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The Number One Question About Boys

by Michael Thompson


Michael Thompson

Michael Thompson, Ph.D. is a consultant, author and psychologist specializing in children and families. Read more »

Sorry, Michael Thompson is no longer taking questions.

As a psychologist who makes his living as a traveling lecturer, I speak to audiences of mothers, fathers and teachers every week. Over the course of a year, I probably answer more than 1,000 questions from parents, and the majority of those queries are, naturally, about sons. Occasionally someone asks, "What is the most-asked question about boys?" and it always makes me ponder: What is the one thing about boy behavior that most troubles parents?

I used to think the number one question was about how to get boys to talk. "How do I get my 15-year-old to speak to me?" moms would ask. "Why won't my son talk to me about college?" an exasperated father would wonder. "I can tell my third-grader is angry and hurt, but when I ask him about it, he won't answer me or he says that things are 'fine,'" a mother reports. Lack of talkativeness in boys is a big issue and a frustration for mothers, but mostly in middle-school and teenage boys. Many little guys are still telling their mothers everything (or their moms just seem to know everything).

Perhaps the number one question is from parents wondering why boys hate school and homework so much. "How can I help motivate my son?" a father asks. "He doesn't seem to care about school at all," a mother worries, "He just spends a few minutes on his homework." There is no question that more boys than girls seem to dislike school and fight back against it; no question that boys get more C's and D's than girls. More boys drop out before finishing high school. Academic underachievement is a big concern for many parents of boys.

Then there are the questions about boy bullying, aggression, anger and dumb behavior. And, what about their bad judgment? Why do they get so explosive and do such stupid things sometimes? Why don't they seem to grasp social cues or follow the rules the way girls do?

In the end, however, when I mentally add up all the questions that I am asked about boys of all ages, I have to conclude that THE number one question is about the high activity level of boys; their constant need for movement, running, and what seems like--but mostly is not--physical aggression. Boys' need to touch, to poke, to wrestle and to take physical risks is, at times, both baffling and frustrating for adults.

"My son can't sit still in class. He's always getting in trouble with the teacher. The school wants him evaluated for ADHD, but I think he's a normal boy. He's so sweet at home."

"Why does he want to run all the time; why does he run into the street?" wonders the mother of a 2 ½ -year-old.

"My son's school has a Zero Tolerance policy; they suspended him for stick-fighting at recess. He's only in Kindergarten, and he didn't hurt anybody."

"Why can't they sit still and listen when we're reading out loud. Why do they always pile on top of each other?" asks a Kindergarten teacher.

"My sons fight and wrestle every day. It's so upsetting to me," says the mom of two boys, 11 and 13, fearing that it means her sons won't have a good relationship when they grow up. I reassure her that many loving brothers wrestled as boys and continue wrestling into their twenties, thirties and forties.

Most of these questions come from women. They haven't lived inside a boy's body, and as a result they sometimes have a hard time identifying with how it feels to have the body, the muscles, the hormones and the physical drive of a boy. But men know. They remember how hard it was to sit still when they were little.

My basic answer to all these questions is biological: Most boys are made this way. Some boys are calm and quiet. But by school age, three-quarters of the boys in a classroom are more restless, more impulsive and more developmentally immature than any of the girls.

You cannot hold boys to a "girl standard" when it comes to physical movement. That said, there are some boys who are so distractible, impulsive and hyper that they need our help. How do we tell the difference? How do we know what is normal? When a boy is in trouble in school, is it because he is hyperactive or is the problem teachers who have no tolerance for normal boy behavior? It can be difficult for parents to sort these things out. That's one reason they turn to PBS Parents for advice.

So tell me, what's your number one question about your boy?

Sorry, Michael Thompson is no longer taking questions. Feel free to comment on the article and let us know what you think about the topic.


Comments

Heather writes...

My son is just about to turn two years old. He is very hyper (more so than our friends with children the same age) as you have described in this article. But, I accept that as who he is. I think my role is to help challenge him with activities to keep him busy. Do you have any suggestions.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Dear Heather, I’m delighted to hear that you have accepted your highly active son for who he is. He sounds like a normal boy to me.

Frankly, I don’t think you have to constantly be arranging activities for your two-year-old. You need to create a space in the house where he can cruise around, play and run without breaking anything (move the glassware and bric-a-brac up to the top shelves). You need to take him outside to playgrounds and let him run around with other two- and three-year-olds—every day! He needs to be in spaces where he won’t get into trouble. And when he is tired and cuddly, take him in your lap, sing to him, read to him, laugh with him, enjoy him and put him down to bed. My guess is that he will fall asleep very quickly. Then brace yourself for the next morning when he gets up full of energy again.

Kath writes...

Thanks for posting this article. It will surely help me raise my kids. Hope to read more interesting posts from you

3 Boys in SanDiego

Trish writes...

I have a 5 year old son who seems to have emotional issues (breaks down quite often at the littlest issue). He seems to think that he is often the butt of a joke even when there is not. He has low self confidence, but is unwilling to practice things to make himself better in order to build confidence (except for newfound archery). He is constantly having sentient issues and likes to wear his belt so tight it gives him bruises. He is a good kid at home but very withdrawn at school and I am trying to break him out of that shell. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but I am curious if I should seek professional help?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Dear Trish, mothers often come up to me to ask a question and they say, “My son is very sensitive” in an apologetic tone, as if they believe that boys should naturally have tough skins. I always respond that all human beings---and all boys---are sensitive; some just show it more than others. It is important to remember than fifty percent of boys are above-average anxious and fifty percent of boys are below-average anxious. Your son sounds like he is in the above-average anxious group, but I’m not yet sure whether he needs to see a professional.

Sometimes younger boys or only child boys (does your son have a brother or sister?) get to Kindergarten and are completely OVERWHELMED by the chaos, the noise and the demands. I am interested in your son’s need to tighten his belt around himself. I think he is very nervous about being away from home; he is perhaps scared that his pants are going to fall down and worried about his privacy—his penis—in a shared bathroom. This is not unusual in boys; a common symptom in boys is an inability to urinate in a public bathroom when other people are around. Your son tightens his belt as if he were wearing armor. He’s trying to protect himself. He feels safe at home but not at school. When he gets to school he feels small, defenseless and dependent; that’s why he is withdrawn.

You cannot “break him out of his shell.” Please don’t try. He cannot come out of his shell until he feels safe at school and that may take some time. Talk to your son and tell him you understand that he finds school a bit scary, and that you still love him. Reassure him that you are sure he will get the hang of school, make a friend there and start to feel in control.

Please talk to his teacher and ask her whether she finds your son to be unusually anxious compared to other Kindergarten boys. Ask her if she is confident that he is growing in confidence as the year goes along. If she is worried, then you might want to consult a psychologist or child psychiatrist, but I bet she’s seen many worried Kindergarten boys like your son.

nicole writes...

my 5 and 4 yr old boy fight, hit,scream,scratch each other daily! what do i do about it?They would be in a time out all day if i let them?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Dear Nicole, I have a number of questions to ask you before I can give you advice about the fighting between your sons. 1) Are your sons pretty evenly matched in size and weight and competitiveness? 2) Does one son, perhaps the older/bigger boy always dominate the younger/smaller boy and always hurt his feelings, or can the younger boy sometimes “win,” either physically or psychologically? 3) Do your sons like to play together, do they wrestle in friendly ways, watch television and “hang out” together? 4) If you took a stopwatch and timed their positive interactions and their angry confrontations, would the friendly times outnumber the angry times by four or five to one? 5) Have there been any serious injuries from their fighting—blood or broken bones? 6) When their “time outs” are over, do they immediately want to be back together?

If your answers to my questions paint a portrait of two competitive brothers who mostly like each other but fight for part of every day, and if you find yourself being drawn into their battles because they want you to be the judge, then I suggest you get out of the business of settling their disputes. When they start, I want you to leave the room and when they come running to you I want you to look them in the eyes and say, “Sorry boys, I’m busy (or I’m tired), you settle this yourself,” and walk away.

Your sons need to learn how to resolve their own disputes; they never will if you are always involved. If you stop playing the role of “Judge Judy” they will at first be confused and will try to get you re-engaged. You are, after all, part of the fight. But after a while if they cannot pull you in, they will learn how to bring their conflicts to a close.

My guess is that you were not raised with two or three brothers; perhaps you were raised with sisters or only one brother. If you do have brothers, ask them about whether they wrestled and fought and how they learned not to “kill” each other (older brothers learn not to punch as hard as they actually could, in order to keep things going). If you don’t have brothers, ask one of your girlfriends who does whether you can interview her brothers. Ask them whether they fought every day, and then ask whether their mother was the one who taught them how to resolve disputes. If they say, “Yes, our mother taught us how to stop fighting and be friends,” please write me back and I will eat my words.

Juana writes...

I have an 8-year-old boy whom I've tried to get into a sports class the past 2 years but he won't participate, he'll just watch the others'. I've tried several different sports which he likes, but when it comes to a structured class he won't do it. He needs some type of physical outlet besides wrestling with me & the neighborhood kids. Any suggestions?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Juana, not all boys like organized sports. For many boys, town sports teams are a source of great joy; for many boys, however, teams sports are a psychological burden. They don’t feel they are that good at them, or they just don’t care, or the organized sports interferes with their free, imaginative creative play.

Why do you say he needs some other physical outlet besides wrestling and playing with the neighborhood kids? If he really has friends in the neighborhood with whom he can spend time in the afternoons and on weekends, I would let him enjoy that play. It is healthy and normal. Free play and organizing their own games is what boys have done for hundreds of years. They do not need adults to organize their play for them.

Josephine writes...

Dear DR,
I am the parent of three children. My oldest boy is 16yrs old. He has shown many signs of aggression and anger towards me.He tells me he hates me.
There has been physical encounters where as he hits me or shoves me.
When he was 11yrs old, I dismissed it because I know that boys need to wrestle and be physical. And since he does not have that physical relationship with his father, I thought that his anger was a way of having that physical contact. Now at least every month there is a shouting match that concludes with an attempt to hurt me. He says he hates me, but I don't believe that. We live in a family strong neighborhood and environment.After work, I spend every waking moment with my children. Why do you think he hates me so much?
And why is he physically attacking me?


MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Josephine, I am very worried about the situation with your son. It is, obviously, a bad thing for you to have a sixteen-year-old boy hitting you; however, it is also terrible for your son. If this continues, he is likely to grow up to be a man who beats his wife, and perhaps his children. He has to learn how to manage his anger and negotiate with you without hitting or shoving.

