Many people will insist that boys and girls should be brought up exactly the same way and parents need not think there is any difference. While boys and girls definitely deserve the same rights and privileges, it does not necessarily mean that boys and girls are exactly the same. A parent raising a girl will face different challenges to a parent who is bringing up a son.
Steve Biddulph, Australia’s leading family therapist and author of Raising Boys [Berkeley: Celestial Arts, 1998] says that understanding the gender differences created by male hormones should be handled in practical ways to help boys be more confident, capable and caring. He outlines some common problems and ways to manage them.
Tips For Raising A Boy
Slower Brain Development
As boys tend to have slower brain development, their motor skills are not as advanced as girls. That means in the early years, boys have difficulty using their fingers carefully, affecting the ability to hold a pencil or scissors. This in turn will have an impact on their learning abilities in school. Biddulph suggests delaying first grade for boys for up to a year so that they can pick up pen-and-paper skills during that time.
Boys have bursts of energy that have to be released. So they run about and shout quite a fair bit. These activities are also their way of masking their anxiety. That’s why it’s important to give them ample physical space to zoom around. Parents can also encourage their boys to take up sports to put that energy into good use. Plus, involvement in sports also helps boys to build character, leadership skills and team spirit. Additionally, sports are fun and come with lots of health benefits!
Some parents mistakenly think that boys should be tougher, and therefore shouldn’t be given too much attention. The opposite is true. Small boys are actually more prone to separation anxiety than girls do. Biddulph suggests that parents delay leaving their sons in the care of others, for instance childcare centres, until they are at least three years old. Parents should also shower them with as much attention as they do with their daughters.
Inclination to Act without Thinking
Act first, think and face the consequences later. This seems to be the mantra of many boys. As a result, boys generally get into trouble more often than girls. It takes very little to trigger fights – often physical fights – between boys. The best approach is to talk to them in a calm and friendly tone about harmonious ways to solve conflicts.
More Physical Strength and Muscular Body
As boys grow older, their bodies become more muscular and they get stronger physically. Some of them don’t know their own strength and may unintentionally hurt others while playing. Spend some time to teach them not to hit others deliberately.
Sex and Aggression
This is an issue many parents dread but need to address, particularly when their sons reach puberty. Explain to them the differences between liking, loving and lusting. Teach them to be respectful of girls and women. Avoid berating them if they are caught reading or watching pornographic materials. Instead, try talking about erotica that depicts healthy and meaningful relationships between men and women.
What Mum and Dad can Do
Mothers are the ideal people to teach their sons about women and what qualities women look for in a man – kindness, sense of humour and loving attitude. A mother should also try to encourage a closer tie between her sons and their father.
Fathers too have an important role in their sons’ lives. Boys tend to imitate their fathers. So be a good role model. A father who has a loving relationship with the boy’s mother will invariably make the boy want to have that too when he grows up. Be firm and set rules and limits for the boy but avoid hitting or frightening him even if he’s done something wrong and deserves to be punished.
Parents who understand why their boys behave the way they do are likely to teach them to cope with their problems more optimistically. The results – self-assured, well-balanced and happy men – are certainly worth the effort.