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Boy behavior – Good Parenting

Headshot2011Welcome to Good Parenting, our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Boy Behavior

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My third child is throwing me for a loop. The first two, ages 9 and 6 are cooperative, gentle, playful, and friendly.

Everyone comments what sweet girls they are. The third, who just turned 3, is a tornado. He was nearly kicked out of his child care center at two and a half because he would disrupt group activities, basically running around and jumping off the indoor climber or even chairs and tables. His teacher says she pretty much has to hold him on her lap to get him to stop.

Since turning three, he is a little more reasonable, but I still could use some tips for managing him. His teacher could, too.

Mom of Two Plus Trouble


Click here for last week’s advice on how to become more comfortable with nature.

Dear Mom,

Your experiences with your daughters have ill-prepared you for the son you have! The life of a preschool boy is action-packed – whether or not the adults support and encourage this. Not to worry. Parenting is an adventure in adaptation.

Most preschool teachers are female, and more moms than dads are the primary parent for their preschoolers. This puts our little boys at a disadvantage. By female standards, boys move more, discuss less, and really don’t worry too much about whether or not their behavior is approved by the grownups.

The key to enjoying your boy is to reframe your stance on his behavior to be more in line with a male perspective.

Active not Dangerous

Be sure to have plenty of large motor activity each day. The out-of-doors usually lends itself better for moving around – running, swinging, climbing, jumping, ball kicking, tumbling, riding wheel toys and the like. Boys also enjoy building and bashing – hollow cardboard blocks or empty boxes are very satisfying. Dancing is a large motor activity which, thanks to YouTube and competitive television shows, has become socially acceptable as a male activity. All of these activities should be supervised to reduce chances of serious injury, but truth be told, boys are proud of their boo boo’s.

Active not Aggressive

Boys enjoy “rough housing,” which is verified by the smiles on the faces of two boys wrestling with each other. Females tend to interpret this behavior with a lot of female concerns – “Your friend doesn’t like what you’re doing!” “What are you angry about?” “Hurting is against our rules!” Save your breath. Just separate them and redirect the energy to something more safe. If left unchecked, playful rough housing can switch to serious fighting. More insight and tips can be found on this PBS webpage.

Hunt the Mastodon

Brain research is discovering chemical and architectural differences between the male and female brains that help to explain why women are often flummoxed by the behavior of little boys. Different behaviors for the sexes go back to our long ago outdoor existence when females cooperated for the childrearing and men competed for hunting territories. If men did hunt in parties, success depended on being hyper-focused on the prey – no time to gab with the gang. In a female brain, there is more connection between the two hemispheres, allowing females to connect ideas to other ideas which helps in thinking through consequences, particularly as an action might affect other people. Males have more focus on one thought at a time: singleness of purpose for an action (i.e.: conquer the mastodon). Risk-taking is a behavior that is explained by singleness of purpose – “This’ll be so cool!” without thought to undesirable consequences.

Testosterone levels are of course higher in males, even little males, and this hormone propels much of the aggressive and risk-taking behaviors in males that females are so uncomfortable with.

Managing Males

Parents and teachers, especially we females, can learn to accommodate the little males in our lives. An article on the Early Childhood News website describes specific management strategies for the classroom, many of which are applicable to the home. The article cites Michael Gurian, a family therapist, author, and respected expert on the subject of overcoming gender-based obstacles. The Gurian Institute, which he founded, conducts international research, pilot programs, and professional trainings “through a gender lens.”

Your little boy troubles should clear up if you can see them through the lens of his gender.

Dr. Debbie


Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com

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