I think the situation has probably gone on too long for you the two of you to solve this. If you can talk to your son’s father about this, please do so. If you can speak to his grandfather or uncle about the situation, you should do so. However, family may not be enough. My strong recommendation is that you go to your doctor, to your son’s pediatrician, or to a local mental health clinic and describe the problem. Get a recommendation for a family therapist who can help you and your son break out of this destructive pattern. If, for some reason, you don’t feel you can do that, I suggest you go to your local police station and talk to an officer experienced in family disputes. If this hitting continues, you are going to have to call the police and ask them for protection.

Sandrine writes...

Dear Dr,

Thank you for making light of this issue. I have a 5 1/2 year old boy who is very active. He displays all of the items you mentioned: does not like school, can't sit still, loves to wrestle but who is also extremely bright. Our problem is that he does not like to listen to other adults except for myself and my husband. It's almost as if he does not respect anyone else. So he is having a hard time at school and I had to pull him out of many sports classes. But he needs some sort of outlet so how can I make him understand that he needs to listen to other adults and coaches. I would love for him to resume his sports activities but not until he is ready.
Do you have any suggestions?

Thank you!

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Sandrine, you are right when you say that your son may not be ready for organized sports activities. I think your son may be too impulsive and young. He doesn’t “respect” the coaches because he’s not ready to be that…organized.

Is there any park or playground near home where he can engage in free, undirected play with other children in the afternoons and weekends? That kind of play is much better than planned sports. In my opinion, the majority of boys are not ready for town sports until age seven or eight; they should play their own games up until that age.

Leena writes...

Hi

My son he is in Kindergarden. He was very good for first few months. But now his behaviour is changed. He dont want to do homework. He troubles in getting ready for the school.Always wants to play games on computer. I have a 6months old girl. We are so confused how to behave with him.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Leena, many boys are excited about going to Kindergarten because it makes them feel grown up and they enjoy meeting other children there. However, after a while they may feel as if it is A LOT OF WORK. And they may worry that they cannot read yet, or cannot write yet, and they may see that other children can do these things. All of a sudden, Kindergarten isn’t so much fun. But video games are fun, and so he wants to play when he gets home.

I have a few suggestions. Let him play for an hour or so when he gets home. Don’t start on homework right away. Do his homework with him, so he never has to do it alone. (I don’t believe in homework for Kindergarten students. It frightens them far more than it educates them. Teachers should never give homework to children that young. Home should be a place for reading out loud at bedtime and fun card games, etc. So, if your son has homework, make sure you do it together and you make it as fun as you can.)

Finally, you mention that there is a new little sister in the house. Your son may wish he weren’t so grown up. He may be wishing that he too could stay home with his mother and be a little boy. Talk to him about whether he has wished that and express some sympathy for the wish.

holli writes...

I have three questions concerning my 8-yr-old boy, who is generally a pretty calm kid but flares into tantrums fairly often at home:


1)How do I help prevent temper tantrums?

2)What are the best methods to calm him down during a tantrum?

3)How can I teach him to calm himself down if I'm not around to help?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Holli, it is hard to give advice without knowing what makes him flare into a temper tantrum, what you mean by a “tantrum,” and how your son does eventually calm down. Does he “tantrum” when he is furious at you or at his younger brother or older sister? Most importantly, does he tantrum only when he is at home, or does he also tantrum at school? If he tantrums only at home, we know that he has enough self-control to solve this problem.

The first thing you have to do is figure out what sends him into a tantrum. When he is calm and thinking clearly (don’t try this right after an episode) talk to him about whether he wants to avoid tantrums in the future. Ask him how they feel to him. My guess is that he is a bit ashamed of himself for losing control. Talk with him about what kinds of things make him lose control. Then, develop some strategies for recognizing that a tantrum is coming on and working with him to avoid it.

In general, I advise parents with a child who tantrums regularly to go to another room and let the child calm himself down. That would certainly be my advice on how to manage your eight-year-old, unless he is in danger of injuring himself. Often, the presence of a parent serves to keep the angry behavior going. Simply excuse yourself and say, “I don’t seem to be able to help you when you are this upset. I’ll be in the living room if you want to talk once you calm yourself.” And then I suggest you leave. Most tantrums require an audience; they don’t go on for long when no one is there to see them.

Nivia writes...

I have a teen (13) w/ADD on medication who is stuggling in school. I have taken all of his privileges away (PS3, Internet, etc.) Dont want to be too drastic so I left TV. But he is still defiant when it comes to completing assignments.
I dont know how to get through him anymore? Can you suggest something?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Nivia, I understand how scared you are that your son is going to fail in school. However, it sounds as if you have gotten into a real war with your son over homework. Even if you could win this battle—and I don’t think you will—you will lose the war using this approach. Your son will just end up hating school and homework more than he already does, and if this fight goes on much longer, it may destroy your relationship with him.

You are facing two problems. First, children with learning disabilities and Attention Deficit Disorder like your son find school a painful experience every day because things that come easily to other boys are so hard for them. They tend to hate homework and avoid it because it feels like just more humiliation at the end of the day. Secondly, a thirteen-year-old boy wants to feel grown up and independent from his mother. Being nagged to finish his homework is his worst nightmare and it will make him dig in and fight.

I have four suggestions:
1) You need to understand that you aren’t the only one who is scared about failure. Your son is frightened of failure every day. Have some empathy with your son’s dislike of school and homework. Tell him that you understand why he dislikes school and why he hates homework, but tell him your job as his mother is to help him be successful, and you are terrified that he is going to fail in school—and in life—if he doesn’t study.
2) Tell him you have been over-emphasizing punishment and that you know you have to find a way to reward his completing work. Then, give him a way to earn back the Internet and his video game console.
3) Go to his school and talk to someone, perhaps a teacher he likes or someone in the special education department, who is experienced working with learning disabled thirteen-year-old boys and ask for help. Maybe he could do his homework in the resource room at the end of the school day.
4) Consider finding a tutor to work with your son; I suggest an older high school boy or college student. ADD boys who are very distractible find it hard to work alone; someone from outside the family sitting by his side might help him to do the work that he finds so difficult.

Julia writes...

Why does my 7 year old boy cry so much? It can be from frustration (not getting his homework right), getting corrected, spilling something, getting in trouble...
How can I help him control his emotions? I try positive reinforcement by praising him when he does right and try to minimize the attention focused on the crying. I tell him it is unacceptable and go on with what I am doing. Normally within a minute he stops.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Julia, you have a boy who worries a lot about being good, being perfect and especially about being loved. He hasn’t yet discovered that a person can be loved or love himself even if he isn’t perfect (the rest of us have figured that out). So when your son makes a mistake or gets in a little trouble, he thinks the sky is going to fall; actually, he feels like a criminal. He imagines that you won’t approve of him and he won’t be able to accept himself as he is.

Your strategy of praising him when he’s right and not over-focusing on his crying is generally a good one, but I don’t think you should tell him that his crying is unacceptable. When he is crying, give him a sincere hug, offer him a Kleenex and then redirect his interests. Perhaps you could ask him a question about something he knows well—he’ll get it right—or ask for help in the kitchen. Focusing on a different task will pull him out of his crying. And then I suggest you address his deepest fear. When he is calm I think you need to talk to him about his fear that a boy who makes mistakes is not going to be loved. Perhaps his father or his grandfather had similar fears when they were young. If so, please tell him that men in his family had fears like this when they were boys.

Maggie writes...

Why my boys most of the times did not listen to what we said to him? for e.g. when he was naughty and we told him to stop, he just did not listen. How to make him listen and follow order to behave from us? He is almost 3 years old. Is it a normal trend to be "not listening" to this age group?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Maggie, children between the ages of two and three are called “The Terrible Two’s” for a reason. They are willful, determined and not much interested in what their parents have to say, especially if a mom is trying to limit their freedom. Your son is no longer the baby he once was; he is now big and muscular and incredibly excited by his own independence. In his mind he is a giant, a dragon, the strongest little boy in all the world, and when he is in motion, he cannot think about much else. Because they don’t listen to us, we have to pick two-year-olds up, we have to restrain them, we have to provide boundaries until they develop self-control. He is a year away from developing those kinds of restraints inside himself. So, when he is being naughty, you have to hold his shoulders, get your face close to his, frown and say, “You MAY NOT DO THAT!”

What you cannot do is sit ten feet away and say, “Oh, Johnny. I hope you are listening to me because I don’t want you to do that and I hope you are listening to your mother now,” and hope that it will work with a boy his age, because it won’t.

Christine writes...

I have two boys aged 2.5 and 4. They LOVE to spend time wrestling on the couch. I watch to make sure they don't endanger each other, but in general if I let them go they just have a good time knocking the snot out of each other. We also try to get to a playground for at least an hour a day. I don't claim to understand boys, but I'm hoping that by giving them these outlets early they'll be able to channel this energy better when school time comes around.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Christine, I want to compliment your on your ability to let your boys wrestle and “knock the snot out of each other” while still keeping them fundamentally safe. Wrestling and mock-fighting are what a majority of boys do in every society, in every culture around the world. And all of our primate relatives do it, too; young male chimpanzees wrestle, mock-fight, chase and hoot. Sounds like home, doesn’t it? As for your hope that wrestling now will mean that your boys channel their energy when they get to school, well….maybe. Boys wrestle right up through their teenage years and sometimes they do it in school.

karen writes...

Your comments about boys versus girls are exagerated, probably for financial gain. Both girls and boys need love and physical activity. Both need guidance/discipline. From what I've seen, boys don't get sufficient guidance/discipline. Maybe they need more more. But in any case, don't fall into the "boys will be boys" trap--it won't help them or you.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Karen, you are right that both boys and girls need and love physical activity and I absolutely agree that both boys and girls need guidance and discipline. Boys and girls are much more human and similar to each other than they are gendered and different. However, no amount of declaring that boys and girls are just the same can disguise the very real differences in the way they develop. Girls, on average, have better fine motor skills in Kindergarten; the average girl seems to take to reading and writing faster than the average boy. Boys are more physically active and developmentally immature in comparison to girls. Two-thirds of the students in special education are boys. That appears to be more brain variability in boys than in girls. Research has established that there are far more mentally handicapped boys and autistic boys than mentally handicapped girls and autistic girls (and more boy geniuses as well).

I am sorry that you think I am exaggerating the differences between boys and girls for financial gain. The truth is that I was, for many years, an advocate more specifically for girls. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on anorexia nervosa as a cultural disorder and worked with eating disordered girls for years. What turned me into an advocate for boys was working as a psychologist in a school and seeing that three-quarters of my referrals were boys, that many boys were uncomfortable with the set-up of school, that they couldn’t sit still, were often in trouble and came to hate the demands of school. Some boys, as you say, weren’t receiving effective discipline at home; however, many boys were simply so physically active that the demands for sitting, the elimination of recess in 40 percent of American elementary schools, and the paper-and-pencil work as early as Kindergarten was driving boys crazy.

michele writes...

