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Monday, January 14, 2013

book - The Way of Boys

The Way of Boys - Raising healthy boys in a challenging and complex world by Anthany Rao, Ph.D. 

This was a fantastic book. I learned so much by reading this. A lot of it were things I knew to be true, but it helped having it written out in black and white to reinforce those ideas I'd wondered about. As a mother of a very active "all boy" guy, I hear lots of things like "be careful, slow down, put that down, ah, oooh, uh oh, yikes, he's busy, he's active, watch it.... etc." and of course my son's name over and over again with his every move. I have learned so much the last almost 3 years by having a son. Boys are VERY different than girls. They just are. Even calm, easygoing boys are still busier than most girls are.

I share a story of my niece, nephew and my son to explain the difference between the boys and girls I see (this is generally speaking also, I know there are busy girls out there, too!).  We were at a restaurant with the family. My 4-year-old niece sat at the end of the table, quiet, smile on her face, content reading books and coloring all by herself, hands in her lap even. She did this the entire two hours we were there. My 2-year-old son tossed an action figure across the table to his uncle to see how high he could "fly." He then accidentally hit the ketchup bottle, spilling ketchup all over his aunt's shirt and the window and wall behind her. Laughing like it was meant to happen. Meanwhile, my 2-year-old nephew, reached into his diaper and grabbed poop out on his hand, telling me that he had a stinky. Awesome. These boys don't stop! They are busy guys, always moving and thinking of something new.


This book gave tons of examples of how boys are. One of the best books I've read in fact. I started crying within the first few pages thinking, my son is a BOY! The author even jokes that he meets with parents who are begging him for a reason, a diagnosis, a solution for why their child is so different in their eyes. He laughs and says, "Your problem is B-O-Y." That's it. Plain and simple, yet so complex.

B-O-Y-S : BUSY
 -Most boys "play excitedly or act impulsively." (page 3)

-Too often boys are misdiagnosed too early with Aspergers or Autism, ADHD, etc. The author wrote on page 3, "They are not lagging in any permanent way. There is nothing wrong with them. They are just developing, sometimes unevenly, which is the way development takes place in many boys."

- He agrees medicine can work sometimes but more so to "just let boys be," and chalk it up to developing. "That's what early development is: a constant battle to acquire new skills, to navigate challenging new situations, and to allow the brain opportunities to change and grow in the aftermath of failure," Rao wrote on page 5.

-Boys are more likely to learn by touching, feeling. They are explorers. They engage in motor skills and spatial tasks, Rao wrote on page 12. Boys challenge things to assert their power. They have normal levels of aggression.

-On page 12, "...that ADHD (the most common disorder diagnosed in boys) is temporary in most children and their minds will catch up." Not all boys have ADHD, many are just boys being boys. "Boys at this age fidget and run around and scream and get crazy because it releases healthy energy and helps them calm down. For a boy this age, the only way out of the extreme ants-in-your-pants feeling that builds up in them is to plow through it, mow it down with activity. That activity, those crazy dance moves, the jumping in place, the wiggling, all of it clears his mind and gets him ready to focus," Rao wrote on page 76. This is totally my son! Rao encourages boys to MOVE, get outside, be physically active as much as possible.

-Rao said that "creativity and curiosity" are what drive boys to move, move, move most of the time. "Boys are driven by their internal engine, their brain, to wander, investigate, grab, and take apart the world around them. They are so driven that they may shrug off disapproval from their parents," Rao wrote on page 93.


RE-FRAMING HOW WE SEE BOYS
-Rao described these active busy boys as future successful young men. It's all in re-framing how we view these boys that will help us in working with them and parenting them. On page 13 Rao wrote, "I am often the first person to say to a mother that her son's odd behavior or troubles at school are in fact keys to understanding the unique and successful young man he will become. For example, the boy who prefers to line up and count objects instead of socialize at school may be a future engineer."

-"If parents can manage crises properly and can encourage their sons' development to move ahead, boys will likely be stronger and more capable because of their developmental struggles. ...
      I want to tell you to remember that your own boy's struggle is really his greatest source of strength. Lost underneath our need to diagnose and intervene is a boy trying to become himself. A bossy boy is learning to lead. A shy boy is learning to observe the world closely. A tinkerer is learning to fix. A daydreamer is learning to create. All boys have special skills and special struggles, and often the two are linked." (page 13)
       If we can only re-frame how we view certain frustrating, challenging traits in our kids when they are toddlers or beyond, we can begin to understand where our kids are coming from and manage the behavior and work with our children in a whole new way that is more productive and supportive than anything else.

