boys playing and fighting, aggressive play

I’m raising a gentleman. This has always been my mantra. Raising a son to me is a heavier responsibility than raising a daughter. I often hear the opposite from friends who insist that raising a strong woman is critical, and to this, I don’t disagree. However, knowing the nature of girls, I don’t worry — I know we secretly rule the world.

And so, raising a good, kind, responsible, sensitive man has always been important to me. As such, we’ve not allowed any aggressive play. No guns, no hitting, no “boys will be boys.” We’re trying really hard to instill respect for everyone. Up until now, this has been fairly easy to achieve.

And then kindergarten started.

Kindergarten has introduced a whole other set of factors that I wasn’t prepared for. His class is made up mostly of boys, and since the beginning of the school year, I’ve seen a real change. He wants to punch more. He hits more. He gets frustrated more often. He comes home telling stories about how other boys are hitting and punching. I’m at a loss. I don’t like this change, and it makes me feel deeply uncomfortable. 

So I did what any responsible mother would do. I Googled it.

Let me preface this by saying that I am, by no means, an expert in early childhood development. But I started reading articles about boys and aggressive play. Many of them stated how normal it is, and how you should let your son go ahead and get it out as long as “everyone is having fun.” This still didn’t sit well with me. Perhaps it is simply part of human nature — boys tend to experiment more with power, and girls express themselves differently. 

I can’t help but think of what’s coming out in the media right now around men who have abused their power and privilege and taken advantage of women. These are prime examples of men who have a twisted sense of self and of power, enough to debase women. How we raise our sons does matter. I’ve been asking myself some tough questions: Are boys just boys, or can we influence that? What can I do, as a mother, to ensure my son NEVER becomes the next Harvey Weinstein? 

I don’t think violence, in any form, is acceptable. Playing aggressively is not OK. That’s what my instinct tells me. And so I’m going to stick with it. I’m going to concentrate instead on conflict resolution using communication, finding ways to ease frustration, and sharpening critical thinking. 

It can be difficult to determine where the line is between active play versus aggressive play. And it may be different for each family. But when I maintain my focus on raising a son who is good, kind, responsible, and sensitive, things become clear — no aggressive play for us.



  1. I’ve worked in childcare for over a decade. I love kids. And as you stated, the nature of boys and girls is different. If there is anything I have learned over the years of caring for children it is that. There is no denying that boys need more of a physical outlet than girls. Part of that physical play is aggressive. I’m sure you’ve noticed how part of the emotional and verbal play of girls can be aggressive. I don’t mean to say that you let everything go unchecked, but to deny a boy roughhousing and play fighting is unfortunate in my opinion.
    It is sad that so many mothers are now confusing the natural state of boyhood and the predatory nature of creeps like Weinstein. I only hope the young boys out there do not internalize that, growing up thinking they are a potential rapist or predator just because they happen to be a boy. The vast majority of men and boys (at least in the western world) do not harm or prey on women. The vast majority of men grew up doing karate chops on their best friends and wrestling with their brothers. And somehow manage not to use and abuse women.
    In short, I disagree with you. You probably disagree with me. And there you have it.

  2. I completely agree with the response from Whitney. Well said, Whitney. Boys are created differently than girls and need to be allowed to be boys. Their body is different, their hormones are different and their behavior is different. And that’s okay. If our children are going through a change that makes us uncomfortable, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t allow them to change or force them to be like us. Of course there’s a difference between rough-housing and crossing the line into aggression. But even then a child has to learn how to handle that. They can only learn through guidance and then through experience. Mommy or daddy can’t always interfere or the child is deprived of the opportunity to learn. For example, when our son was around 7 or 8 we had to tell him to defend himself from a boy that picked on him. We had encouraged a gentle approach but the other boy kept hitting our son. Once he finally defended himself, the other boy quit hitting our son. Our son did not grow up to be aggressive. He is quite a gentle man actually. He won’t even kill a bug or spider in the house. He just catches it and puts it outside. 🙂

  3. Let me preface by saying I have so much respect for the ideals you are striving to instil in your son. Raising a gentleman in a world with as man bad influences as good is a high mountain to climb, but not insurmountable.
    I love that you noted the typical differences between male and female play and emotional development. These are very important traits that can help to steer us when we choose appropriate activities and lessons for our children’s continued positive development. Knowing hear differences, I can see you’ve come across many studies and articles about boys’ tendencies to express emotions more physically.
    I don’t disagree that rough-housing can be detrimental-both because of a physical risk and because we simply don’t want our children (boys or girls) learning to deal with emotions, especially anger, through violence. However, all children need physical outlets to express themselves. If you aren’t comfortable with certain types of roughhousing, lay ground rules. I respect your rule of no gun play, and I myself don’t believe kids should be punching and hitting. Perhaps a karate class where they teach children the power of their body and actions and the responsibility and self-control? Or perhaps a low/no-contact sport such as running or baseball? Teaching appropriate physical outlets for aggression is just as important as enforcing what is inappropriate. It’s all very well to set rules and stick to them, but also important to recognize a child’s physical needs for emotional development. Find a way to channel your son’s physical energy that compliments the lessons you are teaching him.
    Good luck and much love to you and your family.

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