My son is a very hyper 31/2 year old. He doesn't listen to me at all, sometimes it gets to the point I get so angry I start yelling at the top of my lungs. I put him on the naughty step, but sometimes it has no effect on him at all. He seems to listen to other people better than me. He also runs out into the street and away from me when we're out, and I've told him a thousand times about the danger of cars and strangers. I need some help fast before it's to late.

Thank-you

Michele

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Michele, please see my answer to Maggie above: The “Terrible Two’s” don’t end when a boy reaches three; indeed, sometimes the Three’s can be just as scary as the Two’s. You CANNOT REASON WITH A THREE-YEAR-OLD. You cannot explain to him the dangers of cars; he doesn’t have the cognitive ability to understand. All he knows is that he loves to run. Your job is to keep an eye on him, anticipate his movements, hold his hand, and keep him out of the street. If he does something that really scares you, hold his shoulders, get your face close to his and say (in a loud voice), “Don’t do that. That’s VERY SCARY!!!! You really frightened me!” Say it in a tone of voice that makes him cry. It would actually be helpful if you could cry, too. That will upset him.

Boys stop running into the street not because they understand the physics of collisions; they stop doing it because it scares the hell out of their mothers and their mothers let them know. I’m not advising that you hit your son; I don’t believe in that. However, you need to communicate more effectively with a three-year-old. A quiet reasonable explanation won’t work.

Alissa writes...

Why does my 61/2 year old son still wet his pants, only during the day, almost daily, and then stay in his wet clothes? What can I do to help him through this, and be successful staying dry?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Alissa, I’m worried about a six-and-a-half-year-old boy who still wets every day. That’s not normal. Was he ever dry? Did he ever get toilet-trained? Does he wet at night as well? Many six-year-old boys wet the bed at night; that’s pretty normal, but the vast majority of them are dry most days. You need to talk to your pediatrician about your son’s difficulty. Your pediatrician needs to figure out if there is some biological problem or whether he just needs a more effective toilet-training program. (Have you purchased a book on behavioral approaches to toilet-training? That’s another thing you should ask your doctor about).

I know why he just stays in his wet clothes. He is almost certainly deeply ashamed of himself and doesn’t want to bring his problem to anyone’s attention. He is just wishing that it goes away, but it won’t. He needs your and his doctor’s help.

Steve writes...

When my son was little we wrestled everyday. He liked to sneek up on me when I was taking a nap and jump as high as he could and land on me. I let him win often and sometimes waited until he tapped out before I let him up. We'd laugh and hug. Now he's 28 and expecting his first child, a son, and he can't wait. I never wrestled with my three daughters but all of us read together, worked in the yard, went on trips, shared and supported each other no matter what age, attitude, or need.
I believe parent participation is
thea key to where your child goes in life, how they act in school and in social moments. The kind of parent you are prepares the foundation of the parent they become.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Steve, it sounds like you enjoyed being a dad both to your son and to your daughters. It also sounds like you were a loving dad and I expect you will be a great grandfather. Congratulations! Enjoy your grandson.

Julie writes...

I have an 8 1/2 yr old son. I am worried about the friendships he's made at school. We've invited kids to play at our house, but he rarely gets invited to others' houses to play. He generally is somewhat quiet. He enjoys school and I think he talks to other kids, but he hasn't found any kids he's really connected with. So he has acquaintances, but no close friends. Am I being overly protective and worried about this or is there something I can do to help him form some closer bonds w/kids?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Julie, no, I don’t think you are being over-protective. It is always worrisome when you have a boy (or a girl) who doesn’t seem to be able to make a friend at school. It makes your son’s days at school long and lonely. He is missing out on the pleasures of friendship.

Perhaps he is shy, or more anxious than other boys. You cannot make friends for your son, but I suggest that you do three things: 1) Go talk to his teacher and find out why she thinks he has trouble making friends. She probably has a good perspective; see if she has any suggestions based on her knowledge of him. She might know what is making him socially anxious; 2) Help him find a group outside of school where he has a chance to start fresh in making friends: Sunday school, Cub Scouts, an arts class or dance class; 3) Support any relationship that looks like a friendship, but don’t start with the individual play date. When you sense that he has a potential friend, invite the boy and his family over to the house. Get to know the parents. Model friendship for him and surround him with the glow of adult community. What are two eight-year-old boys going to do when confronted with all the adult goodwill? They are going to get away by themselves and play a game. That’s how a friendship starts.

Laura writes...

My son is in Kindergarten and he gets very good positive reports from school. He is also very well behaved and mannered at home. However, when we go out with other children, families, or friends our son feels the need to act out. He acts crazy, like he needs to be the center of attention, the manners go out the window, and he is on the verge of being disrespectful and selffish. Then, we get in the car and go home and our angel is back again.

If he is alone with our friends he is good, if he is alone with grandparents he is good, if he is alone with us (his parents) he is good.....but if he is together with us and other friends/family he is like this different child.

We make every effort to change this behavior with punishment and speaking with him but it hasn't really changed.
This has concerned us for a long time. Do you have any advice or reasons why this may happen?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Laura, your son finds a crowd to be highly over-stimulating. I don’t know the reason why, but it is clear that he thinks of any group as a big audience for his antics. I wonder whether Jim Carrey or Dane Cook were like this when they were boys; perhaps Mick Jagger was. Your son may have a future career as a stand-up comedian or a rock star, but I understand that for the moment his behavior is quite embarrassing to you.

I cannot tell what is driving his wild public behavior, whether it is simple immaturity, anxiety, hyper-stimulation or a desire to embarrass his parents because it makes him feel powerful, but whatever it is, I want you to try an experiment. If he starts acting up in public, don’t wait long. One of you two take him by the hand, apologize to your hosts publicly, in front of your son, and say you are leaving because he is having trouble controlling his behavior; then go to the car and drive away from the house you were visiting. After you have driven ten blocks away, stop the car and ask him, “What was that about? Why were you doing that?” If he gets upset and looks ashamed, ask him, “Do you want to go back? Do you think you can control your behavior?” If he says, “Yes,” then let him settle down and return to the friends’ house and give it a second try, but not for long. If he acts up again, everyone get in the car and go home. Do that two or three times and he is likely to change his ways, as long as he is developmentally able.

If, on the other hand, when you drive away from the house your son initially looks miserable, but soon appears relieved and happy, then you may have some indication that he doesn’t like being in a crowd and that he is acting out his discomfort. In that case, you may have to limit your large-crowd visits for a while, until he reaches a more comfortable stage of development. Let him hang out with his grandparents and other people with whom he behaves. He’s not ready for prime time.

kim writes...

My son tells me he is sad because other kids say he is "gross". (he used to pick his nose, etc.) However he continues to do the behaviour (not as much as he used to) and talk about the behaviour, even to new kids that he meets! WHY?
AND he's been told 1.5 million times to keep his hands off of other children and adults-hugging, holding the arms, grabbing the legs, etc. WHY does he keep doing it? WHEN will he STOP! (he's 9)

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Kim, your son is in real trouble socially. He is developmentally immature for his age and he has experienced so much social rejection at school that he has embraced a terrible, negative identity, that of the clingy, annoying clown. It may also be that from the beginning of his life he has had trouble perceiving the natural social boundaries that most children and adults naturally see and respect. Now, after so many years of isolation, he grabs on to people partly because he is so needy, but also because he is angry that no one wants to be his friend. My guess is that he has never had a close friend and that he has missed out on a lot of the benefits of friendship, i.e. learning mutuality, respect and reciprocity.

I am sorry to say that your son will not outgrow this behavior. He won’t stop his gross and annoying behaviors until he gets training in social pragmatics. You should go to your school and request an IEP. He needs to be placed in a classroom where the teacher has been trained to work on social skills with children or he needs to attend a social skills group run by a school counselor. He needs to go back to Square One and get trained to respect the boundaries of others. A therapeutic school or therapeutic camp would also help him.

I want you to talk in detail about this behavior to his pediatrician, describe it fully and tell the doctor what kind of a price your son pays in loneliness and exclusion. It may be that your pediatrician will want your son to see a child psychiatrist. I would support that.

Misty writes...

My son is 14 months old, he has always been very head strong. It seems that when we tell him not to do something, then redirect him to something appropriate, he goes right back to the item we do not want him to go to. He has been this way ever since he started crawling. If we continue to redirect him,he will get mad and grunt at us. For the most part he is well behaved, but once he gets something into his head there is no changing it. Is this normal for a child to be that head strong at so young an age?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Misty, your son is completely normal. All fourteen-month-old babies are headstrong and, most of the time, they don’t listen to their mother’s words at all. They are too excited about crawling or walking and too curious about the world. (Please see my answers to other mothers such as Maggie and Michelle, who have two and three-year-olds that don’t listen to their mothers). If your fourteen-month-old is playing with the wrong things or getting into something dangerous, you need to pick him up and redirect him. If he tries to go right back, you need to remove the tempting item or pick him up and redirect him again. Keep doing it until he gets interested in something else. I don’t care if he grunts and cries. He needs you to be in charge when there are risky items around. At home, you should have a room where he can crawl and walk and not get into trouble.

Audra writes...

Hi
My son is 5 years old, hates going to school, I can't get him in the class room for the life of me, but once he's in there he's fine though, according to his teacher. Doesn't want to do his homework which is only two pages a week. He loves playing computer games, which are educational (PBS, Noggin, Preschool Disney, Leapster, VTech, etc...) he could play these all day long. When he's not on the computer though he's a lunatic, running through the house, yelling, jumping off the couch, throwing himself on the floor like a stuntman, tries to wrestle with his 21 month old sister. Sometimes I just can't take it. How can I get him to calm down and relax? He just doesn't want to listen. I only get peace when he's playing his games on the computer, and sometimes I'll just let him play for hours because he's quiet and content. What can I do and is this bad?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Audra, before I answer your question in a reasonable way, I need to scream something: TEACHERS SHOULDN’T BE GIVING HOMEWORK TO KINDERGARTEN CHILDREN!!!! Kindergarten should be a place where children learn to love school, learn to get along with others, build block structures, enjoy being read to by their teacher, to work in groups, and to tell imaginative stories, etc.

