8 Things Parents Should Know About Raising Boys

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The most important things parents should know about raising boys. Sasha Brown-Worsham with her 6-year-old son. Photo: Sasha Brown-Worsham.

The day I found out I was pregnant with a son, I cried. I’d only had one sister and my first child had been a girl. How was I going to raise a boy? Now, more than six years after his birth, I laugh at my naiveté. Raising a boy is hard, but so is raising a girl. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some fundamental differences between the two genders. Here are 8 things parents should know about raising boys.

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Boys need to be active: “It’s perfectly normal for boys to run around, jump off couches, and build forts,” Jennifer L.W. Fink, a mother of four boys and founder of the website Building Boys, tells Yahoo Parenting. It’s OK to set limits – “It’s your house, after all,” she says — but if you don’t want your son jumping off the couch or throwing balls in the house, he needs to have another place to do it.

Teach boys empathy — by buying them dolls: The focus on developing a sense of empathy is often placed on girls, who are usually given dolls to practice nurturing and love. But boys need to be taught empathy too. The problem is, says Kimberly O’Connor, a marriage and family therapist, gender lines are drawn so clearly in toy stores. “I often recommend that parents help their child develop a strong sense of their own identity and make decisions based on their desires, not society norms,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “Making sure boys have access to dolls sends the strong message that males can be nurturing and caring which helps them eventually grow into loving dads.”

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Expect some bathroom bumps: One study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that about five in 100 kids wet the bed at night, but boys are more than twice as likely to do it than girls. So what does that mean for parents who are tired of washing sheets? Wait it out. The general consensus is, boys are just harder to potty train than girls —I know that’s been true in our house.

Don’t expect boys to love reading right away: As the mom of a son and a daughter who are very close in age, I have watched my daughter blossom into a voracious reader. My son has been much slower to take to reading and it pains me. I need to stop worrying, says Dr. Richard Horowitz, author of Family Centered Parenting. “Boys tend to learn more by experience rather than by reading,” he tells Yahoo Parenting. Find hands-on activities that express the ideas you hope he will learn from books. And, assume that at some point, he may catch up.

Boys may struggle in school: “Boys are not as verbally adept as girls of the same age,” says Horowitz. According to an article published on PBS Parents, the elementary classroom is four-fifths language-based, and girls are, on average, stronger than boys in language. That’s why it’s vital to supplement a boy’s school education with extracurricular activities. Joe Rawlinson, author of Dad’s Guide to Twins tells Yahoo Parenting that he engages his own sons with gardening, home improvement projects, and yard work. “When you give boys a chance to see how things work in the real world, they get to learn, do something, and see the result, which they love,” he says. 

Offer boys an outlet for competition: Girls and boys are both competitive but research conducted by Emmanuel College in Boston shows that girls display their competitive nature in more subtle ways and boys can become aggressive. “Competition is a huge part of life for boys (and men),” Fink says. So let your son try organized sports or play them together as a family.

Don’t buy into the cliche ‘boys will be boys’: According to family therapist Tasha H. Kornegay, this little phrase is dismissive and allows boys to get away with poor behavior simply because they’re male.

Don’t stress over toy weapons: This is one of my biggest issues as a boy mama. We just asked my son how he wants to decorate his new bedroom. “All guns,” he told us. Awesome. But don’t worry, says Fink. “Playing with pretend guns and swords is normal, natural and not at all linked to antisocial behavior.” Big relief.

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