Raising Boys

Parent Q&A

  • Raising boys

    (3 replies)

    When I was pregnant for the first time, I didn't care if I had a boy or a girl, but I did feel more prepared to raise a girl. Being that I was once a little girl, that in college gender studies was my favorite elective, and that we are living at a time and place where women can reach for the stars. But, alas, I had two boys. And, I love them dearly. Yet, to my dismay, I have noticed that our extended family is starting to see our oldest (2-year old) thru gendered glasses. If he needs mommy a lot, he is needy. If he is active, yikes, what is wrong with him? If he falls, don't cry! So, I desperately need a community that helps me see thru this, and guide my boys. Any FB, meetups, books, scholars that study this, anything that I can read, follow or join? Thank you in advance. 

    RE: Raising boys ()

    Read Cordelia Fine. Her research summaries will give you arguments to use with retrograde relatives and friends.

    RE: Raising boys ()

    I'd be interested in learning what you find. (Mom of a boy here, with similar questions.) I've been slowly working my way through two books -- Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood and Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys. Neither is the perfect book, but both have interesting bits.

    RE: Raising boys ()

    My son is grown but I want to encourage you to follow your gut on this one.   You can't control what others say but you can comfort rather than judge them when they cry and encourage them to talk about their feelings.   It is important for boys to learn how to express their emotions and not be told to suck it up and 'be a man.'   Just want to give you some support and hope you find folks to hang out with.

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  • Resources for fathers to raise boys

    (7 replies)

    I imagine this has been discussed already but I found few references archived on the site.  I didn't quite expect to have end up with 2 boys, and one thing that I've been thinking a lot about is how to raise them to be emotionally expressive and communicative.  When my wife and I contemplated raising a daughter, I think we had a good vision of how to raise a girl interested in the outdoors, STEM, being more independent, etc.  And the resources, experiences, and even attitudes or behaviors to model to encourage these traits.   But to raise a boy- an emotionally courageous boy, for lack of a better term-- I'm much less clear- don't even know what to call it, but I have a feeling of what I'd like, to the extent I'm able to add to the nurture side of the nature/nurture equation.  I've come across some articles suggesting that boys are more emotional than girls at a young age, which emotionality is essentially beat out of them when they start school and have to conform to a narrow masculine ideal.  Another reason, I think, it's tricky is that conventionally masculine traits (like the ones mentioned above, STEM, independence) tend to be favored in society over conventionally feminine traits (reading emotions, maintaining relationships, communication, etc.).  So to have a girl venture into the masculine sphere is not so subversive these days, it feels; for a boy to venture into a feminine one- that's threatening, or is it?

    Have others thought about this?  What have you come up with?  

    As the mom of a son, I've been reading two books -- Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys and Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood. It sounds like you already have some of the basic concepts from these books, but if you haven't seen them yet, you might find something useful there.

    I think it's great that you are thinking about this topic. As a girl growing up in the 80's I was exposed to dance/ballet class. I went to cheerleading camp and drama camp. I did art and jewelry making. And, just as much, I played sports and played with science kits. I loved animals. I played with my friends. I loved watching Star Trek with my dad. I went through a phase where I only wore dresses. I went through a phase where I only wore pants. I went to college for engineering, never, ever feeling aware that at one point in time, my gender might have limited my opportunities for education and careers. My point being, my dad made sure I knew that I could do anything that interested me, and supported any interest I had, even if it went against his values. Looking back, I'm actually fairly surprised that my dad ever agreed to let me try cheerleading as I do remember him saying, "Girls should be on the field, not on the sidelines cheering for the boys." So, with that said, my dad definitely had opinions about gender roles and his hopes and dreams for his daughters. As a result, I grew up feeling very loved and felt safe to try new things. I grew up knowing that I could do whatever I wanted, and I would always have him there cheerleading (And, ironically, my dad was definitely my biggest cheerleader in life). With that said, I also grew up to not always conform to society's expectations. I never fantasized about my wedding day, and still haven't gotten married. I adore being a parent, but I would have been content with my life had I not had children. People don't always understand me, because I don't always fit into gender stereotypes. I share that because I think you have great intentions in your parenting and I wanted you to know the full range of outcomes. I don't think I was as intentional about my parenting goals when raising my son. He was all boy, as they say. Loved balls and sports and trucks and trains. And, I embraced all of his passions. I always told him I loved him and I hugged him a lot. I helped him learn about feelings. Today, as a teenager, when saying bye to me when he is with his friends, he will initiate saying, "I love you." He hugs me me hello and asks me how my day was. He is a caring friend. He is articulate with his feelings. In retrospect, I think it's less about gender and more about our relationship. My advice to you would be to role model for your sons the behavior you want them to emulate. Show them you love them unconditionally. Take interest in the things that interest them - even if you don't like it, and be physically affectionate with them.

