People assume that because my 5-yr-old son is male that he needs strong and absolute boundaries to behave in a civilized way. But, my little guy is generally gentle and reasonable. The best way to get him to change his behavior is with calm and exhaustively thorough explanation.
He invented a game the other day of using a slingshot to play Angry Birds in real life. That way, he wouldn’t have to use up his screen time playing it. I gave him the boundary of only using soft balls or stuffed animals to play the game. “No throwing things up high in the air allowed.” He set up his blocks and entertained himself for hours.
The internet’s assumption, when I shared a picture, was, “Woah! Watch out! Expect a destroyed house!” But, I knew my boy could be totally trusted. He isn’t always an angel, but, usually–if he’s not tired or hungry and I’ve given him a good reason why–he will absolutely regulate himself.
The surest way to get him to act out is by yelling at him or threatening to take something away. If I calmly explain that he will lose a privilege, then he can be reasoned with. However, if I start to get angry then all bets are off.
Where male stereotypes mostly hurt my son is when he’s being cared for by anyone who doesn’t know his personality well. Oftentimes, after an afternoon with a sitter, my son will ask something like, “Mom, when I did this, why did she say that?” He starts to tear up a little when he lets himself be vulnerable, admitting that what the sitter said really bothered him. Usually, it’s because my son isn’t used to not being trusted.
My boy is so conscientious and sincere that even if he’s doing something he shouldn’t, I can trust that he’s doing his best to behave well and is telling the truth. Harsh corrections of misbehavior are worse than unnecessary, they’re damaging to him. My son always tries to do his best, so anything harsher than a calm explanation is–for him–a tearing down of his self-worth.
I’ve found that most people assume that little boys just looking for an excuse to misbehave. They perceive them as being akin to wild animals that can’t be reasoned with. My sweet, gentle boy loves trucks and dinosaurs. He will race back and forth, given enough space and a friend to race with. But, he is also extremely cautious and timid, especially with new experiences. I have to moderate my natural tendency to tell him to be careful. Such an approach can practically paralyze him if he’s in a new situation.
So, yes, male stereotypes are hurting my gentle son. Though, I don’t think my son is an exception to any rule here. I think male stereotypes are hurting a lot of our sons. I’m willing to bet that most of our sons are more gentle and reasonable than we give them credit for. A lot of men have grown up with damaged senses of self-worth because of all the times that they weren’t trusted as little boys. Our society suffers because we have failed our boys during their youth, when they needed us to understand them most.
It’s not too late, we can start understanding now. If you’re a man reading this, I’m starting to understand you and I’m sorry that it’s been so hard.
Photo credit: By [email protected]