Now, let’s get back to your question. If you have read my answers to other mothers, you will know that a five-year-old boy who hasn’t yet adjusted to school is not rare or abnormal, that a boy who finds school confining is pretty normal. You may, however, have a little boy who is more active than most. Your son needs to play outside more than he is presently doing. He needs to be in a playground or park for a full hour or two after school. He needs to climb and run and jump and chase other boys. Please try to arrange that for him. Perhaps you and the mother of another active boy can trade days, alternating in taking them to the park. Then, when you get him home from the playground, he won’t need to tear up the house.

The problem with computer games, as compelling as they are, is that they don’t help him work off his energy. After he’s played them for two hours he still needs exercise; indeed, he’s probably jumping out of his skin. At his age, the task is not to teach him how to calm down and relax, it is to give him a place where he can work off his energy. Do you have a backyard? Do you have a room in your house where you can put down some gym mats? Get him an exercise ball and a punching bag and a basketball hoop. Does he have a dad who can wrestle with him at the end of the day? If so, that is exactly what they should be doing.


Samantha writes...

I have triplet 5 year-olds (two boys and one girl). I have a hard time getting the boys to focus on completing tasks (getting ready for school, bed etc.) They often get distracted with play. Is there a "magic" way to give directions, or an effective redirect I should use? At what point should they receive a consequence for not following instructions?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Samantha: Triplets? Oh my! I am full of respect for parents of twin boys—twins can be a handful—but triplets? You have my greatest respect and admiration. I’m surprised you can get anything done. If you read the other postings on the site you’ll find that many parents find one five-year-old can be overwhelming at times.

No, there is no magic way to give directions to children. Kids will always try to get around their parents’ commands; they will always push back at the schedule you create; they will always create a little chaos. That is completely normal. Your boys want to play because play is what children are wired to do. Play is how children learn, how they test their muscles, their creativity and their imagination. It is the most normal and the most enjoyable of all human behaviors. From your sons’ point of view, anything other than play—you know, like getting ready for school in the morning—is the true distraction.

But of course, they have to go to school and they need their sleep. It might be helpful to your boys to have regular routines in the morning and at bedtime. Create a set of simple steps that you follow every day, morning and evening. Some mothers and many teachers put up big checklists that their children can follow. If your boys cannot read yet, pictures will do. You can call their names, point to the picture of the boy putting on his clothes and say, “Time to put on your clothes.” You want to try to keep the routines as predictable as possible, and motivate the boys through smiles, redirection and encouragement rather than punishments because too many consequences can turn the mornings into a power struggle. Save the consequences for serious infractions. The one thing I can say with certainty is this: every parent struggles with morning and bedtime routines and there is no magic bullet.

Lesley writes...

I have the same problem as Julie.. My son is 9 1/2 and has trouble making friends. He is very bright, tested gifted. We don't worry about him academically. We have had him involved with scouting to encourage bonding with other boys his age, but recently he doesn't want to participate in activities. He really doesn't like team sports, only does the regular PE at school, but nothing more. It's difficult to get him motivated, and he often dawdles in normal daily things. He has "selective hearing" only responses to what and when he wants and mostly with attitude. I feel like I have a teenager! Help! How can I get him to be more receptive/motivated without yelling? Talking and taking privileges away isn't working.
Thanks, any suggestions would be gratefully received.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Lesley, I think many parents feel as if they have teenagers years before they actually do. That is because young children are independent-minded and they don’t always want to do what we ask of them; they have more interesting things going on in their heads than our plans and goals. That independence runs through many of the questions I have already answered. (As for “selective listening”: isn’t that a complaint that many wives have about their husbands? And don’t people see that in girls as well as boys?)

My suggestion is to talk less to your son. Your son has learned to tune you out when you talk and talk. That’s why you have started to yell. I suggest that you switch your techniques. Instead of reminding and reminding him of something, stand in front of him silently, look right into his face and say, “Anything you have forgotten to do?” At that point he’ll be startled and his mind will start to race. Don’t provide the answer, don’t nag. Just stand there, close to him, silent and curious until he comes up with the answer. You need to become a bit more mysterious and shift more responsibility on to him. But all this is normal.

The one thing that worries me about your son is that he seems to have no friends. Please go talk to the teacher and find out whether he is also isolated all day at school. If he is truly without friends, he may be growing depressed and angry. I suggest that you talk with him about whether he is unhappy in school. Gifted children can often feel isolated; that’s the downside of being gifted.

Sherry writes...

I grew up with 2 older brothers and I have 3 boys of my own now so I kind of know that it's hard for them to "be still", but I wish others knew as well...especially teachers who do not have kids (boys) of their own! Thank you for the article, which just confirms what I believed about boys. I will share with others--thank you!

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Sherry, I am glad that you found my observations about the high activity level of boys to be helpful and I’m glad you want to share it with others. Yes, it is sure tough for most boys to be still. I recently visited a boys’ school in Canada and sat through an hour-long assembly with two hundred boys sitting on the floor. I watched them all move, wiggle, squirm, look around, touch each other, and wiggle some more. They were listening to the program. They just couldn’t listen without moving.

Ellen writes...

How do you know the difference between normal and abnormal? My son has been diagnosed with adhd, anxiety disorder and pdd,nos all at different times over the course of his 5 year lifespan. However, I have also had other professionals tell me that he is normal. He is very very active but can attend if it's something he's interested in. He does seem to get over stimulated at times. Loud noises bother him. he still bolts from me in crowded places. We just finally got him potty trained about 4 months ago. (He turned 5 in December) He still wears a pull up at night. He also was 9 weeks premature. He also had a speech delay, not speaking much until he was almost 3. Also a fine motor delay with some low tone. His pronunciation is very good now but he does seem to have a very extensive vocabulary and seems to use the words in the right context, but when you ask him what the words mean he says he doesn't know. He also tends to repeat things alot sometimes 3-5 times until you tell him, Yes,I know. You already told me. (In a nice way of course!) He was in an early intervention preshool until this school year. They told me there that he was ready for a typical preschool so I enrolled him in our Catholic preschool. Big mistake! The teacher just couldn't handle him. He ended up getting suspended for aggressive behavior, so rather than setting him up for more failure, I put him back in his early intervention preschool. I know this is long and I know you haven't seen my child but I just don't know where to go from here. Could you please advise me?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Ellen, it can be really confusing to get multiple diagnoses. My suggestion is that you stick with one doctor, perhaps your pediatrician, who sees the health in your son, and with the one preschool you trust the most, and stop getting more opinions. It is clear that your son has some developmental delays and a somewhat different quirky brain, and problems with speech, but in time and with more development he may well grow into being a completely normal boy. The diagnosis of pdd.nos (pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified) is usually given to boys with some of the symptoms of autism or Asperger’s syndrome; however, development hasn't yet written its final chapter. I have known boys who were given the diagnosis of pdd.nos who have grown up to be interesting young men. Give him love, more time and a good school situation...and wait. I suggest you read Perri Klass’s and Eileen Costello’s fine book, The Quirky Child.

Anna writes...

Hi
My son is 4 yrs old.Hedoes not like to listen to his teacher.They have to ask him atleast 2/3 times otherwise he does not do it. Is this normal or is there a way for me to make him listen to his teacher or even to me.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Four-year-old boys not listening to teachers is completely normal. It is often hard to get them to leave one task and move to another. I love going to preschools where the teachers sing children into transitions and changes, but most teachers rely on multiple verbal reminders for children this age. They need it at four, but they won’t always need it.

Missy writes...

I have a 3 1/2 year old boy and a 14 month old boy. It can be stressful in the house at times. While my boys are well behaved for the most part they have their moments. My big issue is with my older son just not listening to me. There are time when he just down right ignores me. I know that this can be typical behavior, but is there anything we can do to get him to listen more often. There are times when I have to ask him several times to do or not to do something. He loves to push our buttons. He also likes to try to run away from us when we are trying to talk to him or if we are in public he thinks it is funny to escape our grasp and try to run. Now most of the time he listens and stops, but not every time.

What can we do to help us and him get through this. I am a stay at home mom so I am with them 24/7 and I am feeling very stressed and worn at times and all I want to do is love my boys with all my heart. Help.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Missy, I’m glad to hear that you love your boys with all your heart. That’s what they need more than anything in life: a mom who adores them. They will learn to listen better as they grow older. Look over some of the answers I have given to mothers of two and three and four-year-olds and you will see that all moms struggle with this issue. If a mother feels she is talking too much, nagging too much and not able to get her son’s attention, I suggest that she move to non-verbal cueing: a touch on the shoulder, staring into a boy’s face, silence, a short question. Don’t keep giving the same long lectures and don’t try to reason with him. He thinks it is a game to run away from you; he doesn’t have the judgment to know that it can be dangerous. Play a running-away game with him in a park, but tell him when you are near traffic that it isn’t safe. He can understand the difference in your tone of voice between “safe” and “not safe.” Keep it short and simple and clear.

Lindsey writes...

My little 5-year-old boy has decided to call me names when he is upset. So far, the names aren't too offensive: "loser" or "idiot." I've thought that ignoring the names might extinguish the problem. He seems to just lay them on thicker and louder.

I want him to understand that name calling hurts people's feelings. I also want him to learn how to express his frustration in a more constructive way.

What do you recommend?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Lindsey, ignoring your son’s use of names won’t work. He needs to see you get angry and upset with him. Let him know that you don’t like to be called names and that it hurts your feelings. Ask him, “Do you like to be called names? Do you want me to call you names?” He will almost certainly say no. He is picking up these names at preschool and he feels the exciting power of them, but he needs to know that they are not appropriate for adults, and certainly not for the mother who loves him. If he keeps it up, he should lose something he wants. Take away a snack, or television, or the computer. Then ask him to apologize and get him to pledge not to call you names again. Keep at it until you win this one. You don’t want to raise an insulting, rude little boy.

Jody writes...

So how do I balance the physical drive of my 3 year old son with my drive to teach him. I try to make things fun and interesting but after 30 seconds he's back to tackling, tickling and wanting to "destroy" things! :) God love him! Should I be concerned he seems so much further behind than his sister was at this age... when should I become concerned?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Jody, I certainly understand the desire to teach our children things right from the beginning. I also understand the occasional frustration of trying to teach a three-year-old pupil with a thirty-second attention span, but before you get too frustrated, let me say a couple of things.

First, when babies are born they are learning machines. They are taking in everything they see, touch, hear and smell. When he is with you, your son is learning every second; he is watching you intently and inhaling lessons about love, about people and family, about food, cars, traffic, grown-ups, road signs, etc., etc. (I cannot add enough etceteras to capture how much he sees). You don’t actually have to “teach” him in a self-conscious way because he experiences everything in his life as a lesson. Just talk with him, laugh with him, have adventures with him. That’s what makes his life rich. If the two of you are walking and you see a dead bug, that’s a lesson; if you see a flower or a cloud, that’s a lesson. God save us from educational toys. The world that he sees at your side is the best education for him.

