Thursday, October 26, 2017


Equal rights for women has been an important cause for my generation. I remember my frustration after graduating college, when the first question at every job interview was about my typing skills. We've made progress in opening doors for girls, although there is still work to do.  As a young mother, I was convinced that sexism, restrictive attitudes toward genders, was a direct result of one's upbringing and environment. I was determined to raise my children fairly.  I wasn't aware of the innate, biological differences between boys and girls until I had my son.  After four daughters.  Then I began to wonder if, in a different way, we weren't also short-changing our boys.

A child's environment plays a huge role in how he or she is raised, but his/her own biological nature plays an equally powerful part.  The toy cars that had never been touched by my girls were played with incessantly by my son.  Before he could walk he would try to zoom them across the floor.  In fact, he was fascinated by anything that moved.  We couldn't take a car ride without him looking out the window with glee, "Car!  Truck! Plane!!".  My girls were very active, but my son took action to another level.  I was unprepared for his constant movement and physicality. It took me a while to understand that the value of movement and action is part of being male.   

As an early childhood educator I became increasingly concerned with our boys' school experiences.  Most early childhood and elementary schools are based on a feminine culture.  The teachers are predominantly women, and the curricular emphasis is on reading, writing, and verbal skills, all of which typically develop later in boys.  The structure of most classrooms requires children to spend chunks of time each day sitting still and being quiet.  This is incredibly difficult for boys, whose high activity levels and poor impulse control are problematic in a classroom. Boys are more frequently determined to have behavioral issues and are reprimanded for their actions.  Frequent reprimands and/or punishment take an awful emotional toll on a child.

Young boys are less emotionally mature than girls.  They feel deeply but have a harder time identifying emotions in themselves and others. They are often at a loss to express their feelings. Without a healthy outlet, bottled-up emotions can turn to anger, frustration, even  violence.  Boys need loving, supportive adults in their lives who can model the language of emotions. 

Boys are typically stronger in spatial abilities and are more task-oriented.  Given time and space, they can turn the block center into an impressive construction site. They are driven to action and have a greater need to feel in control. They strut and boast in an attempt to feel competent and empowered.  They love superheroes, such as Batman, Spiderman, Superman, etc. because they too want to be seen as big and powerful.  Boys are most successful on the playground, where they can work their large muscles and take risks. They are drawn to sports where physical skills are esteemed.

In the last school where I worked as Early Childhood Director, the teachers and I spent a year learning more about boys and incorporating more boy-friendly practices into our classrooms.  We felt validated to learn that everything that we already knew about boys was being discovered through important brain research . (Adults who work with young children every day for years and years get to know kids really well.)   We became more accepting of high levels of energy, and looked to provide safe spaces for them.  One brave teacher had a wrestling mat, and let the kids tumble around like little puppies.  Another teacher provided materials for the boys to make capes, and facilitated their superhero play.  We purposely planned more opportunities to learn through movement.  If any activity veered toward fighting or danger, the boys were engaged in reasonable dialogue, not punished or belittled. Including them in problem-solving appealed to their pride and masculinity, and strengthened their feelings of competence.

All children learn by observing the loving adults in their lives.  Emotionally healthy male role models are so important for our boys.  A young child can learn that there are many ways to be a man, many ways to be strong and brave.   We can inspire our boys with real-life stories about heroes such as Dr. Martin Luther King; we can praise male artists, authors, athletes, soldiers, clergymen.  We can encourage the men in our lives to be emotionally expressive around our boys.  Telling a boy you love him helps him develop an emotional vocabulary, enabling him to connect more deeply to others and avoid the pain and loneliness of unexpressed feelings.    

Naturally, there are examples of cross-overs between boy and girl behaviors.  There are quiet boys who prefer to sit and read, just as there are tough, active girls.  The differences between the sexes are general, but very real.  Let's be aware of those differences and honor our boys' natures, not expecting them to perform beyond their developmental level. Let's make our homes and schools boy friendly, celebrating their strengths and helping them grow to be happy, confident, emotionally healthy men. 


  1. Georgia Love your blogs. Can you please give us your insight on bullying.

    1. Thank you, Lola. Bullying is a very complex and difficult problem, in which both the bully and the victim need help. Maybe I can consider it for another post?

  2. I think you make some amazing points in this piece especially about making sure schools are boy-friendly. I never really thought about it like that...

  3. Having 2 energetic boys myself I really enjoyed this post. It gave me a good perspective on how to nurture their level of activity as opposed to trying to suppress it.
    Thank you!