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When raising boys, we often annihilate the kindness in them through gender stereotyping. Some tips about parenting to bring up considerate boys.
By Arundhati Venkatesh
I realized early that I had a sensitive, thoughtful and caring child. The said child is a boy. When he was under two, he would show concern for others; his eyes would well up if he sensed someone was upset.
The soft-spoken child gradually hardened. He learnt quickly that the world does not expect or accept these qualities in a boy. As he grew older, there was more exposure with more time spent outside home. When he was four, there were days I could hardly recognize my boy. By the time he was five, most days were like that.
I haven’t given up. Beneath the tough exterior, I still see flashes of my considerate child. He is still a loving boy; we just need to work at it.
As women, we hate it when our men talk to us in monosyllables. We detest it when they grunt in response to our questions. We wish they would be more verbal, more forthcoming, more affectionate and more demonstrative. These men did not become this way overnight. They were boys too.
As parents, what can we do to keep the kindness alive in boys?
We insist on our kids sharing their toys and possessions but what about thoughts, ideas and feelings? Have conversations. Be around, listen. Tell the child about your day, and how you’re feeling.
If you have no clue what happens at school or why your child does what he does, it’s not because “boys don’t talk”. A question like “How was your day?” will invariably get the response “Fine”. It is when I have done something fun with the child for a while, that I am rewarded with information, released carefully, one little bit at a time.
Over time, the child has learnt that I am not going to judge or lecture, and definitely not going to punish him on the basis of what he tells me. All we are going to do is discuss, reflect, plan a course of action, and role-play it. He has figured it is for his good. I have had to work hard and make several promises not to “scold” him, and tell him that there are no secrets between parent and child, before I could win his trust. Whether it is school bus wars or play date politics, I know it will come to me sooner or later, provided I am there and listening.
Encourage little ones to talk about how they are feeling. If they are too young to express it themselves, help them identify it by saying, ”Looks like you are upset. What happened?” or “You seem angry, do you know why?”
Get kids to make cards or gifts for teachers, friends and family. Help them verbalize and express love. Make it a habit to appreciate a tasty meal and thank whoever contributed towards making it. A child as young as two can demonstrate thoughtfulness by asking if others have eaten – if mum and dad can model this behaviour, nothing like it.
Children can learn respect – by being nice to the domestic help, not plucking flowers or tearing up leaves, not harming bugs. Even a three-year old can tend to plants. In a Montessori environment or in the school bus, kids can look after younger classmates. At home, children can take younger siblings or friends under their wing.
Involve children in chores (girls *and* boys). Make sure boys learn the ropes around the house, and girls outside, and vice versa.
Encourage constructive activity and creative pursuits; defeating demons, mock punching and all kinds of destruction – real and imagined – will die a natural death. Craft, drawing, painting, play-dough, rangolis, puzzles and Lego are activities that will help your child calm down and focus, in addition to improving fine motor coordination. If the child has run out of ideas and keeps coming up with Ben10 or Spiderman creations, help him out with topics or ideas. ‘A bat’s view’ and ‘A windy day’ managed to get my five year-old interested.
Stay away from T.V. with its violence and stereotypes. Even advertisements can be culprits.
Go for live performances be it theatre, dance, music or sports. When the kiddo comes complaining that his friend watches cartoons while he doesn’t get to, I remind him that we enjoyed a puppet show or a children’s play. Recently, I heard a conversation between them – the friend was talking about 3-D animation. The resident five year-old, not to be left behind, described his flight simulator experience at the aerospace museum!
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to say that punching, slapping and swearing are not acceptable. Others might do it, but we don’t in our family. We talk about how it feels when there is a fight. Whether he is involved or a bystander, at the receiving end or the one initiating the meanness – it always leaves him upset and he knows it. “Defeating demons” is an activity that many boys indulge in. I keep repeating that fear is the demon to be defeated; true strength is the ability to control negative feelings and do the right thing; that inner strength, determination and persistent hard work are indicators of power.
When it comes to friends versus parents, books clinch the argument. Kids have tremendous faith in the written word. This quote by Henri Matisse that we read in a children’s book created an impact. He said, “I am strong because I do what is in my mind”.
Those were my views about parenting boys. What are yours?
Let’s fill the world with kindness, one child at a time. Have fun raising your boys!
*Photo credit: Thomas Hawk (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)
Arundhati Venkatesh is a children's writer. Her books have won several awards, including the
Interesting post. Read a similar one on a Rachna’s blog recently. Here is the link http://www.rachnaparmar.com/2012/10/what-sons-can-learn-from-their-moms.html
This is a very nice article and I wish more Mom’s who have boys would read this. One major problem as boys grow up is our lack of involvement when they go out to play. After a certain age, we do not chaperon them to the local play area and just home they will play nicely. But as a mother of an almost 3 year old, I am seeing many kids (especially with working parents). who seem to require that supervision because there is just no one to supervise their interactions and advice them accordingly. Most stuff behaviorally can be picked from parks and schools now a days and it is very important as moms and parents to be involved in order to make a difference to your child’s social behavior.
Very well written Arundhati..
Thanks Lazy Pineapple, hopping over to read that post now
Radhikac – Thank you! Yes, when they are little, parents need to be around. As they grow older, the key is to strike a balance. By being there part of the time, and letting them learn to handle things by themselves too
Wonderful post arundhati. I guess, “all” points, would be apt for girls as well( except the part abt mono syllable answer, where again, it’s stereotyped that girls talk more than boys)
A nice read to measure and assure for every parent, I’d say
Thanks Swapna. Yes they are. With boys since we are working against stereotypes, it is like swimming against the current! Much harder, takes more time and effort
I would say encouraging reading and discussing books, never ever saying ‘boys will be boys’ (I mean, what else can they be?!!), giving them enough exposure to activities/fields/places until they figure out at least one activity that is their ‘thing’ of interest – it helps build confidence enough to keep peer influences real and music – lots of it to play, listen and compose. Always saying that there’s no ‘girl’ colour, that cricket teams are in both genders, et al.
Yes, it is an uphill climb because it feels like EVERYone else is just out there to negate a lot of what the home values but in the long run, I am sure that home values will become much truer/more natural to them than what they see around them. Okay, make that ‘I sure hope’! 😀
Nice article. Boys are different to parent (even if it isn’t PC to say that anymore) and even things like sharing and caring need to be presented differently – all children need to share and care, for sure.
Sangitha, thanks and I can’t agree with you more. Books and music have a magical effect. Having an interest that is their ‘thing’ – I have seen this work wonders in older kids.
>home values will become much truer/more natural to them than what they see around them. Okay, make that ‘I sure hope’!
I sure hope so too!
So true, Arundhati. Its reflexive to want to wrap our little boys in cling wrap and keep them from learning the facts of life. But we are doing them a disservice by not teaching them how to live life the right way. One of the key points boys’ Moms should address is ensuring that their little man respects the girls in his class just like he does the boys. Who knows, maybe we will have a male chauvinist free world some day:))
Its okay for boys of a particular age to think girls are ‘annoying’ but definitely not okay for them to assume that girls are weak or spineless or that all cleaning/ tending jobs are theirs by default!
> maybe we will have a male chauvinist free world some day
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