Secondly, when your son is learning by himself, watching and listening aren’t enough. He becomes a full-contact learner: a scientist, exercise physiologist and physicist all wrapped up in one little boy body. He learns through sensori-motor experiences with the world, including pushing things (that’s the exercise physiology) and destroying things (that’s physics). He may continue this form of experimentation when he is fourteen and shoots a hockey puck against a wood wall in the cellar.

Should you worry that your three-year-old is behind where his sister was at the same age? Absolutely not! The trajectory of boy development is different from that of girls, but it is completely trustworthy. Enjoy your boy. (My friend, Ned Hallowell, the child psychiatrist and author of many books about children, laughingly called his son “The Terminator” when he was two and three. That boy is now a wonderful, kind, self-controlled teenager, a gifted student, musician, singer and…oh yes, a ferocious wrestler).

Ashley writes...

I have two questions re my 5 year old son...

First, my son has recently become more conscious of what others will think. He may refuse to wear soemthing because someone will laugh at him. I have never used this kind of dialogue in the house so I am nto sure where it is coming from. Any recommendatiosn would be appreciated.

Second, my son is generally well behaved and good mannered, but I find when with friends that are doing something wrong, he is one of the first on the train to do the same, and previous family rules go out the window. I have talked to him about being a leader and using his own brain, and that has worked a bit, but I am wondering if you have any other recommendations. I want him to be a leader not a follower...

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Ashley, your son’s concern about what he is wearing shows that he is more alert to the world than he used to be; that’s because his brain is maturing, and he is living in the intense social world of school, where children sometimes make fun of other children. Your son, quite sensibly, wants to avoid being teased; that’s why he is suddenly self-conscious. He also wants to be accepted and to make friends, which is why he is likely to go along with the crowd.

The desire to go along with the group, to like what others like, to be accepted is completely human. Most of us don’t “use our own brains” when it comes to dress and decorum. Let me ask you a question: when you are going to a party and you don’t know what dress is required, have you ever asked a friend or called the hostess to find out what other women will be wearing? Most of us do. (I feel uncomfortable being the only one with a tie at a party with people dressed casually and even more uncomfortable if I’m dressed casually and all the men in the room have suits and ties—so I check).

Parents sometimes become irrationally afraid that their son or daughter will give up his or her individuality for the group. The truth is, they do a little, but not in terrible ways; most of us ran with the pack for a while in school, but managed to become individuals in our own right.

When you urge your son to be his own person, to think for himself, this is what he wants to say to you: “Mom, I’m only five. I haven’t figured out the social rules, so I’m going to go along with stuff that other boys do because I hope they will like me. Mom, I want to please you and I certainly want you to love me, but when you talk about my being a leader, it sounds like you want me to be different than other boys. If I do that, they may not like me and I may not have any friends.” What your son intuitively understands is something you almost certainly know as well. A boy has to be a part of a group to be a leader. That's how leaders get practice; they start by leading their friends.


Erin writes...

I have a 2 year old who has recently developed major anxiety about taking afternoon naps and going to bed. He has to make sure EVERYTHING in his room is PERFECT. I'm not referring to making sure that his stuffed animals are perfectly placed on his bed...that's NORMAL for him. I'm talking about:

1) Wheels on a particular toy needing to face out perfectly straight,
2) A dinosaur's eyes needing to be closed,
3) White noise (fan) needing to be on high,
4) Having a humidifier present even when it is not needed---and having to have a towel under the humidifier replaced due to fraying,
etc.....

It's become so bad now that items in other rooms have to be PERFECT too! I thought it was manipulation to stay up but he appears to be VERY stressed by it all.

I usually have A LOT of patience but this is REALLY testing me. Any suggestions???

Thanks!

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Erin, your question takes me back to the days when my daughter was two years old and she developed a fear of spiders and a total phobia about grasshoppers. I remember that she could not go to sleep until we, either her mother or I, had done a painstaking search for grasshoppers in her room, looking under the bed, searching the back and the front of curtains, etc. I cannot remember how long it lasted, one summer perhaps, but it was absolutely endless while it went on. But our daughter wasn’t being deliberately manipulative; she was really scared. Why and when did it stop? I can’t remember now. It just went away. I am hoping that will be the case with your son.

Children have anxieties, and young children often develop specific anxieties about going to sleep at night or being alone. It is the loss of their parents and then, more subtly, the loss of consciousness that is scary to them. Some of them then develop beliefs that everything has to be in place in order for them to feel safe. The problem is, as you well know, that their requirements for safety begin to mount and you are straightening the wheels on the toys and closing the eyes on the dinosaurs.

My guess is that your son is suddenly feeling the aloneness of taking a nap. Ironically, he is more scared because he is older and capable of bigger thoughts (and bigger fears). At a certain point, you are going to have to say, “Honey, that’s as much as I can do. Lie down, I’ll give you a back rub.” Or, “Sweetie, I can’t be closing the eyes on every dinosaur and bear in your room. I’ll lie down with you until you go to sleep.” He may protest and cry, but I think at some point you have to say, in effect, “Enough, I’ll help you deal with your fears using my methods, not yours.” Do a couple of things he asks for and then stop. He just needs your comfort, your love and your reassurance. If that doesn’t work in a couple of weeks, however, I want you to talk to your pediatrician about it.

Now, I suspect that some of the readers of this blog read the description of your son’s bedtime requirements and think, “Uh oh, this boy has O.C.D., obsessive compulsive disorder.” This number and kind of symptoms in a ten-year-old or a twenty-year-old would be symptomatic of a serious anxiety disorder we call O.C.D. But two-year-olds are another matter. Their fears come and go, their phobias come and go. Most children have transient mental disorders in childhood that they outgrow. (Just because this little boy needs everything lined up doesn’t mean he is going to grow up and be like the detective, Monk, on television).

claudia writes...

my son is in kindergarten,he's 6. He's doing very well academically (kindergarten),but ever since prek teachers have been concerned about his inattention. He'll notice the crack on the hallway wall, the way the teacher positions her hands to hold a book, a new outfit or hairdo,or the moon during the day but he never finishes his assignments on time (unless the teacher isolates him) and he sometimes gets distracted during storytime so that he can't answer questions about the story.
This could be ADD. I won't medicate. Is there anything I can do at home,as far as behavior management or training go that can help him overcome his inattention?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Claudia, I wish I had a nickel for every “inattentive” boy in Kindergarten. I would be a very rich man. I want you to go back to the Kindergarten teachers and ask them four questions. Don’t attack the teachers, just ask them politely and with genuine curiosity: “Is my son the only inattentive boy in the Kindergarten class?” “Are there other boys like him?” and “Do you think he will outgrow his inattentiveness? If they say no, ask, “Has he grown more attentive over the course of this year?” Most children, especially boys, are pretty distractible, while most adult men are able to focus. What happens between the years five and thirty-five is that they learn to pay attention, at least to stuff that is important to them or to the people they love. Most Kindergarten boys haven’t learned to do either yet.

Yes, there are things you can do at home. Read to him, play games with him, listen to songs and books on tape. But most importantly, let him play with his toys by himself. Watch to see whether, when he is engaged in fantasy play with toys he loves, he is able to sustain his attention for long periods of time. If he can do that, I hope you will worry less about him.

If your son is completely unable to pay attention to his own play, then you may have your work cut out for you. You will have to help him lengthen his attention span. I suggest that you engage him in compelling tasks, like helping you cook. Show him how to boil water, let him drop the spaghetti into it, have him wash carrots and watch you cut them. Give him a big spoon and have him stir a bowl full of batter. Give him physical tasks that are meaningful and require his concentration. Is he able to focus on those? Chances are good that he can.

Becky writes...

Hi I am having trouble potty training my 3 year old granson he sometimes does really good doing #1 then there are the days where he won't go to the potty (mind you we have to keep reminding him to go)then there is the issue on #2 he absolutely refuses to use the potty on this one, please any advice would be appreciated. Thank you

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Becky, many three-year-old boys are neither ready nor interested in being potty trained. Some parents wait until their sons actually express an interest in peeing in a potty, or express disgust about having a poop in their diaper. You have started toilet training a bit before your grandson was ready and now he’s digging in and is going to have a fight about it. I would back off and not fight with him about it for a couple of weeks, at least. Please buy a book on toilet training that involves using rewards and positive reinforcement. When you start up with toilet training again, I would use a reward-based program. If you run into trouble, talk to your grandson’s pediatrician about the best way to start up again. She or he has helped many parents with toilet training.

Momof3 writes...

Hi,
I am the mom of 2 boys. One is 6 and one is 3. I also have a 9 yr. old daughter.
Recently I have noticed that my 6 yr. old has been very whiny and easily loses his patience over the littlest thing.
Is this a "typical" developmental stage for boys? Or is it someting that I should further look into?
Thank you.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Mom of 3: No, this isn’t a typical developmental stage for boys. Whining is seen in almost all girls and boys, and at many ages, but some children whine more than others. Whining could also be the way a boy responds who feels angry that he doesn’t have the confidence and privileges of his older sister, and doesn’t have the benefits of being loved up like his little brother. I would spend a little alone time with him and talk to him about whether he is annoyed and unhappy these days. Suggest to him that it is tough to be the middle child sometimes and ask him whether he can express his wishes in ways other than whining. You may be delighted to find that he is ready to cut back his whining if he feels he has your full attention at certain moments.

Stephanie writes...

Our son is 6 and 1/2 and an only child. He does quite well academically, grasping concepts very easily, and also excels in sports. The notes that we get occassionally from his teacher is that he needs support in following directions or in listening. No ADD or ADHD ever commented. He just likes to argue his point. Example, " Why did that man jump over the fence" we answer, "Because he needed to catch the ball, his response "No, I think he was just trying to get some excercise." Something like that.

Is this normal? Is he just pushing boundaries to see how far he can get. His Dad thinks he will make a great defense attorney some day.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Stephanie, I’m with his dad. You have a curious, intellectual, imaginative and confident boy. He is an only child who is comfortable with talking to adults and with occasionally challenging their conventional thinking. He may well grow up to be a defense attorney, or a scientist or a journalist who asks the President of the United States tough questions at press conferences.

Bonnie writes...