- "In most cases, it's not the boy who has the problem; it's the people in his life who have a problem dealing with him." (page 14)
This was so powerful. The whole book is summed up in this statement. Boys don't fit into our box that is school where they have to sit all day, look people in the eyes, listen intently, not move, etc. They are not wired to do that. The author suggests we adults have way too high expectations for these boys. The author encourages parents to treat these boys as "wonderful people-in-training," and to view the job as a parent as one of coach and offering support through childhood. He said parents who do that do a much better job and have more patience. 
  
THE LANGUAGE OF BOYS
-Language and social skills develop later in boys than in girls. 
-Boys are uncomfortable looking people in the eyes, even from birth (page 19). 
-It takes boys years to learn to read other people's facial expressions, express emotions, etc. whereas infant girls understand it. 
-Boys who throw sand at another kid are not trying to be mean. That is his way of engaging the other kid in play. He explained that young boys socialize just the way adult men do - barely talking, side by side, engaged in activities, etc. It's meaningful but does not look how girls may socialize. 

-Rao explained that typically just before a big break through in development occurs (learning to walk, potty training, learning numbers or ABCs , etc.) a crisis or setback occurs and throws parents off guard. "...I tell parents to look beyond the crisis for the leap that will surely follow. A boy's development takes time. Rather than worrying about a boy's struggles, parents should spend time imagining the healthy young man he is becoming." (page 27)

 
-Teaching self control at home is a good idea, as boys will need to understand in the world outside home there are boundaries, they cannot just grab whatever they want. Boys often can't wait either. The author suggested taking a boy to a place where you will have to wait in line 10 minutes (post office, for example) and explain to him beforehand what he'll need to do, the reward at the end if you offer one, and how he should behave. Do this a number of times for practice. Do the same for helping your child learn to be patient waiting for a toy he wants by holding it and playing with it yourself for a bit before handing it over.



ACCEPTANCE

"I tell all parents that the playground is not a performance, it is a dress rehearsal," Rao wrote on page 62. He said to think of parties, play dates, etc. as times for learning, making mistakes, figuring out how to socialize. How freeing?! I know so many mothers feel on edge when in the presence of other parents, especially on play dates at someone else's house. Is my kid acting OK? Will my kid throw a tantrum when we leave here? What is she thinking of my kid's actions? This is such a nice reminder that they are KIDS, still learning. "Here your son can get the cobwebs out and make his mistakes. You have to understand that he's new at all this. You can't expect too much beyond where he is now. By making mistakes, and by learning from them, he will grow and mature," Rao wrote.

 Rao wrote that we cannot go to a play date acting like we are not in control, in charge, confident. If we worry about what others think of us our kids pick up on that and act accordingly.
"You go in and set the tone that this is the way your boy is, and that's that. Some days are good, and some days he struggles, but you're dealing with it as a parent and not as a person worried about the judgment of others," Rao wrote on page 63. Acknowledging that it's OK that my son may be busy, active, loud sometimes, and that I don't need to worry what others may think about that because I know we are taking the ups and downs of this toddlerhood in stride and doing our best to raise a confident, happy little boy - that's what matters, not other people's comments or assumptions. More parents need to gain the confidence Rao is suggesting we have when raising our children. Our kids need that from us.



 -Rao wrote on page 69 about kids who hit or act out impulsively. He said they know it is wrong, but honestly cannot stop themselves sometimes. They get caught up in the moment, with their feelings. "For young boys, rage can overtake them and then disappear in a couple of heartbeats," Rao wrote.

-Teaching boys about emotions is important, helping them learn to name feelings will help them to learn to control their feelings when they come up.


HELP WITH REMINDERS

On page 69, Rao wrote something that just made so much sense to me: boys need reminders just like we adults do. "... many parents fail to realize that even adults need constant reinforcement of society's most basic rules. I ask parents to imagine what lie in their town would be like without the presence of law enforcement, parking and no-parking signs, and traffic signals - even for one day... We need thousands of reminders each day to do what's expected of us, so let's be fair to our preschool and grade school boys. Most of them don't have signs around them saying, 'Don't grab; please ask your friend to share.'" So true!


Patience is a virtue with boys, especially bright boys. They still need time to practice their skills, develop, process, and learn new things. Time outs typically don't work, long lectures don't work for discipline either. Short, quick words work better, like the "headlines." They need to know if they do X, then Y will happen. Consistency is important, Rao suggested. Yelling, holding or lecturing all are over-stimulating to an already emotional or upset boy, which causes him frustration and confusion. These are not helpful in the midst of a tantrum.




Busy, active, funny, jumping bean - whatever you call them, they are your boys and are made this way. They are normal and healthy and growing, according to Dr. Rao. Have patience with them. Dream of them becoming some awesome engineer or dreamer or doer someday. In the scheme of their great big life, these chaotic toddler years are just a small part of the experience.  
Take a deep breath, and enjoy the ride!

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