All parents struggle with some of the things their boys do. While there is no magic formula that will work in all situations, it is helpful to understand the kinds of issues that impact a boy’s behavior. If you understand these issues and know what to expect at different developmental stages, your reactions will be wiser and it will be easier to create an environment that supports and nurtures your son. When your child’s behavior is troubling, ask yourself:
1. Is this a growth or developmental stage?
Each new phase of growth or development brings challenges for the boy and his caregivers. For example, growing independence in the child’s second year is often accompanied by challenging behavior (such as the “No!” phase). Feeding and sleeping problems may occur during developmental transitions, and it helps if caregivers are extra patient and loving in their responses. It’s best to give a boy choices, use humor, and be firm but supportive.
2. Is this an individual or temperament difference?
Not all boys of a certain age act the same way. Some progress developmentally at different rates and all have their own temperaments that may account for differences in behavior. Being aware of a boy’s tendency to be shy, moody, adaptable, or inflexible will help you better understand his behavior in a specific situation and impact the way you approach the behavior.
3. Is the environment causing the behavior?
Sometimes the setting provokes a behavior that may seem inappropriate. An overcrowded living or childcare arrangement coupled with a lack of toys can increase aggression or spark jealousy. Look around your home to evaluate it in light of your child’s behaviors and see the environment from a boy’s viewpoint.
4. Does your son know what is expected?
If a boy is in a new or unfamiliar territory or is facing a new task or problem, he may not know what behavior is appropriate and expected. Perhaps this is the first time a two year- old without siblings has been asked to share a toy. Developmentally he does not truly understand the concept of sharing, so it is up to the parent to explain calmly how other children will react. Patience and repeating the message over and over again are necessary as children rarely learn or master a new response on the first try.
5. Is your son expressing unmet emotional needs?
In our society, it is easy for a boy’s emotional needs to be neglected. Emotional needs that are unmet are the most difficult cause of behavior to interpret. If a particular child needs extra love and attention, rather than withhold that from him, it will be helpful to find ways to validate and acknowledge your son more frequently.
Adapted fromOrr, Susan. “Safe Children and Healthy Families Are a Shared Responsibility.” http://www.childwelfare.gov. 2006. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 17 Mar 2009 <http://www.childwelfare.gov/preventing/pdfs/prev_packet_2006_en.pdf>.