Tired of The Whole Boys-Will-Be-Boys Thing? Me Too

Encourage your active, energetic preschooler to be more aware and take responsibility for his actions.

Boys will be boys. It's a phrase that deserves to be thrown in a plastic bag and tossed onto the curb come trash day. Here's the thing: If it were reserved for times when boys got a bit too dirty while playing outside, it wouldn't be an issue. The problem is that it's often used as an excuse for unacceptable behavior such as pressuring a group of grade school peers to go down a slide that had been peed on. (Yes, this really happened, and yes, one mother really said, "Boys will be boys.")

When a child hears this phrase, he's likely to internalize the message as meaning he's allowed to cause mischief because of his male DNA – more so that society expects bad behavior from boys and men. Every time we say these words, we set our boys up to fail. In raising boys, we need to do better – we need to hold our sons to a higher standard. Boys need consequences for their actions, just as girls do.

If your preschooler is exhibiting worrisome behavior such as shoving or teasing his classmates, read on for some advice on deterring these actions and fostering accountability. 

Watch your words (and get dad in on the action)

Language is a powerful tool, and our words carry more weight than we may realize. When a boy observes a parent – particularly his father – making a crude joke or lewd comment, he is more likely to model similar behavior, which can lead to discipline problems at school as well as trouble making and keeping friends.

According to Dr. Phil on Twitter, "The most powerful role model in a child's life is the same-sex parent." Thus it's crucial to ensure your son's father or father figure is on the same page and willing to model respectful language at all times. As noted by the Center for Parenting Education, kids repeat their parents' positive behaviors. While you can't control nature, you do have a say in nurture!

Children who exhibit aggressive behaviors at school (pushing while in line, stealing peers' pencils, etc.) typically crave physical contact, according to PBS.org. As it's against classroom rules to roughhouse, these children can benefit from playful wrestling or "horsing around" at home with their parents in a safe, controlled environment.

Some preschoolers crave physical contact, which parents should provide at home.Some preschoolers crave physical contact, which parents should provide at home.

If your preschooler struggles with keeping his hands to himself, you might want to give this method a try. Here are some tips:

  • Begin and end each session with positive contact such as a handshake or a hug.
  • Refrain from pinning your child down and tickling him.
  • Utilize a code word that means stop – the sillier the better!

Welcome your son's non-masculine, or gender-neutral interests

If you were to drop by my house unannounced, you might find my son pushing a truck … or building a fairy house. Our home is a place where you're as likely to find a pink helicopter as a green one, where girls play with dinosaurs and boys collect Hello Kitty stickers. We're also big fans of gender-neutral toys like acoustic guitars and wooden blocks. 

According to Professor Christia Spears Brown as quoted in The Guardian, kids learn important skills such as empathy and caring for others through playing with dolls. On the other hand, lots of toys that are marketed to boys – think action figures and monster trucks – focus on action or destruction, as noted in the New York Times. Parents who only provide "boy toys" to their sons could be unwittingly promoting the aggressive behaviors they seek to curtail and also missing out on opportunities for instilling positive values.

Both boys and girls are a product of their environments – be sure you're creating one that helps your child feel happy and secure, and hold them accountable for their actions!

About Erin Balsa

Erin Balsa is a Boston-based mom of two who met her husband on an airplane. Her interests include reading, writing and sleeping through the night.
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