The one question mums of sons should ask

As a mother of four sons, a former boys’ basketball coach, counsellor and a secondary English teacher for 16 years I have come to see that there is often a mismatch between what a boy does and what his mum thinks has happened.

A statistically significant number of boys are wired to learn in highly physical ways, are impulsive, quick to act/slow to think, non-cautious and eager to take risks without realising it.

They are also constantly trying to have fun or do things that make them feel good.

There is much debate whether this is because of differences in brain processing, the influence of heightened levels of testosterone, the ancestral wiring of men to be defenders and protectors of the tribe, or the social and cultural influences.

Whatever is behind it, author and social philosopher Michael Gurian writes about boys’ need to achieve some sense of success – whether that be climbing a tree, winning a game, hitting a target with a ball, finishing a Lego building or sharing a sporting or artistic achievement.

Gurian writes that boys are looking for reasons to give themselves ‘self-worth’ or a sense of “I have done good.”

This inner striving also plays out within the boy world where boys are constantly striving to maintain a level of ‘status’ within the circle of boys they find themselves.

Fear of losing status is behind many dumb decisions boys make at school and when and they bring home their sense of disappointment it is often poor mum who will wear their emotional angst in many different ways.

Boys can struggle with verbal communication and often their behaviour is a way that they use to compensate for this. Often their behaviour is their language.

While girls communicate verbally, boys express their emotions through actions rather than words, seeking attachment indirectly through activities or play.

– Dr William Pollack, Real Boys: rescuing our sons from the myths of boyhood

Here are 21 examples that show the importance of questioning before deciding how to deal with a situation.

  1. A normally well-behaved 5-year-old lad suddenly began throwing toys and pushing other preschoolers. Why? His favourite ECE had gone on maternity leave and he was grieving, sad and felt abandoned. He didn’t want to be there.
  2. A boy was sent to the office after he pushed another boy over in the playground. Why? The boy was defending his sister who had been hassled by the boy the day before and he wanted to stop him from doing that.
  3.  A 4-year-old boy drew a picture with lipstick on the wall near his mum’s bedroom. Why? He wanted to draw her a special picture and couldn’t find a texta or paper. He drew it where she would see it the best.
  4. A boy was seen running up to greet his friend at the school gate and punched him. Why? Boys often struggle to know how to greet each other and the punch is a form of “aggression nurturance” or a way of showing how much they like a friend.
  5. A boy was playing a vigorous game of chasey and knocked over a girl he didn’t see. Why? He was running so fast that he never saw her and it was an accident and he will feel awful for hurting her.
  6. A boy stole a book from a school book fair. Why? He saw his friends stealing and rather than lose status he chose to join in even though he knew it was wrong.
  7. A boy who struggled with his mum leaving him in kindergarten, wipes away tears and then turns and gets angry over a tiny thing and throws sand in another child’s face. Why? This is the sad-angry response many ECEs see often as many boys are unable to manage sadness or disappointment well so they channel it into anger as it’s a more ‘accepted’ male emotion.
  8. A boy began throwing biros and pencils in class. Why? He may have been bored. He may have been trying to impress a girl. He may have been getting worried as he had cross country coming up later on and was scared he’d lose status.
  9. A boy has a tantrum about going to school. Why? There’s a sight word test and he doesn’t know his words. It’s easier to not turn up than to turn up and fail.
  10. A boy sees his mum waiting at the bus stop to collect him. He races up to her and slams into her leg hurting her. Why? He is trying to show her how much he loves her and has missed her. He didn’t realise it would hurt her.
  11. A boy threw a stone and accidentally hit a window. Why? He was aiming for a tree and missed and never meant to hit the window.
  12. A boy was asked to bring in the washing and mum found some of it in a basket with the pegs still on it later – not finished. Why? The boy was really wanting to go and ride his skateboard so he took ‘some’ of the washing off in a hurry and hoped that would be enough.
  13. A boy was asked to vacuum the daddy long legs spiders and their webs out of the lounge and hallway but he never did it. Why? He was uncomfortable hurting the spiders and felt sorry for them.
  14. A boy was asked to get dressed to go to a community event and came out with a very holey T-shirt and dirty jeans. Why? He chose his favourite clothes for such a special event.
  15. A boy was asked if he had his jocks on for school – answer no. Why? It feels better without them!
  16. A boy was sent to get his shoes from his bedroom and never came back. Why? He either forgot what he was asked to do or on arriving in his bedroom he was distracted by some Lego and started playing.
  17. On the way to soccer a boy starts getting ‘narky’ with his sister. Why? He suddenly became hungry.
  18. A boy toddler is throwing a mega tantrum in the car for no apparent reason. Why? His sister’s foot was resting on his favourite blanket.
  19. A boy is not answering his mother when she calls out to him while he watches TV. Why? Boys are often single focus and he is unable to hear her as he is watching TV.
  20. A boy cannot find his socks? Why? He is looking in the wrong place as he has forgotten where the sock drawer is.
  21. A boy has lost his school jumper – again. Why? He was so intent on playing he lost all sense of where his jumper was – even forgot he had a jumper!

Often when we see the world through just our mummy eyes we can misinterpret much of our children’s behaviour – especially our boys – as being intentional and deliberate.

Of course there are some children who have a nasty aspect to them and who can choose to do things to deliberately hurt others however I have found that to be rare, and often there is something behind it.

So next time you notice a behaviour or event that displeases you – pause and ask yourself – ‘what is he really trying to say?’

Give him the benefit of the doubt until you have a chance to explore the experience in a quiet moment, maybe in 24 hours’ time, and then help him to see the world through your eyes.