Recently, I have struggled with raising a boy who loves to engage in behaviors that others sometimes find questionable. Even though he is the best hugger, loves to help younger children, enjoys making babies laugh, and greets adults as though he is one, I have experienced negative attention for some of his other behaviors.
Like many boys, he loves to climb up the slide and over the slide. He likes to hang from very high places. He loves to be in charge and is a natural ring leader. He loves to win and hates to lose. He thinks weapons are cool and enjoys turning anything — from a stick, candy bar, or Lego creation — into a blaster, complete with “pew-pew” sound effects. He finds body parts and functions fascinating and funny. He has public emotional meltdowns.
These behaviors are not out of the realm of normal for his age; but lately, due to constant reminders from the media, parenting articles, mom conversations, school policies, changing social standards, and passive-aggressive judgment, many of my son’s behaviors are trending as questionable, worthy of hesitation, or wrong. I believe boys and men today are being judged on the highlighted behaviors of some, and as a result, our children’s behaviors are being misjudged.
I’m getting the impression that boys who behave in traditional, once-acceptable ways are now being excluded, avoided, and judged negatively.
It can be heartbreaking to face and maneuver this judgment for him. But I know, based on my educational expertise, that these behaviors are perfectly normal and age-appropriate. Some of the behaviors he will outgrow; others, with parental guidance and coaching, will become refined and appropriate in context.
If your son engages in these same behaviors, there is nothing wrong with him for that. He is learning! It is important that parents of young boys remember that however our boys process their world, aside from engaging in physical threat or harm, is OK. We need to stand up for them, letting others know they are fine just the way they are. Our sons are being themselves and figuring out their world. This world has things in it that are scary, risky, and dangerous. And they need to know what that means to them. It is our job as parents to let our boys explore those questions in healthy and non-judgmental ways and guide them in a positive and healthy direction to become the good in this world.
Here are just a few (out of many) approaches our family has adopted to encourage our son to become a man of integrity, courage, humility, gentleness, love, strength, kindness, and good.
Boys learn about their world through play. Many boys need to engage in imaginary, rough, and dirty play to develop self-understanding, conviction, and how to maneuver the tricky parts of life. Through all forms of play they learn the limits, strength, and capabilities of their bodies and minds. They practice being the good guys and the bad guys, and from that, they figure out why good is better. They own that understanding and internalize it. It is much more effective than us just telling them over and over again to be good. We must have faith that they will come out on the good side as they traverse life’s touchy aspects.
Boys need opportunities to test the limits of their bodies, minds, and spirits in ways that are meaningful and healthy. Martial arts is a wonderful way to allow boys to fight in a structured environment that supports physical and character development. Martial arts teaches discipline, technique, respect, and humility. Our son participates in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a grappling (ground fighting) form of martial arts. He gets to release a lot of energy, engage in competition, problem solve, learn from losing, demonstrate respect, and be part of a team family. He also gets to become stronger, faster, and smarter; as a result, his confidence and self-esteem rise. Martial arts is an invaluable way to allow boys to channel their natural male tendencies in productive and empowering ways.
It is unreasonable to expect a 6-year-old to have achieved mastery of social etiquette, conflict management, academics, physical boundaries, understanding of consequences, energy control, or self-awareness. The world will constantly throw judgment balls his way, but I will not. I will love him no matter what. I will teach him, cry with him, and practice with him. But I will not falter in my belief that he is already good and will grow up to be a good man. I will walk the path with him.
Our young boys should be allowed to explore their world, question it, try it on, take it off, and dabble in it to find out how they fit into it. All young boys are able to learn, grow, and become good. It is when we start to let fear drive our parenting that we lose. If our son’s non-threatening behaviors at 6 strike fear or question in another, it is on them, not us. I know I am raising him to be the good in this world and the man he is meant to be. I am tired of trying to show the world my perfect child in perfect form. So I show the world my son today. As far as I’m concerned, he is perfect just as he is right now. And yours is too.