I'm a teacher, and am in a middle school for the 1st time this year. The boys drive me crazy! But, I realize that I probably just don't know how to teach them the way they need. I grew up with sisters, and had little contact with boys. So, I admit to not understanding their needs. I now have a 3.5 year old son of my own, and am preparing to adopt 3 more boys (siblings of the 2 girls we already foster). I need to learn how to deal with boys! Can you recommend a course or workshop that can help me learn? Thanks.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Bonnie, I think it is great that you want to learn more about how to teach boys. They need a teacher who loves them and isn’t frustrated by them. Yes, I have a suggestion: ask who the best coaches of boys’ teams are in your community and watch them coach Pop Warner Football or basketball or soccer. Watch how they handle the high activity levels of boys, how they get the boys’ attention, how they compliment the boys and focus them. Then, ask your colleagues which teachers work best with boys (everyone knows but no one says it out loud) and find a time to sit in on one of your colleague’s classes and have a follow-up discussion about teaching boys. Middle school boys can be challenging, but if they think you like and respect them, and if they know they cannot frighten and manipulate you, they will be great for you…most of the time.

Gabrielle writes...

Dear Dr. Thompson, I just want to tell you what a huge help this page is to all of us moms of boys.

I see bits of my 3-year-old son in several of the questions posted and am using some of the advice you've given. I can't believe how involved your answers are. I wish my other doctors provided such useful insight! Thank you!

Gabrielle

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Gabrielle, thanks for your kind words. I’m so glad that you have found this blog useful.

Mohammad Bhatti writes...

Thanks for posting this great article, will definitely help me to understand my 8 years old son.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Mohammad, you are very welcome. Enjoy your boy!

Melissa writes...

I have a 3 1/2 year old, he's in preschool. Recently, I had to withdraw my son from school, because he refused to sit down during story time or he sat down for a few moments while the teachers taught the other children their colors,shapes,numbers and alphabets. I am proud of the fact that my son can count to 100,recognizes shapes beyond the standard 4, he can read, he knows the 7 continents,and the 50 states.When I would pick him up from school I would be approached by his teachers asking me whether or not I knew that he could read. I was told by his teaches that maybe my son was bored because he knew the lessons that were being taught. What can I do in order to help me and the teachers to deal with my son when he doesn't want to sit or complete his lessons. I stated to his new teachers that teaching him Spanish, or even working on his handwriting will help him to focus, what else can we do? Concerned MOM.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Melissa, it sounds as if you have a very bright boy, someone who has a natural gift for academics. His mind may be so far out in front of the lessons the other children are receiving that when the teachers starts with the, "This is a circle, this is a triangle…" he immediately gets bored and restless. It sounds as if his teachers recognized the problem but could not find a solution to it because, despite his academic gifts, he may be too young to sit still or entertain himself for long reading his own book or working on his own project in the back of the classroom.

I hope you can move him to a smaller preschool center where he can get individual attention, someone to sit with him or keep him supplied with books. Even better might be a Montessori school where children do individual "mat work" throughout the day, so that every child is moving at his or her own speed and the teachers are trained to manage a class of children working in that fashion. I don't know what your preschool options are going to be, but let me suggest that when you are searching for a new preschool, I would politely describe the situation at the old school and ask how they imagine they would handle it. Perhaps you can find some creative folks who aren't baffled by a very bright boy.

Tamela writes...

Hi, I am a first time mother with twins. They are 2 years-old now, a boy and a girl. My duaghter is very independant, but my son is so attached to that I can't even walk across the room from him with out him crying and screaming till i return to him. He was the smaller twin, but now he is bigger and out weighs his twin sister by 5 pounds. At dinner he insist on holding my arm while he eats which means i cannot move from my seat without a screaming fit. During movie night he insist on being heald while I stand up while he watches the movie. If i try to sit before he is ready, he crys and screams till i stand up again. He will only go to sleep at night if he gets to lay on me till he falls asleep. I feel like I cannot spend the amount of time I need with my daughter too because of this issue because i am always either holding my son or he is holding my arm. To make things worse, I have a bad case of tendinosis in my right wrist, so even with my brace on the pain is still unbearable holding him sometimes. Any suggestions or hints would be helpful.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Tamela, you’ve got two problems. First, your son has some serious separation anxiety, which causes him to think he needs you every second and he panics when he can’t have you there. That’s hard on you and on his sister. Your second problem is that your son’s anxiety—and the threat of his screaming—is running your life (and killing your arm!).

You are going to need to help your son learn that he can manage his anxiety and that may mean letting him cry. He won’t die from crying just because you sit down while watching a movie with him. It will be loud and unpleasant, but SIT DOWN. Tell him that your arm hurts so much that you cannot hold him any longer; let him see the pain in your eyes and hear the pain in your voice. Then sit down AND DON’T GET BACK UP no matter how hard he cries. You can sit on the couch and cuddle him next to you, perhaps with his sister on one side and your son on the other, but explain to him with conviction that you can no longer stand and cannot hold him. End of discussion.

As for bedtime: can you get someone to help you in the evening—your husband, your mother, a cousin or a high school student? You need to have two people putting these children to bed for a period of weeks or even a month or two. You and the other person should alternate putting your son and daughter to bed. You can tell him, “Tonight, I have to put your sister to bed. It’s her turn. Grandma (or whoever) will be with you.” He will cry and protest, but you tell him in a firm voice that it is not fair for you to always go to sleep with him and never with his sister.

Finally, I’m wondering: does he have a teddy bear or a blanket or something that comforts him? Many boys of this age have a “blankie” or something that reassures them when their mothers are not right there. It would be enormously helpful to him if he had such a thing. You cannot force it, but you can encourage it.

kirti writes...

My 4 yr -old son is really wellbehaved in school!(or thts wht his teacher tells me!)But the very moment he reaches home he starts throwing his blocks,jumping on furniture or riding his bike without a helmet!No matter wht I say,he will never clean up his toys!I am tired of time- outs(ya,they do work fine!)But is there any other way to make him well-behaved?
I will really appreciate your help in this case!
Thank you!
-Kirti.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Kirti, I am delighted to hear that your son is well-behaved at school. That means he has the internal controls to meet adults expectations. That’s great. However, after being so self-controlled all day when he comes home he wants to cut loose, relax and have his mom pick things up for him. That’s natural for most kids, but not always great for you. The items you mention require separate approaches.

He needs a place where he can throw things—preferably basketballs and whiffle balls, not blocks—without hurting something. That’s usually outside. If he cannot be outside, you need to create a place in the house, a playroom (no couches), where he can be very active without hurting anything so you don’t have to constantly be supervising.

The bike is easy. Put the bike out of reach, or put a lock on it and only open it when he puts a helmet on. No four-year-old wants to pick up toys. They don’t see the need for it and in a basement playroom, it shouldn’t be necessary every day, but sometimes it is essential. You should come into the playroom, say “Time to stop, I’m going to help you pick up your toys,” and the two of you should do it together, talking and laughing. Make it a shared thing with sweet moments, not a forced march, and he’ll be more willing…over time.

Sylvia writes...

My son will turn 4 yrs old on Feb. 4. He is in preschool and does very well. He loves reading will sit for as long as you read to him. My problem with him is that he knows how to aggravate, I like to call it picking. I two older girls, 18 and 15, and a live in caregiver. He is constantly getting yelled at by the girls because he does things just to annoy them. He does the same thing to me if I am not giving him my full attention. Time out ends up with me getting so upset I just want to scream. I have spent an hour picking him up and returning him to the time out spot all the while, not talking to him. My husband just has to say get up here and sit down and he does it without any struggle. I just want some control over my house again, what do I do?

T writes...

I have a 5 year old son who at time will not keep still. He is focused on playing all of the time. He's is constantly looking for more attention.

I strongly believe this is because of his nephew (who is 11 months). Even though they love each other, there's constant competition between the both of them. I feel that my son feels that my grandson is getting all of the attention that my son use to received from others.

I tell my son that I see him and I will always see him. I tell my son constantly that I love him as well. Whenever attention is on my grandson, my son yells, "what about me, hey what about me?". I don't know what else to do.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

T, I think there are a lot of questions posted on this blog about five-year-olds who don’t keep still and want to play all the time. That’s perfectly normal. I believe his restlessness is biological; I don’t believe it is due to his nephew, though I am sure there are competitive feelings between them. As for his sense of loss that he is not the cherished baby of the family any more, talk to him about that. “Do you feel as if (nephew’s name) gets all the attention these days? Do you sometimes wish you could be the young one again?” If he says “yes” then you have to try to give him some one-on-one time with you away from his nephew. It doesn’t have to be every day, but occasionally, and when he does his attention-seeking, simply say, “I know it is sometimes hard to be the more-grown-up boy when the little one gets all the attention. It’s not fair, is it.” That frank acknowledgement will calm him down.

Abby writes...

I have two boys ages 9 and 11 and they are constantly fighting, arguing and bickering, yet when I step in, I am accused of favoring one over the other. Although my oldest is a bit smaller than my 9 year old, he seems to be the one that causes most of the issues between the two of them. I grew up with a sister that was 7 years older than me and we never did more than scream a few names at one another and it was over. My boys may give a courtesy yell before they are throwing punches and rolling around, threatening the others timely demise, at other times, one just jumps on the other; leaving me saying what the heck just happened?!?!?! I just don't understand what I can do to ease the tension between them. I have tried telling them not to involve me in every skirmish, however that has ended with one or the other hurt or crying. They do get along famously at times just the conflict seems to override the harmony in their relationship.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Abby, please go back up to the top of this blog and read the answer that I wrote for Nicole. As long as your two boys are relatively evenly matched in size and weight and craftiness, as long as there hasn’t been a lot of blood and broken bones, I want you to get yourself out of their battles, both as a spectator and a judge. Whenever you can, I want you to move two rooms away and decline to decide the matter. If they come after you saying, “He did this and that,” and try to put you into the judge role, I want you to say, “There is no way I can figure out who did what to whom. I want both of you to separate and go to your rooms.” Whenever they come to you, just split them up. In very short order, they’ll stop coming to you. At 9 and 11, that’s appropriate.

Unless I am mistaken, they really love each other and what is going on between them is competition of a normal brotherly sort, not “tension” of a destructive nature. My guess is that their harmonious times outweigh their fighting times by a ratio of five to one. Because the fighting is unpleasant and you didn’t experience it as a girl, it seems to you that conflict is overriding the harmony. I believe that harmony and furious competitiveness exist side by side in your sons, and will for a long time.

AnnMarie writes...

How can I get my 9yr old boy to pick up after himself? To have some responsibility in his room with his own stuff. It's like a tornado hits it everyday..?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

AnnMarie, is it important to have his room neat every day? Can you just close the door and ignore it? I know that’s hard, but the typical boy usually doesn’t care what his room looks like. You are almost certainly the only one who thinks it is important. My suggestion is that once a week, perhaps on Saturday, you can make him clean it with you (before he goes out to a friend’s or to town sports). Working side by side, you can show him how to clean a room to your standards. If you keep that up for a couple of years, he will either: 1) adopt your standards and become neater, or 2) grow up and marry a woman with your standards of cleanliness. :-)

Deborah writes...

