Monday, February 16, 2009

It's a Boy!

Because I was a tomboy and have always felt comfortable around males (I had two male roommates during my last year of college), when I found out, five and a half years ago, that I was pregnant with a baby boy, I was very excited. I also looked forward to having my own father involved in his life, more so - I imagined - than he was during my childhood.

Growing up with a sister always made me that much more interested and curious about males since they were a little foreign to me. I was jealous of my friends who had brothers, either younger or older than us. But, for some reason, when it came time to thinking about raising my son on my own (when his father and I separated), I thought that it would be no problem. I thought, from my feminist point of view, that boys and girls were pretty much the same. They - all children - need love, attention and discipline in order to thrive and survive.

As my son got older, started talking and becoming more active and aggressive, I realized, for the first time probably, just how different boys and girls truly are. Yes, we are all still equals, but to ignore the differences between men and women would do us all a disservice.

I picked up a copy of Dr. Michael Thompson's book, It's a Boy! to figure out ways to enhance my son's self-esteem as he gets older and continues to develop. Since my son recently turned five, I grabbed the book off the shelf once again to read the chapters devoted to boys his age, boys who are getting ready to start school and who continue to become more masculine as they develop and become the "little men" that they are designed to be.

One of the concerns we hear about in the media, regarding boys especially, is their risk for developing and being diagnosed with ADD. It's often difficult to gain our son's attention or have them focus on tasks or assignments in school. As parents, Dr. Thompson claims that there are four things we can do to help children gain good attentional abilities:
  1. Turn off the screen (TV or computer)
  2. Provide a quiet play space where you are nearby
  3. Play games with your son (regularly but not constantly)
  4. Protect that precious time by not scheduling him into too many after-school activities
Another important element to nurturing a young boy's self-esteem is to provide him with opportunities to explore the arts, whether it be music, drawing, clay or woodwork. As Dr. Thompson has seen in over thirty years of working with young boys, "experience in the arts allows a boy to feel a sense of satisfaction that he cannot experience in any other realm of his life. And it allows him insight into himself that he cannot obtain in any other way." He can look at the final result and say to himself, "This is mine. I made it. It represents me."

Many parents that I work with often have difficulties or challenges with communicating or dealing with their sons (more often than with their daughters). I am able to offer them some insight based on my own experiences, along with great advice that Dr. Thompson outlines in this book.

Some fathers often become frustrated with their sons because they feel as though they do not want to spend time with them. Around the age of twelve, young boys really need their fathers and will look to them as role models and companions, someone whom they will strive to be just like as they get older.

Moms raising boys on their own wonder what they can do to help their young boys feel capable and confident. Since boys like to feel needed and useful, simply asking for their help , beginning at an early age, will help. Thompson refers to author Thomas Lickona who says there are three things that will help a boy build strong character: habits of the heart (their desire to want to help), habits of the mind (recognizing situations where help is needed), and habits of practice (following through and providing help). Providing opportunities for your son to help out is vital and as they get older, their responsibilities may shift from having them help you in the kitchen to helping with a major task that requires a bit more "elbow grease."

Another question that comes up when working with single mothers is communication about their child's father, who are not be involved in their lives. Thompson states that it's important for moms to mention their father whenever her son does something that reminds her of him. "He needs to hear that he came from a living, breathing man and that that is a good thing in your eyes."

What else can a father do to help guide a young boy struggling to become more independent? Thompson lists several things that both mom and dad can do:
  • Listen and ask questions
  • Don't look over your son's shoulder at every move he makes
  • Draw the line between being an advocate and being an enabler
  • Be generous with praise, honest and vocal about your love and firm with discipline
  • Focus on his gifts and talents
  • Let your son grow
  • Don't make excuses for your son
  • Model responsible communication for solving problems
  • Set limits and stick to them
  • Never say, "My son would never do that."
  • Create realistic expectations by letting your son fail in order to allow him to figure out how to succeed on his own.
Finally, one of the most important issues that Thompson addresses is how to help your son celebrate the milestone of finally becoming a man. Since society doesn't honor any specific rituals for when a boy truly steps into manhood, parents can create opportunities for their adolescent son to have their own rite of initiation, perhaps something outdoors, where there is the chance for them to experience both commitment and courage, sharing a sense of mission with other young men his age.

Many examples and stories are gathered in this insightful and resourceful guide from Thompson's experience working with boys and men for the majority of his career. As a parent, educator or someone trying to understand their own development, this is a wonderful book to have during any stage of a young man's life as well as a great gift for those wanting a deeper and stronger connection with the male child.

No comments: