Are you raising a boy? Me too! If your boy is anything like mine, you’ve got your hands full! Imparting wisdom might not come easily in between the scraped knees, the squashed bugs, the dirt that gets into every nook and cranny on the daily, and the inherent need to climb every tall thing they encounter. But when they’re not tearing up the house and trying to ride on the family cat like it’s a pint-sized pony, our boys are listening to us. They may not always acknowledge it, but their little brains are soaking it all in as they form their ideas of the world – so the words we speak to them are integral to their development. Here’s what we should be imparting on our little lads:
- “You’re so smart”
When boys are young, it can be easy to focus on their physical attributes as that is where a lot of their energy is focused. From toddlerhood, they’re busy testing their physical capabilities and limitations, while their female counterparts are generally focusing on language development and problem solving – so it can become easy to cheer them on when they kick a goal or win a race, but might seem less natural to applaud the way their minds work. Make sure they know that they’re worth more than their ability to catch a ball or run around an oval.
- “It’s OK to cry”
It’s widely known that older generations of men were taught to suppress their emotions because crying, or even showing signs of distress, were considered weak and feminine. As a result of those bottled up feelings, male depression has become more and more prevalent. Stop the cycle and encourage your boy to cry when he needs to let it out.
- “I love and respect you”
For boys (and men), respect is as much a sign of your love for them as your hugs and kisses are. It’s important for them to feel loved, and it’s important for them to feel heard and appreciated.
- “Calm down and breathe”
I don’t know what it’s like to experience a testosterone-fuelled rage, but I do know that there are thousands of stories out there of men whose anger boiled over and in an instant someone was hurt – a partner, a child, a friend, a stranger. While I’m not suggesting that a simple suggestion to “breathe” is the be-all, end-all of anger management for men, it’s a starting place for boys. Make sure your son is equipped with coping mechanisms for his anger when it strikes.
- “You don’t have to be good at everything”
Boys (particularly our sweet little alphas!) are driven to win. They want to be the best at everything, or at least really good. So when they find themselves struggling with something, they get frustrated and are likely to give up on it – then beat themselves up over the failure of it all. Make sure they know that not only do they not have to be good at everything they try – it’s not humanly possible!
- “You are brave”
Bravery is a big deal for boys – so it’s important that they feel acknowledged when they’re being brave. Of course, just as they need to be able to cry, they also need to know that it’s OK not to be brave – but having their bravery recognised helps to affirm it.
- “You are handsome”
Sure, boys are often happy to wear the same muddy jeans and ripped T-shirt every day for a week if you’ll let them, but deep down, of course they want to look good (or at least passable). Yes, a nine-year-old boy will probably outwardly groan if his mum regularly tells him how handsome he is, but a teenage boy who has made the effort to dress nicely for a school dance needs to hear it – it will really boost his confidence.
- “You can play with dolls if that’s what you like”
Gender-specific toys are becoming a thing of the past because parents are realizing that a baby doll isn’t going to cause their son to be less of a man when he grows up. Who would have thought!? In fact, it turns out that boys grow up to be Dads just about as often as girls grow up to be Mums. So if your boy chooses to play with a doll over a dinosaur, embrace it! I promise it won’t harm his development.
- “Your hard work will be worth it”
The society we live in today is a convenient one in a lot of ways. There are short cuts, hacks and products to make all kinds of things quicker and easier, from Thermomixes to dry shampoo. I mean, we can run our entire lives from behind the screen of an iPad. Hard work can easily become a foreign concept, especially to younger generations. Teaching our sons the value of hard work now is essential for their future tertiary studies, jobs, relationships and house-keeping… because there are just some things that can’t be short cut-ted!
- “Tell me more”
Women can talk your ear off if you let them, but men aren’t always as forthcoming. Whether they’re talking about something good, something bad, something hard, or something funny, they don’t fall over themselves trying to provide every last detail. Teach your son the art of expressing himself, his ideas and his emotions adequately by prompting him with questions that show him you’re listening, and that what he’s saying is important.
Raising a boy (raising any child, for that matter!) is a wonderful privilege, but one that comes with so much responsibility. Offer the above words to your son, and he will reap the rewards throughout his entire life, raising him to be the best man he can be.