Monday, July 15, 2013

Reversing the "boys will be boys" mentality

As a middle school teacher and a mother of 2 boys (ages 4 and 6), I’ve read countless books and articles about stereotypical gender differences, especially at the start of school age: girls = self-reliant, boys = destructive.  I do not want my sons to be in the “boys will be boys” category, so here are some strategies that my husband and I are implementing (and hopefully will make a lasting impression):

1.    Practicing conversations without the use of negative words (stupid, dumb, idiot…).  Media bombards us all with these simple, yet oppressive words that could lead to name-calling and negative thoughts, stereotypes, prejudices.  These words are banned from their mouths and ears right when they hear it.  We even created a game where if they hear a word they know we don't like, change it into a "better" word.  Example: "shut up and drive" song turns into "step up and drive."  A little cheesy, but positive.

“Please” and “thank you” are enforced.  When requests are made, they are constantly reminded to be polite with the situation in mind.  When they get older and encounter a wider variety of situations that I might not be at, I’ll ask them to “Code Switch,” a term that means appropriately switch the way you address people depending on where/who you’re with.  The tone of voice is also emphasized. Even at sports games, the boys don’t “boo” the other team, but just cheer for their team.

“Ha-ha! I got it first!”  Our reply, “Is that the right way to say that you’re happy about something?”

2.    Role-playing situations where children could get frustrated.  When Jesse was 2, his tantrums were unbearable.  When he wanted something, he would automatically scream and yell and stomp his feet.  Two things worked: CALMLY redirecting him to something else, or CALMLY waiting it out and reminding him of the “right way to act when you get mad: calm down, walk away, use your words.”  Before we go to places where the kids might get different reactions from people, we remind them of 3 rules: no spitting, no naughty words, no hurting people.
3.    Limiting physical “pretend-fighting,” wrestling, sword fighting, gun shooting, etc.  (Organized sports not included: those are encouraged).  Whatever form of “playing” that could end up with someone hurt, we limit.  We feel that the more exposure (physical or visual) of these fighting moves, the more it could become second nature to act aggressively.  While I agree that defending yourself is sometimes necessary, more solutions are found in using the right words.  Many may feel that a physical fight is a rite of passage or what boys need to get aggression out, I caution that this perpetuates the “boys will be boys” mentality. 

When I am explicitly in charge of other people’s children, I definitely take these fighting rules to heart.  I wouldn’t want to send my kid to someone’s house only to pick them up at a hospital.

“I’m gonna shoot the bad guys!”  My reply, “What did they do?  Are you defending yourself?”
4.    Giving choices when disagreements arise. “You can choose to have fun today or not,” “we can go later or not at all…”  This gives some of the decision-making to the children.  For non-negotiables, for sure, we enforce, but we try not to sound like the demanding parents that we all know (either our own parents or friends).  We're still using countdowns and time-outs at this age, followed with a conversation.  "What will you do next time?"
5.    Spending time observing them interact with other kids. We like to ask them how they felt during their time. We ask them if there was a better way to say/do something. We reinforce the positive behaviors. We emphasize that we want them to be good people, and doing things the right way helps them in the long run.

Someone asked me if raising kids was hard.  It is, and I end up worrying more about things I can’t control, like the people and things that influence my kids (with their knowledge or not).  But what I can control, for a limited time anyway, is modeling these behaviors.  Bury "boys will be boys."


  1. Replies
    1. You did! And that inspired me to record my thoughts! lol

  2. Justine! I totally end up worrying about that too....great article!

    1. Thanks, Wendy! We'll see if it lasts; I wonder if my point of view changes as they get older.