I have a question regarding my 5 year old son. Do you feel time outs are an appropriate disciplinary tactic for hitting or saying mean words to his sister (which happens often)or his mother (which happens less often)?

Even if I try to get the 2 kids to work it out on their own, shouldn't I still tell him that he shouldn't say mean words or hit people.

By the way, he never does this at school.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Deborah, you may disagree with me, but I think there is a difference between calling a sibling a name and calling a mother a name. How old is his sister? If she’s older, she should be able to defend herself by calling him names back or hitting him back; that’s called “natural consequences.” If she’s younger, and he makes her cry, you may have to defend her a bit, but she soon will be able to retaliate by zinging him with a few choice names. Is this morally attractive? No. Is it inevitable between siblings? Yes. I’ve never encountered a family where there wasn’t name-calling between brothers and sisters. However, I know why you worry about this name-calling behavior: It is unpleasant to listen to, and you are afraid that he is going to grow up to be a nasty person. You have confirmed that his name-calling is confined to his sister and isn’t happening at school. That’s good. If it is driving you crazy at home; sure, give him a time out.

When it comes to a boy insulting his mother, however, I have a different reaction. Respect for parents and other adults is essential. If he calls you a name, immediately address it with directness and anger: “That’s rude and hurtful. I don’t like that. Do you expect me to do nice things for you (like make you dinner, give you a snack, drive you places that you want to go) when you are insulting me?” If he doesn’t apologize right away—and he probably will—I would give him a consequence. But in any case, the next time he asks you for something I would say, “I’m sorry, I don’t do nice things for people who call me names,” and decline to do it. He will quickly reform his ways if you refuse to do motherly things for him.

Nicole writes...

Doctor, what are your thoughts on spanking? I'm not talking about using a belt (or any other object) or the skin-turning-red type of spanking. I'm speaking of a lightly firm palm of the hand connected to a child's behind. Thanks.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Nicole, I’m not a fan of spanking. I don’t recommend you do it. Though research shows that an occasional swat on the fanny is not going to hurt a child’s personality development, as a regular practice it can begin to harm the relationship between parent and child, particularly between fathers and sons. And, of course, excessive hitting and belittling is child abuse.

But the real reason I do not recommend spanking is that: 1) it sends the wrong message to children about hitting as a way of solving problems and, 2) there are other ways to get a child’s attention. If a child has done something wrong, you can raise your voice, get close to his face, grab his hand and march him out of the grocery store; you can hold a boy’s shoulders and express your displeasure; you can give time-outs or take away television time. Getting upset with a child, making your expectations clear and rewarding good behavior work the vast majority of the time.

In our book “Raising Cain” Dan Kindlon and I took the position that corporal punishment is almost always, “the product of an exhausted mind.” That is, spanking a child is what you do when nothing else has worked and you are feeling helpless and angry. Often, the child does not remember the lesson; he or she only remembers a red-faced parent who was totally out of control.

You may be aware that spanking has been outlawed in the European Union, so that families in Germany, France and other industrialized nations are not permitted to hit their children. I travel abroad a lot, and I haven’t noticed that their children are less well behaved than ours.

Erin writes...

Thank you so much for your advice about my 2 year old son and his anxieties about taking naps and going to bed. It never occurred to me that he might be feeling a sense of aloneness during these times. It was very helpful to know that your child grew out of her phobias;)

Thanks again,
Erin

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Erin, I’m glad that you found my insights helpful to understanding your son’s fears. (And, yes, my daughter grew out of her phobias to be quite a fearless girl who made her parents nervous).

Jody writes...

Hi! My son is 5 and a half years old and attends Kindergarten. He has been going to school since he has been two. He is adopted and I am a work at home mom so I can be there as he grows up.
He has always been what people call a real boys boy. Very active and somewhat immature at times socially.
He is an incredibly picky eater. At 3 and a half years he came to us and told us that he didn't want to eat meat because it used to be alive. We told him that we understood his feelings, but because he wouldn't eat many things with protein, that for his health he should have it once or twice a week to get some. He agreed, but no more than that.
Anyway, recently, he has been getting very frustrated and it's affecting his work in Kindergarten (which isn't like it used to be when I was a kid). He hates school, will adamantly not do what the teacher says (or now, to avoid consequences, he tries delaying tactics). Anyway, he is beligerant to the teacher, won't sit still, talks to everyone in his class. The teacher says he is very bright, but he is not learning his letters, and when he gets the slightest bit frustrated he quits. He doesn't like any loud noises and gets angry and physical with the other kids. I have requested an evaluation at school. Its just seeping into our home now and he doesn't listen without being told twenty times. Praise doesn't work at all. Unless the consequence is something dire, it doesn't faze him at all. I don't want my son to end up with no toys at all..
Am I right to worry?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Jody, you are right to worry about your son becoming belligerent in school and you are right to ask for an evaluation. He is overwhelmed by Kindergarten and he is rapidly learning to hate school, but I don’t know exactly why. Kindergarten can be a tough place for a “boy’s boy” or an immature boy who doesn’t feel ready to learn his letters, feels outgunned by girls who are already reading and writing, and who may have some sensory integration problems. My ears perked up when you said that he doesn’t like loud noises and gets angry and physical with other kids. That could mean his anger is related to the excessive noise and stimulation of the classroom.

If you told me that he likes to play quietly at home, and isn’t so scared of reading and letters when he is with you, I would suggest that you home-school him for the rest of this year. Or, if you have a choice, I would ask that you consider moving him into the sweetest, smallest, quietest Kindergarten class you can find in a church basement.

The wild card in this story is the issue of adoption. As the father of two adopted children, and as a psychologist who has evaluated and treated many adopted children, I am aware that adopted children have a much-higher-than-average incidence of attentional and learning problems in school. I want to ask you some questions: How old was your son when you adopted him? What were the circumstances of his caretaking before he got to you? Was he traumatized in any way? Does he have separation and attachment problems? His refusal to eat meat because it was alive suggests that he is very sensitive to issues of pain and justice. Is that related to his adoption story? I wonder.

Sara writes...

I just wanted to thank you for the time you are taking to talk about our boys! I do have a question though. My son is 4 and in Pre-K. His teachers say he is a good listener at school and plays well with the other kids. At home though, when he does something wrong or makes a mistake he says "I hate myself". Lately, he has been backtalking my husband and I. I don't have any problems with my son being energetic. I do have a problem with him back talking and yelling at people. He is only this way with my husband and I. He also has a sister that is a year old and he is generally good with her. Is this behavior normal?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Sara, your son’s behavior is completely normal. He is doing what a four-year-old boy does, acting ferocious with himself and with others. Please re-read my favorite book about four-year-old boys dealing with anger: Maurice Sendak’s “Where The Wild Things Are.” Remember at the beginning of the story when Max puts on his wolf suit and says to his mother, “I’ll eat you up!” That’s exactly what your son is doing to you. Like Max’s mother, you discipline him and then he gets madder and thinks he’s the “King of all Wild Things,” but after a while he wants to be back where someone loves him best of all. And that’s you.

Jolene writes...

Hi, Thanks for your wonderful writings. I have a five yer old, I am also a Early Childhood educator as well. My boy is bright and very social, has many interests, but as you discribe can't sit still for long periods. How do I get his teachers to think differently about boy behavior. Any suggestion on what I can read so I can present it to them in a way that won't offend thier teaching beliefs.
Thanks,Jo

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Jo, thank you for asking a question that allows me to plug my documentary, my books and the books of other writers about boys. Three years ago PBS aired a two-hour documentary called “Raising Cain: Exploring the Inner Lives of America’s Boys.” I think it is a good starting place for helping teachers to think differently about boy behavior. Just this morning I was making a presentation at the conference of the Boston Association for the Education of Young Children and was delighted to find that the film was being used in a workshop on boy behavior. You can buy it at the PBS.org store or at Amazon.com.

Obviously, I believe some of the books I have coauthored might help your teachers think differently about boys. They are:

- Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys (the inner life of boys)
- Speaking of Boys: Answers to the Most-Asked Questions About Raising Sons (a guide for moms)
- It’s a Boy: Understanding Your Son’s Development from Birth to Eighteen (the whole story from pregnancy through high school)

I also recommend the following:

- The Minds of Boys by Michael Gurian (specifically for classroom teachers)
- Raising Boys by Stephen Biddulph (a clear, loving approach to boys)
- The Trouble with Boys by Peg Tyre (what is going wrong for boys in America)
- Misreading Masculinity: Boys, Literacy and Pop Culture by Tom Newkirk (how teachers unwittingly turn boys away from reading and writing)

Amber writes...

Hi. I am the mother of two boys (2 1/2 yrs. and 9 months). My older son often acts like his younger brother (crying, whining, tantrums, won't feed himself etc.). He is very smart but often reverts to emotional breakdowns or hurts his younger brother when I give any ounce of attention to his little brother (like change his diaper or nurse). I try to spend personal time with him and encourage his "big boy" behaviors. He also seems to behave like this with all children younger than him (as if he feels they are more loved because they are babies- so he acts just like them). I've noticed he behaves like this in public too even if there are older chilren around. Most of his peers seem to act their age (granted I know he's only 21/2). How can I encourage him to be more of a leader rather than a follower? And what can I do to build his self-worth and confidence (encourage him to use his words and avoid emotional temper tantrums)?

Vidhya writes...

Hi

My son is in 2nd grade. He never seems to like me. He says I make him unhappy. It makes me very sad for him to say that to me again and again. All I do is take care of him the entire day and be nice to him. The other day, he said I am not a good mom because I didn't get him something. Is this normal? He is good to his dad. When it comes to me, it all changes. Is there any thing I can do to change his attitude? Thanks.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Vidhya, younger children sometimes like to favor one parent over another, but it should not go on for a long time. I have to ask you a number of questions about your relationship with your son. You say that all you do is, “take care of your son and be nice to him.” Are you home-schooling him? Are the two of you together all day? Are you getting on each other’s nerves? Does his father do any child care? Do you do most of the caretaking: getting him up for school, seeing to it that he finishes his homework, getting him to eat good meals, insisting that he take a bath, putting him to bed, etc.? Finally, do you tell your son that his remarks hurt your feelings? Do you ever stop doing the nice things you do for him until he apologizes for his lack of kindness?

