While raising boys is inherently distinct from raising girls, there are ways to curb certain behaviors and guide their decisions as they grow up ultimately into great fathers.
Sex differences are apparent from the beginning, as early as in the womb. Even before implantation, embryos destined to be male grow faster — and continue to grow faster all through pregnancy — than those of who will eventually develop female. Moms of baby boys produce breast milk with a different composition than they would for girls.
Related: 7 Magical Properties of Breast Milk
This begs the question of how best to raise our boys? Since they are different than our daughters, its easy for our assumptions to acquiesce to conventional sayings like “boys will be boys,” “real men don’t cry,” and “man up.” But these stereotypes deny our sons access to their hearts, and the men who come out of these childhoods are often so detached from understanding empathy, compassion, kindness, and love that they struggle as partners and fathers themselves.
There has to be a different way.
Enter attachment parenting. The beauty of this parenting approach is that, while the eight principles remain the same from family to family, the ways we go about following these principles is highly customizable.
It is out of this foundation of trust, empathy, affection, and joy that attachment parenting creates that we are able to find ways to raise our children. Here are 11 goals to aim for in raising your son:
1. Develop an emotionally close relationship.
The foundation of a strong attachment is an emotionally close parent-child relationship, and boys need this as much as girls. So go ahead and breastfeed, cosleep, babywear, and do any of the other attachment parenting things with your baby boy as you would for a girl!
This close attachment will serve as a home base for your son all through his childhood as he seeks your guidance while developing increasing autonomy.
2. Amp up the one-on-one time and listen to his feelings.
All children crave one-on-one time, but making sure to get that time in with your son really helps to keep that attachment strong as he grows more independent and is exposed to society’s counter advice to detach. If your son is not as apt as your other child to sit on the porch swing for a heart-to-heart, do something else that allows you to connect.
My son likes to ride his bike while I go on my jogs or to go fishing with my husband. Besides enjoying your time with him, pay special attention to his words. You can get a real sense of who your son is as a person, his interests, and anything that may be bothering him by what he chatters about as he’s doing something.
3. Ditch the sayings and don’t label.
Our brains have been inundated with the stereotypical sayings defining men and masculinity — “real men don’t cry,” “talk like a man,” “don’t be a sissy” — and it may take a lot of effort on our part to erase these phrases from our subconscious. But it’s worth it if we want to raise our boys well.
Along with that, be careful not to label your son with words like “jock,” “class clown,” or “mama’s boy.” We want our boys to define themselves, and voicing a label can constrict their idea of themselves. Try not to even think it, as our thoughts dictate our behaviors and we may inadvertently teach our sons to grow up under the label anyway.
4. Encourage his interests, even if you don’t find them “boyish.”
So much has been done in our culture to allow girls to have a wider range of interests that fall far outside the traditional realm of “girl” things. Yet, boys in our society are still restrained to the traditional “boy” interests. Allow your son to a wider range of interests.
It may be that he loves football and building Lego contraptions, or it may be that he prefers to play dolls with his sisters or bake cookies. Showing our interest in his interests communicates love and acceptance, and gives him the freedom to express himself and his heart.
In the same vein, allow your son to change his mind. He needs to feel it’s okay to shift his interests. We want our sons to feel supported as they find themselves and develop their own identity.
5. Embrace his energy.
Among the differences in boys versus girls is that boys tend to have a lot more energy. This isn’t cut-and-dry, as some girls can be just as energetic and some boys are quieter than others, but its something to keep in mind. Boys also tend to feed off the energy of other boys. And that’s okay. Know its a difference and accept it in love.
6. Spend lots of time outside.
What better place to release all that energy than outside! Our children — boys and girls — need free play, physical activity, and Vitamin N.
7. Model empathy.
All children learn best from our example, and this includes boys learning empathy. Don’t hold back on showing him empathy, showing others empathy around him, or encouraging him to be empathetic toward others. Consider getting him a pet or a plant, as caring for another living thing can boost his empathy “muscle.”
8. Be gentle, show affection, and use lots of nurturing touch.
Be as gentle with your son as you would be with your daughter. Show lots of affection. Don’t hold back on those hugs, kisses, back massages, and cuddles. Kids want nurturing touch, although peers who are raised differently may influence your son not to show as many public displays of affection. But he’ll crave it when at home. My son loves giving hugs. He needs that nurturing touch from me and his sisters even more so when he goes back to school.
Also, don’t underestimate the power of touch during discipline. Boys tend to be more sensitive to touch during redirection than words, so consider touching his hand or shoulder when setting limits. In the same vein, don’t spank or smack.
9. Set limits.
Don’t let “boys will be boys” be your mantra. As with girls, be certain to set limits on your son’s behavior. They need structure and guidance, too.
10. Teach responsibility, but focus on the effort.
Give your son chores and have him help you around the house and yard. Teaching work ethic and responsibility are important for all children. But with boys, again you have to be careful not to fall into the cultural trap and put more pressure on your boys.
Stereotypically, we tend to think our boys should be doing dirtier, outdoors, more mechanical, and more physical work than girls. We may also feel that they need to do whatever task faster or more perfectly.
Take care to not go into a chore with any assumptions pertaining to gender differences. Try choosing chores that either fit your son’s interests or that can help him, with your guidance, to grow in an area. Don’t focus on his ability, but on his effort and give ample praise for the life skills he’s building like perseverance, patience, and sense of responsibility.
11. Let him make mistakes.
Our homes should be safe places to make mistakes, learn from them, and try again — for all of us.
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