Raising Boys: 3 Parenting Strategies for Preschool Boys
Will my son become the class bully? Will he struggle in school because he can’t sit still? Does he have attention deficit disorder? Hyperactivity disorder? Impulse control disorder? These worries have been floating through my head for the past few months about my son. Owen is a bright, curious and charming boy. He’s also incredibly active. I mean…really, really active. He acts before he thinks and, as an almost 3-year old, that results in many behavioral issues. These bad behaviors seem to be more pronounced since he transitioned into the early preschool classroom a few months ago. There are new teachers, new classroom rules, new peers, and new expectations. Despite reassurances from his preschool teacher that his behavior is within normal range for his age, I continued to fret about his future as the local sociopath. Until I read this book – The Way of Boys: Raising Healthy Boys in a Challenging & Complex World by Dr. Anthony Rao – and learned about his three parenting strategies that work when raising boys.
I’m not generally one for parenting books but this one caught my eye at the perfect time. The larger message I took away from Dr. Rao is not to lose faith in the natural process of child development. “Instead of worrying exclusively about what can go wrong in a boy’s development,” explained Rao, “parents should be offering a steady hand to guide and support him as he moves along.” The simple notion of taking a larger picture view of the child development process alongside his descriptions of typical boy antics, gave me the perspective I needed to break out of my mom panic. And, Dr. Rao had some great advice for raising boys.
3 Parenting Strategies for Raising Boys
1. Clear Rules and Boundaries. Setting rules and boundaries for our daughter was tough but achievable. With Owen, we’re struggling with this parenting strategy because of his boyish ways. He’s always careening through the boundaries and breaking the rules. To our bewilderment, he actually seems to enjoy getting in trouble. Positive discipline tactics don’t seem to work and we’ve even tried time-outs. Nothing seems to curb his less than desirable behaviors. Rao explains why, “Active young boys look at social rules as a type of game, one that they excel at and even like to play.” For more aggressive boys, Rao suggests building basic skills – controlling impulses, being aware of boundaries, reading social cues, and learning to share – in order to counter their “grab at the world” temperament.
He gives many real-world examples of how to help boys achieve these skills. The one that sticks out is setting boundaries at home as a way of preparing boys for school and public places that have set boundaries (i.e. teacher’s desk, cash register, etc.). For example, establish off-limits parts of the house (mommy’s work desk, parents’ bedroom, etc.). We haven’t done this very well at home but have set the stage recently during some family hikes. Out on the trail, there are real safety boundaries that need to be honored and we’ve been teaching him trail etiquette that’ll keep him safe. We just need to apply this in the home setting.
2. Consequences before Lectures. This parenting strategy is an eye-opener for me. Rao discusses how two-, three-, and four-year-old boys simply don’t listen much to words. Even if they know the words, language is the last resort for them. When they want something, most boys instinctively want to hit or grab rather than say “no!” or ask “can I play with that?” He suggests, “When you son does something wrong, you have to take something away right away. No exceptions.” My initial reaction was “What?? That can’t possibly be the answer!”
But I’ve been trying it and, honestly, this works. I first applied this strategy on vacation. Without his crib and being too big for a pack-n-play, we decided to try out an inflatable toddler bed. Of course, it immediately became a bounce house during bedtime. The rule I wanted him to follow was simple: Stay in bed. He could read books quietly or play with his superhero Little People but no getting out of bed. He did good for 10 minutes but, of course, had to test boundaries. First time off the bed, I took his Batman, let him get mad, and when he settled down, said simply “You need to stay in bed.” Next to go was Wonder Women. Finally, I took his beloved Superman. He got angry, upset and tried everything to get it back – but he didn’t get out of bed again. The next night I only had to take away one and, by the 4th night, he understood the rule. I’ve been applying this in all sorts of ways since.
As boys mature, Rao offers a time-out alternative he dubs the “Time Away.” My parents called this “go to you room” and it works on both boys and girls alike. This is what Max’s mom does superbly in the Maurice Sendak book, Where the Wild Things Are – send children to a safe place to control their “wild things”.
3. Rewards for Each Milestone. Growing up is hard work and it’s important to reward kids for achieving developmental milestones. We’ve never set up one for Olivia but I’m looking forward to trying some of Rao’s tips for establishing a reward system (for boys & girls):
- Start small. Make initial behavior goals relatively easy to achieve and, once they are stable, make the goals more challenging.
- Don’t punish or forgive noncompliance. Parents may want to give their boys additional chances or nag them about the reward system. Rao suggests taking a nonchalant attitude, “That’s okay. You can earn your sticker another time. It’s your choice.”
- Stay consistent with giving rewards. Don’t forget or give up on the reward system.
- Choose the right rewards. Select rewards that children won’t otherwise get; children do best when they are offered new privileges.
- Keep it challenging. Adjust the rewards program when the behavior is well established and before kids get bored.
Raising boys is challenging. Parenting is challenging. But it’s also an adventure that is filled with much joy and rewards if you arm yourselves with the parenting strategies that work best for your child and family. For me, it’s remember to consider the larger child development picture and reminding myself that the tornado in my house is just “the way of boys.”