Life is certainly, um, interesting, when you're raising two boys. To say they're a handful is an understatement! No doubt parents of girls will howl in protest, but we have an older daughter as well, so I can say with certainty that in our case, at least, Boys are Different from Girls. In many aspects, the differences have been the stereotypical ones. Yes, our boys are more physical. Yes, they love wheels and balls. Yes, they draw "verbs" rather than "nouns" (explosions and laser beams shooting out of cannons and concentric circles that represent cars racing around a track rather than the actual car and track).
But in many other, surprising ways, our boys continue to challenge my assumptions and stereotypes of how boys behave. I recently attended a talk by Erica Pelavin, a child psychologist in the Palo Alto community, speaker for Parents Place, and a mother of two boys herself, on "Raising Sons: Promoting Self Esteem and Improving Communication." She spoke about the emotional makeup of little boys and show how different they are than society makes them out to be. For instance:
1) Myth: Boys can't control their aggressive behavior. Fact: Actually, aggression can actually mask a deeper emotion that the boy is holding in, perhaps because he senses that "Boys Don't Cry." Once you give boys an emotional language, aggression actually decreases.
2) Myth: Boys are less sensitive. Fact: Actually, boys have more difficulty with transitions and have a harder time separating from their mother.
3) Myth: Boys are less emotional. Fact: Actually, boys lose their self-soothing techniques earlier. We talk to them less, encourage them to "toughen up" and "be a little man." Society puts pressure on boys to be tough, stoic, independent, inexpressive people who do not share their pain.
In addition, Erica gave many tips for parents to help nurture their sons' emotional development and improve their self esteem. Here are some of my favorite ones:
1) Boys tend to express themselves more actively than girls. They need a physical outlet, so give your boys breaks throughout the day and the opportunity to engage in some physical activity.
2) Be involved in your son's life. Checking in with him at the end of the day rather than right after preschool may get your boy to open up more and get an emotional conversation started. Instead of the open-ended "What did you do today?", try doing a rundown of the day's Highs and Lows ("What was the best part of the day? What was the worst?").
3) For dads: Find a way to connect with your son through a shared activity. Don't hesitate to show physical affection -- hugs, kisses, wrestling, you name it; touch is important to them.
4) For moms: Stay connected to your son no matter his age. Take every opportunity you can to maintain physical closeness through hugs, lap sitting and cuddles. Allow your son to show the vulnerable side to you that he hides in public, and let him enjoy the mothering that he still craves.
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