It is difficult to distill all the information that's available about parenting. One concept that I subscribe to is called Connection Parenting. The idea is that if a child misbehaves, it is because he is out of connection with parents, peers, or others, and thus, the misbehavior. Someone hurt his feelings, intentionally or not, he is just having bad day, or for some other reason, he feels out of connection with others. Our typical response to misbehavior is to move the child further out of connection, such as placing him in a time out, sending him to the office at school, and so on, when in fact, what the child needs is MORE connection, not less. Dis-connection is based on fear (do what I say or I will remove my approval), while connection is based on love (I love and care about you no matter what and really want to know what is going on).
There are a lot of boys in my son's after school program. One day they are all friends and the next, they have had some disagreements. When I pick up my son from school and find that he has had some challenges with other kids, the first thing I do is hug him for as long as he wants to hug. I get a pretty good assessment of his day by how long and hard he hugs me. Next, I ask him what happened and listen to his entire story. Then, we talk to the child care worker and come to some resolution. Sometimes, the resolution is that he and the other kid apologize to each other, sometimes it means problem-solving with the worker about what to do next time, sometimes the two kids shake hands or hug. The goal is for him to re-connect and form deeper connections. It is the web of connections -- relationships -- we have in life that mold us into the adults we become, and these small events are all part of the web. Here are a few ideas:
As the parent of an “all boy” boy, I find research about gender differences and the brain fascinating. One of my son’s early teachers recommended the books of Michael Gurian to me, and this work has been extremely helpful. Gurian writes about the chemical and biological differences between the brains of boys and girls and how parents and educators can help kids develop based on these differences.
Gurian’s books are filled with tips that are both brilliant and obvious. For example, he points out that boys need more room to play than girls. Of course they do! The play of boys involves building, knocking down, re-building (bigger and better), running, jumping, throwing, and rough-housing. Not that girls do not do these things, but generally speaking, the play of boys happens on a physically grander scale than that of girls. My son’s playroom at the time I first read this was our living room. I removed furniture and completely opened up the space for his play. I saw an immediate difference in his play and creativity! I later gave him a spare room as his playroom – all the toys and games went onto shelves in the closet and the entire floor was left empty for him to play and create. He thanked me for 3 weeks and LOVED that space. There was no expenditure of funds – just more space!
Gurian also writes about how to channel what I call the “massive forward motion” of boys. Boys are naturally more risk-taking than girls. Very useful for both brain development and life is to help kids think through risks and consequences. So, rather than tell a child he is too young to climb a particular piece of playground equipment, ask (while he is still on the ground) “What is the first step?” “What will you do after that?” “What will come next?” This helps create new connections within the brain and gets the child into the habit of thinking before acting.
In “The Purpose of Boys” Gurian documents how boys are falling behind in society – fewer and fewer boys are graduating from high school, entering college, and graduating from college – and what parents, educators, and others can do to help. Gurian writes about conversations to have with boys and at what age, how to teach both empathy and a degree of toughness, and how the classroom can be more helpful to boys.
Whether you are parent, grandparent, teacher, or would just like more information on gender-based brain research, I highly recommend these books:
· The Wonder of Boys: What Parents, Mentors & Educators Can Do To Shape Boys Into Exceptional Men
· The Mind of Boys: Saving our Sons From Falling Behind in School & Life
· The Purpose of Boys: Helping Our Sons Find Meaning, Significance & Direction in Their Lives
Find more information here: http://www.michaelgurian.com
Did you make your best decisions as a teenager? By the time you were 18? Few people would agree that they did. The human brain matures by around age 25, though we think of adulthood as beginning at 18 due to milestones at that age such as graduating from high school and being able to vote.
Food for thought: Help the kids in your life understand that they will be able to make increasingly important decisions as they get older and that you and other adults will be there to guide them, but that they will not "be an adult" until age 25. This helps set important expectations for kids. I have done this with my son, who is now 7 and very excited to get older, and it has led to some good conversations about the decisions he gets to make, how he is making many more decisions now than he did even a couple of years ago, and when he will get to make certain decisions he is particularly interested in (such as setting his own bedtime!).
Here is more reading on the topic from the National Institute on Mental Health:
JoAnne McFarland O'Rourke