These are the boys who truly confuse fantasy with reality, and frequently hit, punch, and bully other kids. They have a lack of impulse control and cannot stop themselves from acting out. "They cannot contain their anger and have little control over their physical behavior and this is when intervention by parent or teacher is needed," says Thompson.

ACTIVE OR AGGRESSIVE?
CRASH! Boom! BAM!!! "You're dead!"

In their fantasy play, boys turn sticks into guns, balloons into bombs, and pencils into swords. They kill, die and get reborn in a matter of seconds, then hop right up to play some more. And yet many parents worry, wondering if their sons are simply normal, active boys, or turning into potentially violent men.

"Mothers are always saying to me, 'Why is my son racing around, not talking, and not listening? Why is he obsessed with playing war and shooting? What's happened to my sweet, vulnerable little boy who used to cuddle with me?'" says Michael Thompson, Ph.D. host of the documentary RAISING CAIN and co-author of the book of the same name. "This is a valid question, because no one wants their son to grow up to be violent. But interpreting play as an early indicator of violence is a misunderstanding both of the nature of boy activity and the real journey to violence that some boys undergo."

"Anyone who spends a lot of time with boys soon sees that most boys are indeed more active than most girls. A recent Harvard University study states that, "By school age, the average boy in a classroom is more active than the girls — even the most active girls don't seem to express their energy in the unrestrained way characteristic of most boys." While these findings support a stereotype some in our society have worked to eradicate, ask a kindergarten teacher and you'll likely hear that this description is true. "I've been teaching young boys for over 25 years and I don't see that their activity levels have changed, but our expectations for how long they have to sit still have dramatically increased," says teacher Jane Katch, author of Under Deadman's Skin: Discovering the Meaning of Children's Violent Play. "And that's a problem for a lot of boys. Some boys in my class need to move a lot. I call them 'high energy boys.' These boys simply can't sit still as long as most of the girls. They don't have the fine motor skills girls do, so many will make big constructions like block towers, while girls will work on smaller, more delicate pictures."

Experts say that you should try not to compare your boy to other boys and keep in mind that there are many different kinds of boys. They range from the highly physical and highly competitive at one end, to the very peaceful quiet boy, who prefers to read. "Not all boys want to compete in sports, wrestle, and shoot guns. It's important to remember that there are quiet boys and studious and bookish boys as well, and this is perfectly normal," adds Thompson.


Let boys develop at their pace, in their way. You'd want the same for your girls. More recess, I say. More hands on experiences. Not all boys are going to function well doing math at a desk. In the same light, not all boys are going to function well on a playground. Don't pigeon hole them, they are boys. Give mine some breathing room already!

4 comments:

  1. Maybe that's why boys do so well growing up on a farm. They learn how to work at a very young age and they have lots of wide open range to play on. They learn to plow, garden, milk cows, ride horses, mend fences and fix machinery all day. They shoot critters, chase chickens, and play cowboys and indians. Your dad drove a tractor at age 3. His sisters learned how to sew, make bread, and hang out the wash. Much different than the boys. Coleman is a bright, active, curious little boy. He lives in an apartment on the 3rd floor. He can't jump, run or yell without the neighbors having a hissy fit. There is no fenced yard for him to go out and play every day. You don't live in a neighborhood with other little children running out to play with him. When dad and I were visiting, we could see Coleman expressing a need to get me the heck out of this apartment before I go nuts. That is just his circumstances for now. I know of no mother that would take her child to the park nearly every day for an hour. To the mall play ground every week, or to McDonalds play center just to wear him out several times a week. All the time being supervised so not to offend some one elses kid. Take every quilt in the house and erect a tent and play hide n' seek for hours. My hat is off to you Lacey. You do a great job. This too shall pass and you shall be a better mother because of it. More compassionate and understaing for other mothers with boys. Having shy, quiet, docile children is simply eaiser and usually comes with the attitude of judging other children and their parents and thinking your a better mother than other women which is a sad way to be. Life is about LEARNING all we can. You are getting a huge education on raising boys and that is a positive thing, hard, tireing, challenging but positive none the less. You are fine and Coleman is just fine.

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  2. Thanks mom. Never really thought of it that way - apartment living being hard for a toddler.

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  3. We are so grateful to have a backyard again for that very reason. We try to teach the boys limits (no drawing blood! lol), and appropriate times for the games they like to play. And that's really hard for a 2 year old. I have been where you are, and it's exhausting! Realize that different boys are different too. You know your son's capabilities. None of my boys are the same (although similar in some ways). And yes, I have a little bit different expectations for each. No, I'm not playing favorites - I just refuse to do nothing but scold and punish. That's just no fun for anyone.

    BTW, Lacey - We are alike in many ways! Hope my comments make sense from one sleep-deprived mom to another!

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  4. I love this post. Thank you. This comes from a mom whose inlaws suggested Ritalin for Zac. After a hard week in Utah and talking to my mom who has worked with little boys for 25 years and incidentally talking to the Pediatrician, I was validated when I heard them smile and say that no little boy needs Ritalin. Not even a consideration until 7 or 8 years old.
    Anyway, my heart broke when I read that Coleman has brought you tears at night. This is a picture that I could see and relate to. Zac has been the source for much discussion, brainstorming, tears, reading and prayer for a long time. We want to do what is best..to help him be safe and obedient but not break his spirit.
    I have found too that Zac does best when he goes out to play or to McD to playland or to BOunce U daily. He has to go out and play! Also the apartment scene is soo hard. Do the best you can. I remember the stress of that and worrying because little boys are loud.
    I also remember when Jenna was 9 months old and my 3 year old nephew came to Utah to visit with mom. He was jumping off the couch and running and carrying on and I thought he was WILD and so did the down stairs neighbor who came up to tell us. Little did I know....until I had a little boy. haha. BTW Mason is an awesome 8 year old now that does great in school and loves sports and has a ton of friends.
    I am sure that Zac will turn out just fine too. I just have to grab him up and kiss his face and love him, to take the time to smile at him and appreciate his quick wit and energy, to help him through these developmental stages that are so difficult for me as the mom that thought that this wouldn't be so freakin' hard!


    Zac and Coleman are teaching us things. We love 'em. Hang in there. Thanks for sharing the insight you found. Always makes a mom with a bright, active boy rest a little more at ease.

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