    As a mother who has successfully raised four boys and a daughter who have all graduated from college and now, in their 30s and one who recently turned 40, are all creative, kind, motivated, and productive adults, I say to you PLEASE let your boys just become themselves and not a part of your neurosis! Let them be, play, get dirty, laugh! Teach them not to hurt others or themselves. Let them explore but set boundaries. Say no! but also encourage and praise. Make your expectations clear and stick to them, reinforce them in casual ways and sometimes harsh ways. They will get it! If you'd like to know how my method of raising children worked out, I'd love to tell you. I am beyond proud and you will be impressed. 

    I have been thinking about this a lot!  I am mom to an only child -- an eight year-old boy.  I was a tomboy growing up, but still my world was all about make-believe and words.  My son loves math and engineering and games/sports to a degree that I find fascinating.  I have been grateful that raising a son has involved a lot less drama than I remember from my childhood friendships and also judging on what I often see with my friends who have girls (although personality means more than gender in this area).  I see, however, that generally leadership means so much to boys and they are quick to fall into a pack around an "alpha-pup."  My son used to take his turn being alpha, but he has entered into a few situations lately (new school class, church) where there are other boys a bit older, bigger, and already the alpha.  My son's confidence in his leadership abilities is becoming battered.  I've been mulling over how to help without helicoptering.  Just talking openly about those relationships seems to really help -- telling him what I notice, asking him if he thinks it is accurate, then simply listening before brainstorming some solutions.  And I'm looking for situations where he can blaze his own trail rather than just lead/follow.  I've also found a couple of books -- The Wonder of Boys (Gurian) and Raising Cain (Kindlon...also a documentary) that I am beginning to read.  Aside from the leadership piece, I've been working to help my son develop empathy (mostly by reading books and discussion books/life).  I also know a lot of men (admittedly usually the older generation) who don't know how to build a nurturing and worthwhile network of friends, and I feel it crucial that my only-child learn to do that. We talk a lot about relationships and I make sure to model healthy ones with my husband (his father), our extended family, and my friends.  We work on making eye contact and having conversations.  Last, but probably not least, I let him lead me into what interests him.  His very "boyness" is interesting and valuable, and I want him to know that.  Thanks for posting your question!  I look forward to seeing more responses.

    Well, first of all, I'm a mom, so I hope you don't mind me answering :)

    I think it is so great that you are asking this question. I am the parent of a 26 year old man and a 21 year old woman. I worked really hard to raise my son to be emotionally courageous, as you put it. Great term. I think I succeeded! Just one small success along the way; he was the only boy in his babysitting class around age 12 and did babysit regularly and is great with kids. I am confident that he is prepared to be a dad, if he chooses to do that. I didn't push the class on him at all. I think he brought up wanting to earn money and it emerged that way.

    Here are some of the things I did. When he was really little, I censored the books I read him and edited as I read. For example I remember a line in a Curious George book about a "pretty nurse" that I changed to a "smart nurse." Then, as he got older, I started discussing with him my impressions of our society and encouraging his critique. "Why do you think the dad in the movie did that?" "What is that ad telling us?" etc. While of course this is broader than emotions, I think the only way to counter the stereotypes out there is to name them.

    I think the book "How to Listen so Kids will talk and talk so kids will listen" has really good advice about validating kids' feelings. 6 Seconds also has some good resources on emotional intelligence: http://www.6seconds.org/parenting/

    I also have to share with you one of my parenting fails. When my son was 5, his favorite color was pink, and I remember buying him a sweatshirt with a pink zipper pull. Later I realized, "Why didn't I just buy him a pink sweatshirt?" I share this with you just to say, that as conscious as we try to be, we are also trapped in the same stereotypes! We have to do the best we can and forgive ourselves for our blunders.

