Saturday, April 4, 2009
Boys will be boys?
"The difference between boys who overcome adversity and those who surrender to it always comes down to the emotional resources they bring to the challenge" p. 19
I taught third grade for several years, and have been working with kids in different capacities since I was a teenager, but I still don't think I fully grasped the differences between boys and girls until I had one of each. The differences seem to be quite innate to me as I watch my two children. For example, today the kids saw a reflection of rainbow on the ground. B tried to hold it in her hands and T wanted to hit it with his hands. That is just the way they seem to be. Both are amazing little people with the most most tender little hearts, but they do have some specific differences. T seems to be much more active, have less impulse control, and be a little tougher. The first two traits are the ones I didn't feel very prepared for. I have a good friend, Anna, who is one of the most thoughtful parents I know. She has two boys, and she recommended the book, Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys to me. I just recently finished it, and I feel like I learned so much. It should be on the to-read list of every parent, teacher, or counselor of boys.
The authors discuss how through their years of specializing in boys' clinical psychology they have discovered that boys are very different from girls and these differences are things that we need to embrace. They also note that many of the problems men in our society face seem to be linked to the things that we assume and teach our boys. Some of these subsequent problems are lack of intimacy, depression, drug-use, anger, and violence. We tend to foster girls' emotional development and ignore that of boys, leaving them with little "emotional literacy" to draw from in life. Emotional Literacy refers to an ability to identify and appropriately deal your or other people's emotions. After reading this I saw how I do tend to focus on teaching B to understand and handle emotions more while expecting T not to think about them as much (when in fact, the authors describe how boys and girls both start out with the same capacity for emotional development.) Basically we should intentionally teach both boys and girls that it is normal to have a wide-range of emotions, and we should model dealing with them in healthy ways. "We know that mother's who explain their emotional reactions to their preschool children and who do not react negatively to a child's vivid display of sadness, fear, or anger will have children who have a greater understanding of emotions" p. 16.
Nevertheless, as I have sought out validating T's emotions so that he knows it is okay to feel sad or scared, etc., I have seen him be a lot more responsive to the emotions of others. The authors' do not discourage us from raising our boys to be masculine, but they encourage us to expect more from them emotionally and to respect and appreciate the ways in which they are different from girls, so we do not belittle them and ultimately damage their self-esteems because they are wired differently. "Boys have fears, boys have needs, boys are vulnerable, and boys have a capacity for powerful inner feelings. Acknowledging boys' fear will not make them weak; it will free them from shame and make them stronger. Boys are prisoners of those feelings as long as they have to deny the truth of them or require themselves to be fully in control of them" p. 251-252. They give suggestions for moms, dads, and teachers in a very interesting and readable way. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and feel much more prepared to navigate the world with my son. You should check it out, too. Here is a picture of my boy and girl getting a little giggly before bedtime.