I came across a website not so long ago called Mentoring Boys that you can get to from here.
I had been looking up “Boys” and raising them – considering we have 4 of them and all – and stumbled across this gem. I was very intrigued by what Barry MacDonald had to say about the differences with raising boys.
He was coming to town, so I purchased tickets to his conference entitled: Mentoring Boys: Boy Smarts Action Talk. Yesterday, Rob and I went, and it was excellent.
Anyone who has boys, or is married to a boy, or is a boy, should check out this site, read this man’s books and attend one of his seminars.
Being a Mom and Smom of boys (and then 1 lonely girl:)), I can firmly say we (society) have a huge bias towards girls especially in the school system. And if you think we don’t, it’s probably because you have girls.
We praise a certain kind of child (you know the one that causes you no problems). Of course, right there, that is a bias against girls too, because there are many girls that don’t fall in that “typical category” that our educational system seems geared to. So, maybe I should clarify and say we have a huge bias towards a certain type of child, and most boys happen to fall outside that type. But I totally know there are many girls that have to deal with the bias as well – and I feel for them and their parents as they have to fight the bias – but for this post, I’m going to stick to talking about the boys right now (as MacDonald clearly stated in his conference too – may girls struggle being on different ends of the girl spectrum too). The stats are pretty staggering however showing how boys fair in falling behind in school, behaviour problems, learning disabilities, ADHD, and ending up in correctional facilities. Even though girls may have some similar issues, there seems to be a big disparity in the stats that somehow must be addressed.
I wish I could hand all my boy’s teachers copies of Barry’s MacDonald’s books and force them to go to a seminar. Would that be too much?
What I loved most about MacDonald’s approach, was that he was not looking at “how to cure your boy’s behavioural problems” or “how to deal with a difficult boy” or “how to control your boy” or “how to contain your boy and make him behave”. He was looking at: get to know your boy and embrace and love him and find (or change) an approach to work with him.
The key message: You can’t change your boy, so you need to change your approach.
I also loved his message to educators: You aren’t paid to teach only the “cooperative boys”. You are paid to teach all boys (or really all kids).
I loved that he talked about boys being on a continuum ranging from “very sensitive” which he calls “Spiderman boys”, to “rambunctious” which he calls “Rambo boys”.
Rob and I are so lucky. Our boys go across the entire spectrum. We appreciate their thoughtfulness in allowing us to experience the whole spectrum:) The most important point: there is not one part of the spectrum that is better. All boys have a natural tendency towards one end of the spectrum. This absolutely does not mean that they don’t at times fall in different areas of the spectrum, or develop skills along this spectrum. A Rambo guy can be extremely sensitive, or a Spiderman guy can have lots of energy or aggression. An introvert can be an extrovert, and an extrovert can be an introvert. But when push comes to shove, there is a natural tendency. And that is OK.
He talked a lot about our expectations, learning styles (more boys are visual learners, but we often have a bias towards auditory) fidgeting and movement (just allows kids to process and have bilateral movement in the brain – they don’t just have ants in their pants to annoy us), attention (they may be paying attention – just not the way we would), and then what our bias’s are (this was a big one). He suggests we should not get caught in the trap of thinking we know what learning looks like (kids sitting quietly, not fidgeting, maintaining perfect eye contact) because with our boys, it just may not happen like that.
I loved that he talked about discouraged boys. It really doesn’t help to talk about their discouragement. They need success. The answer to discouragement has something to do with one of their strengths. How many times have I gone to sleep worried about a discouraged boy, talked to a teacher about how I needed to “talk to him more about a certain behaviour” when really my energy should have been put towards something else that would bring him success, and likely spillover onto everything else.
MacDonald also talked about teaching kid’s about responsibility too. Again, you need both soft parenting and hard parenting as I talked about here. Overindulging your child only teaches your child to be the center of attention and that is it. Self esteem does not come from indulgence; it comes from meeting a challenge.
The last piece of great advice he gave was to, “paddle downstream with your boy more than upstream”. There are so many things that our boys are good at, don’t try to push back on them too much against who they naturally are. Let them be who they are instead of who you think they should become. Obviously they need guidance and structure, they need immediate consequences and we need to teach them to be more independent. But, we need to do this in a loving, and accepting environment. They need to know we celebrate who they are.
He suggests that the next time a teacher brings up the fact that your boy is so talkative, has a hard time paying attention and is so full of energy, your response should be “Yes, isn’t it wonderful”!
I’ll try it out and let you see how it goes over.