    If you want your sons to be emotionally expressive and communicative, you have to be emotionally expressive and communicative. Put a chart on the refrigerator. Use it to talk about how you feel. Ask your kids how they feel. Here is one example of an Emotion Chart:


    I am so glad to hear you are thinking about this.  I did as well when my son was born, and continue to do so now that he and his younger sister are teenagers.  It's hard!  I think of it more as being a whole and complete person than boy trait / girl trait.  That said, my kids tend to fall along typical gender expressions even with a gender/culture conscience upbringing. 

    The essence of your question seems rooted in how to help children be aware and communicative of their emotions.  I started early through literature - books, books, and more books.  Both my kids are highly verbal.  Books were a launching point, from a very young age, as soon as they could sit on my lap and follow the story.  I chose lots of books that dealt simply with feelings, such as "Glad Monster, Sad Monster" by Ed Emberly.  As they got older, the books became more sophisticated, as did our discussion of them.  Before long, we were disecting "The Hunger Games".  As they have gotten older, books have provided a safe ground to discuss tough topics, including emotions and human interactions.  We can always frame an issue they are experiencing with something we've read, now not only in literature, but also online or in the paper.  Interestingly, girls flock to my son because he talks more than most boys about things that matter (a bit of a challenge actually).

    Of course, the face to face human interactions are what really matter, and modeling emotional awareness and expressiveness is the best thing you can do.  But to support that, books have been great for my family.

    You might also check out Michael Gurian's books, particularly "The Wonder of Boys" and "The Wonder of Girls" (even thought you don't have a girls).  While I don't agree with everything he writes, his writing is thought provoking.

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Archived Q&A and Reviews

Help I'm a girl trying to raise sons!

Feb 2005

Help I'm a girl trying to raise sons! I need some help playing with my four-year-old son. I find the role-playing pretend games mind-numbing -- especially since (with me at least) it consists of ''you say ---'', ''No say ----!'' and it usually involves super-heroes, pirates, etc and much conflict and sometimes violence. I love his imagination and celebrate his play and pretend, but I find it hard to participate. I need to learn to play like a 4-5 year old boy AND gently inject my lessons and values into the play. Plus, I need suggestions on steering my very strong-willed boy to play/do things of my suggesting. I have a newborn as well, so I'm trying to maximize my time with my preschooler. Plus, he wants to play with me 10x more now that there is an infant monopolizing my time. Are there any books out there that could teach me how to play like a boy? Maybe this should be in the advice posting, but any books (for me) or games you can steer me toward would be appreciated. (He's not really into board games yet and even crayons turn into pretend figures for him!) . . . We do quite a bit of reading together (while nursing, etc.) so I'm not looking for children's book titles, but something to guide me.

Girlie Momma

As one of two gay dads rearing two (likely straight) boys, it's a mystery to me too. Neither my partner nor I was like that in childhood.

Deny them guns, and anything longer than wide can become one. Frenchfries are guns. A sandwich half, minus a bite, is a gun with a handle. And imagine this Berkeley progressive's insides drop when my younger son gets excited about soldiers on magazines we pass.

I take solice in knowing that my nephew, raised by gentle, intelligent folks, and other little boys, are the same. I think it's a (straight) boy thing.

Still your question about how to engage despite this fixation - I don't know, other than to guess that being a bit laid back about it, while taking moments to teach, from time to time, is probably the only thing we can do. I draw the line at involving me and anyone else who isn't into it: he can shoot stuff around him, but I tell him that I don't like being shot, and guard that option for anyone else around us.

BTW, my older one also talks about the sadness of war. He gets it, despite his fascination. I think it'll be okay in the long run.

yeah, it's a mystery

I am a mom with a boy and a girl, and I had 3 brothers, and it's TRUE: boy energy is different from girl energy, even if the girl is a tomboy. And boy energy can be BIG. If I were you, I would take your kids outside as much as possible and let your son be physical-- kicking and throwing a ball, running, climbing, splashing in puddles, riding a trike or bike or scooter, sliding downhill on cardboard, using rollerblades. If he insists on your playing with him at the park, try taking a friend for him. If your baby has to nap, let her nap at the park in a stroller.

At an appropriate age, consider sport programs for him: gymnastics, swimming, soccer, baseball, ice skating. Do you have space to put in a climbing structure in your backyard? If you can't get outside, try nerf balls inside, a nerf basketball hoop on the door, a small trampoline. Some friends of ours with 6 year olds had a corner where they could put down a gymnastic mat and screw rockclimbing handholds into the wall studs (they wallpapered the background with a breathtaking mountain picture). They also had a child-sized drum set. good luck!