Without answers to these questions, I can think of two explanations for your situation. Sometimes, boys come to see their mothers as drill sergeants who have expectations and constantly give orders, while they view fathers as playmates. If you are stuck with all of the lousy work of raising your son and your husband gets all the fun time, then you have to have a discussion with your husband and get him to do more of the gritty work of parenting and you should get out and do some fun things with your boy.

But I suspect that you have fallen into the trap that many moms do. They think if they are endlessly loving and kind their sons will respect and appreciate them. That doesn’t happen. What happens, I’m afraid to say, is that children start treating their mom like a servant. Children—boys and girls—do not automatically respect their parents and they don’t feel grateful for good parenting. They often think of their loving mothers being like the floor under their feet: total automatic support. They don’t miss it until it is gone and they fall into the cellar.

If you are waiting on your son hand and foot, you need to stop doing so much for him. If he is disrespectful or unkind, you have to call him out and ask for an apology.

Steve writes...

My son is 11 and plays ice hockey and other various sports. The activity seems to help with over activeness and stress for him. He has learned about teamwork and has developed many friendships (boys and girls) though the activites. Communication with others his a key to teamwork and it has helped his opening up to talk at home when necessary. Do you see more issues with only children or children with siblings?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Steve, the differences that I see between only children and children with siblings are just what you suggest. Only children, though they are often happy with their parents and other adults, long to be in the social mix with other children. A team is a great place for them to make friendships and practice social skills and to work off physical energy and stress.


Julie writes...

I am a preschool/kindergarten teacher. I have three active boys of my own (ages 10, 8, and 5). I understand the need for boys to be physical and don't view it as abnormal when I have a very active boy in class. It can however be very distracting for the other children and certainly I can't have wrestling on the floor. Besides giving them lots of outdoor and gym time, do you have any advice? Thanks

Julie writes...

I am a teacher of 3-6 year olds and mother of three boys (11,8, and 5). I understand the need for boys to be physical and move freely. I don't view their impulsiveness or physicality as abnormal at this age. It can however be very distracting to the other children in the class. Besides giving them outdoor time and large motor activities, what else can I do to get them to stop running in the class, touching another during storytime, and at times piling on top of one another. Any ideas? Thank you.

Lesley writes...

Thank you so much for your excellent, comprehensive, and reassuring column. I deeply appreciate the ways in which you've normalized boys' behavior.

I'm hoping you can help me with classroom strategies. My son (6) is repeating kindergarten. (He is a late fall birthday.) He is doing much better academically, but we are still getting complaints about his behavior. He is an entertainer (class clown) and distracts the other kids during lessons; he has difficulty completing tasks while huddled around those little, chairless tables, (fine when working by himself), and has difficulty following routines, i.e, unpacking/packing up at the beginning/end of the day. Our teacher this year is amazingly patient and has tried several different "positive" strategies, and they've worked to a degree, but not enough. We're about to have another conference.

To complicate my son's situation, his father and I have been separated/divorced since he was 13 months old. His dad and I are polar opposites in parenting style, and because my ex has an itinerant vocation, my son's schedule with him has been erratic and unpredictable. Further, my ex has admitted (to the teacher, even), that he has no structure/routines with his son. I feel he is overly permissive and doesn't care to say "no" to him. Sadly, the role of disciplinarian falls exclusively on me. I fear many of my son's difficulties result from the confusing/contradictory parental messages he receives, though I do my best not to undermine or directly challenge his father.

All that said, how can we help our son and help his teacher? Also, at what point should I relent and get him evaluated? I'm deeply concerned about pathologizing his behavior before it becomes absolutely necessary. His concentration is fine when it comes to tasks he enjoys: puzzles and listening to stories, for example.

Thank you so much.

claudia writes...

Hello,
I have a question regarding my eight year old boy, qho does not listen and does not follow directions. He gets distracted all the time and found him playing in his room and we have to remaind him to do what we asked a few minutes ago. He is a "A" student but does not like to do homework.
It seem he has a short attention for me, because we try talk to him, he always loose his tv privilegies,everithing!
Is that something we need to be concern about it?
Thank you!

Katy writes...

I have an active 9-year old son who is very physical. He is aggressive with me fairly frequently, with such behaviors as nudging, bumping, and pushing when he's frustrated or angry. At the same time, I try to help him let off steam by wrestling with him, where we both know the rules and have fun without hurting each other.

I seem to bear the brunt of his frustration frequently, e.g., if he's frustrated with a home work assignment or a piano song he's learning, he might yell at me or, as I said, become physical, literally getting pushy with me or throwing a pencil across the room and yelling at the top of his lungs.

Recently, while out on the basketball court with his dad and me, I gently teased him about something in fun, and he charged toward me, pushing, and then kneed me in the groin area (not sure if it was intentional but it was hard enough to hurt), and it was painful. I immediately expressed my disapproval, the inappropriateness of his behavior, told him how much it hurt, and made him leave the court immediately and go home to his room. His father doesn't seem to take such offenses as seriously as I do. He says I don't understand the physical nature of boys. But I think a 9-year old should be able to control himself and not become physical with me or anyone else in anger. He should be able to make the distinction between wrestling or otherwise being physical in fun, from becoming physically aggressive in anger. Notably, he generally is not physically aggressive with other children, although he sometimes is with my husband. He is, as a rule, well behaved in school and an excellent student.

What do you think? I am fearful of my child turning into an aggressive teen and I feel that my husband is excusing or even subtly condoning the behavior. We've argued it about it before, and I'm sure my son has overheard some of the arguments. So, I become the bad guy without my husband's support.

Can you help???

Jody writes...

Thank you so much for your comments. I have been wondering about his response to sensory things as well.

I think school is still a good option, we just need to see if we can have a more conducive environment.

About adoption: We adopted him from day 1. Right out of the hospital. We are still in contact with his birthmother but not the birthfather.
He has always been sensitive to other people being upset and hurt from a very young age (when he was a year and a half and a girl was crying he offered his pacifier to her to make her feel better). If someone else is teasing a friend, he gets right in the middle and says leave my friend alone. However, if he is the one that is starting with someone, that sensitivity goes right out the window.
It's just so frustrating to see him so flustered and acting out. It's not what I am used to seeing with him.
He is pretty good with separation as long as he knows beforehand it will happen. He does NOT like surprises.

Lisa writes...

Hi,
I have a 3 boys: ages 3,6,and 9. My 9 yr old is very well behaved and smart in school, has lots of friends, plays many sports(all of which he excels in)and is an all around good kid, however, at home he is soooo different! He has such a temper at home. He will yell at his brothers or talk rudely to them. He will do the same to us, his parents. He will tell us to shut-up or that were dumb and usually doesn't let up until we send him(or carry him) to his room and then he slams the door or messes up his room. We will ask him to stop doing something 100 times and he will boldly say "I don't have to" or "no, I don't want to". Some nights it talks all my strength not to grab him!!!I sense some anger issues but can't really understand what he could be angry about. We have talked with him and have tried a reward system in whch he could earn a "date" night out with mom or dad. He's great for a few days but can't hold it together for longer than that.His brothers really love and look up to him and I'm worried they will learn this behavior. Do you have any advice? please help

rekha writes...

Hello: I would love to get a question about my 15 year old boy answered by Dr. Johnson. Is he taking questions?

Susan writes...

I am the mom of a 5 and 3 year old boys. They are very obsessed with their father and hate all girls, including their mother. They constantly ask and cry for Daddy. They go so far as to say, "we are going with Daddy here-what are you doing?". They have a "boy room". They hate kisses and will not hold my hand or let me put them to bed. I feel the younger is just copying the 5 year old's behavior...but I just don't think I can handle this with 2 children...I grew up with 2 brothers and all boy cousins and are very close to all of them. I was thrilled to have boys but now I am very sad and frustrated with this lack of love, as they are my world. I know they need their mommy right now. Could you please tell me how to best handle this situation so I can do the right thing by my boys and not take it personally or go crazy in the meantime! I always thought boys loved their mothers??

emily writes...

I am a mother of 3 young boys. they are 2, 4, and 5. they are constantly fighting and argueing, they never sit still and i joke with my work friends telling them that i don't raise children i raise little monkeys! i have found that the best way to get them to bond and calm down together is to get them outside and go fishing, hikeing, or anything else outdoors related. they have a blast and actually like being together.( plus the fresh air helps them go to bed better!) so for any parent who is having a hard time with boys, just make time to get them out and motivated you will see a big change!

Don writes...

I'm having a hard time getting my 5 year old son to listen to me and his mom. It seems he has been this way from the very beginning of his young life. My wife and I are at odds... she wants to do the time out 123 thing which my son thinks is a joke. I want to spank him or get somewhat physical with him, not to the point to where he is in any type of physical danger but just enough to get his attention. He wants to do what he wants to do and as it stands he has no real consequences to defer him from having his way. My greatest fear is that when he gets into his teens he will be totally out of control and unstoppable.

Please offer any advise you can.

Don

Debbie writes...

Dear Michael:

My 9 year old son continues to be afraid to be alone when we are at home. He refuses to go to another room by himself to retrieve something and constantly carries his blanket, 'blankie' around with him at home and usually doesn't like to go to bed alone (he has his own room). He sometimes sneaks into his younger brother's room to sleep with him. Each night, he asks me to lie down with him. He usually relaxes and falls asleep quicker when I do this. Should I be concerned about these behaviours?

Regards,
Pedal-to-the Metal Mom

Betty writes...

I have a 3 1/2 yr old who recently started attending preschool. He seems easily distracted by people or things especially when he is in a group situation therefore missing opportunities to listen to directions.His teachers has brought this concern to me twice so far. I explained to the teacher that I have notice the distractability as well i.e. when a person or another child walks in the room he will stare for what seems like a really long time and has difficulty returning to a task or missing on aportion of a story.He seems to do well during one on one activities. I do not have concerns regarding hyperactivity or impulsiveness.
I worry that as he gets older and expectations are greater he will lag behind. What should i do to help him focus.

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You have a pretty good idea of how to make work for business and marketing purposes. You want to help those who are asking this specific questions to understand.

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Before you get to answering the question, you was wondering what other people who follow you to get asked the most. It appears number one question is not the number one question of most of the people following you.

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You love to play with this last question in our house, which is hilarious because you don't play! But it's still nice to ponder how you'd spend our time if money were no object.

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You must encourage more conversation than closed questions, which can be answered by a simple yes or no. Practice with these type of questions and you'll build a better relationship with others.

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Certainly It can be difficult for parents to sort these things out, but they have to try to solve these problems.

Kanetix writes...

I have a son who just turned 4 and he is a bit more hyperactive then other kids his age and he's sometimes a bit out of control, I feel that I need to get him individual health insurance or something! But boys will be boys so I am not too worried as a mother.

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