I'm a mom of a 5 year old boy into all super-hero characters and the like. I come from a family of girls, so yeah, sometimes the world of boys is a bit much for me. And yeah, sometimes I'm called upon to participate in role playing, but I just do it my way, and if it's not the ''right'' way, I leave him to it, or re- direct or go along with it occasionally. But we have plenty of fun with things more gender neutral too - playing sports, exploring nature, doing crafts, reading. It'll come as your child grow! s and discovers more about himself. And if you or dad show enthusiasm for other activities, he'll be curious and at least want to try/ see/learn.

And you could certainly try and engage his help with the baby - have him sing songs, tell stories, fetch things, hold the baby's hand while you change him - little things where he'll feel he's doing something and part of the action. Praise him for being such a great big brother, talk about the things he'll be able to teach his sibling, and aren't you lucky for having such a great helper such as him? In the meantime, I do remember coming across an article in a Parenting magazine that had excerpts of a book ''365 Things to Do With Your Kids Before They're Too Old to Enjoy Them'' that seemed pretty good. And just browsing on Amazon looking for ''fun with kids'' or ''things to do with kids'' I came across a few other promising titles. I know there are tons of them out there, some better t! han others, that provide good ideas or springboards for other activities. It'll get easier, then harder, then easier... Boy Mom

Hey Girlie Momma:

I can really identify with you! My son is now almost 9 (and still wants my involvement in things that drive me crazy) but whacha gonna do? I've read a lot of boy books -- feeling that I've needed some guidance in the area because they feel so alien to me at times. My favorite is Michael Gurian's, ''The Wonder of Boys: What Parents, Mentors and Educators Can Do to Shape Boys into Exceptional Men.'' Altho I am by no means perfect at this (probably won't ever be) his book helped me to embrace -- or at least accept without so much judgement -- the fundamental essense of what it means to be a boy and how that is very different than my experience as a girl/woman.

The other thing is, I have no idea if this is a terrible thing or not, but I have told my son there are some things I will not/cannot play with him cuz I just don't know ''how'' to do it. And we find someone else to do that with him and he and I do other (''boy'') things. I am not at all sure if we can truly learn to play like a boy. I mean this in all seriousness when I suggest you find another male to do some of this kind of playing with him...maybe a male high school student/neighbor kind of thing? Dad? Or even other kids his age. Certainly, he's at the age where playdates are a good thing for him to be experiencing anyway. Two boys (who get along reasonably well) can do whatever it is they do for hours, and then YOU can work on the values and the reading and the things you enjoy, too. Good luck. nasuse

The Joy of Boys

This is a response to the mother who was guiltily bored of playing superhero with her four-year-old son, and requesting alternate activities appealing to boys. I get bored playing trucks and trains with my son. I had to get out, and depend on the rest of the world to provide more stimulation for him than I can. And I worked very hard to make mommy friends, so I would have grown-up conversation while I watched other children play trucks, and while I watched my son spend fifteen to twenty minutes per exhibit a children's science museum (yawn), nature center, etc. My son's gift seems to be science, not my area of expertise. The Bay Area has a wealth of fun things to do with my son, nature walks, creeks full of polliwogs, zoos, nature centers, children's science and tech museums such as Chabot Observatory's children's room.

For one-on-one time at home with! a very boyish boy, I suggest science and math stuff such as finding bugs in the yard, baking a cake or cookies or otherwise creating interesting chemical reactions, playing math games, playing cards and board games involving his favorite topics. We have race car board games much like Candyland. I was worried my son was short on imaginative play until I noticed him making the cars and trucks talk to each other some. Your son is obviously not short on imaginative play, so you could play pirates, good-guy-bad-guy, or any number of imaginative games. The superhero thing seems to have something to do with working out pre-school notions of good and evil. My son actually thinks he has super powers when he is wearing a Batman pajama top, and he's never seen a Batman movie, cartoon, or book. He was given hand-me-down Batman shoes, and the reaction from other pre-schoolers was so good that now ! all his shoes must have Batman or another Superhero whose movies he's never seen. So you could try replacing Spiderman with superheros such as King Arthur, you may not get enough reinforcement from the other pre-schoolers. Carolyn