On Raising Boys

I’m not sure the right way to go about writing this.  It’s something that’s sat heavily with me for weeks now, as I’ve watched it unfold and I’ve wondered what the right answer is.  Of course, I knew I’d eventually turn to the masses for suggestions, but I had to wonder: is writing this insulting the boy my son is growing in to?

Both of our boys are sensitive, emotional children.  Jack (10 years) is your typical rough-and-tumble boy.  He loves sports, he plays video games, and he looks like Opie. (I’m sorry, but he does.  It’s one of my FAVORITE things about him.) He’s also an incredibly big-hearted boy, naturally empathetic and caring.  He’s a great big brother.

Tony (3) is very much the same emotional child.  Incredibly sensitive, he’ll be the first to ask “What’s wrong?” if you’re not smiling.  His emotions are deeply tied to those around him.  He’s also, you know, THREE.  He loves to kick the ball and run and jump and all those things too.  Boys will be boys and that nonsense.

When Tony moved up into the next class at daycare, his former teacher hugged him hard and said, “Don’t you let (Kid A) and (Kid B) push you around up there, okay?”  Which was, you know, sweet and terrifying at the same time.  Kids are pushing MY kid around? 

::deep breath:: Don’t be a Momma Bear, Sarah.  Free Range Parenting, Sarah. ::deep breath::

Tony’s been coming home repeatedly with stories about the boys in his class .. his friends, mind you .. hitting him or pushing him down.  And, to an extent, I let it go.  Boys will be boys.  Also, my child has my grace and will trip over gravity and then try and blame the rotation of the earth for it.  But I pulled up yesterday to watch his class playing outside without anyone seeing me.  And I watched the little microcosm of their world.  And I didn’t like it.

The boys in his class would take whatever he had from him.  He’d let them, wide-eyed and hurt.  They’d knock him over and he’d let them.  He’d stare at them, not understanding why they were acting that way, and they’d scurry off.  It happened repeatedly.  He played with no one as a result.  Kept to himself because it was safer that way.

He asked me last week, “We don’t hit anybody, right, Momma?”

No, honey.  We don’t hit anyone.  Because we are nice to everyone.

“What about bad guys?”

Well, there aren’t a lot of bad guys out there, bud.  And if there ARE bad guys, that’s why we have policemen and army men and teachers.  They help us fight the bad guys.

“And sometimes, they just need a hug, right?”

You got it, buddy.

And this conversation just pinballed through my mind yesterday as I watched this.  My child, the one who would rather take ballet than soccer, who loudly proclaims pink as his favorite color, the one who tends to his stuffed animals over his action figures.. am I doing him a disservice?  Am I teaching him to be a pacifist or to just be passive?

Clearly, I see nothing wrong with how he is.  I love his big heart and his compassion.  I love how he’s his own kid and doesn’t really care.  But .. I don’t know.  It scares the hell out of me. 

And I don’t know how not to let it.

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15 Responses to On Raising Boys

  1. Sarah February 22, 2011 at 3:27 pm #

    This blog struck such a chord with me. My 5-year-old was exactly like that when he was about that age. We had a neighbor boy a couple years older who he just loved playing with but always took his toys. He didn’t like that this boy took his toys, but he desperately wanted to play with the “cool” older kid. We had so many talks with him about why someone taking his things without asking wasn’t nice, and we eventually told him if he didn’t want the boy to take his toys, he needed to tell him that. Then if he kept doing it, he shouldn’t play with him. It was hard for him, but he did eventually stand up for himself, and I think it helped. He’s stronger today. Good luck. You sound like a great mom.

  2. Mint February 22, 2011 at 3:48 pm #

    This post kinda breaks my heart. We’ve got at least one kid in Grayson’s immediate class who I’ve sorta zeroed in on as a ‘shover’ and at least one more in another class that’s often combined with his. Luckily, I haven’t yet witnessed anything like that against my son, but it breaks my heart knowing that it does happen sometimes. Luckily Grayson more often than not just does his own thing or sticks with his 2-3 good friends and has a great time.

    FWIW, I think you’re ABSOLUTELY raising that boy right. Tony is obviously an amazing kid….it sucks that kids like him and get taken advantage of sometimes. As parents we know all too well that we can’t and shouldn’t be there all the time for them….. and that sucks.

  3. TheBookMamma February 22, 2011 at 3:55 pm #

    This, as you know, is also a subject near and dear to MY heart.

    I have one of each – a lover and a fighter. Since Day 1 I’ve been teaching them to get each other’s backs (a la Boondock Saints-like), especially on the playground at daycare. I know you don’t have that option, but maybe there’s a kid there that you would feel comfortable with having a chat with his parents and forming a playground brother with? That’s the short-term solution.

    Boys WILL be boys, but that’s no excuse. At this age they are still learning appropriate social behaviors & responses and I think you need to stay vigilant with T’s teacher about this. Call her attention to it and make sure she knows who the culprits are. In a perfect world, it’s a teaching moment for her, an empowering moment for Tony, and a humbling moment for The Fighter(s). But you will have to orchestrate it a little.

    Also, as a mom of a Fighter, try not to take it out on the kid (that’s the teacher’s job!) and remember he’s learning too. These kinds of kids need constant parental monitoring of their egos so they don’t spiral out of control, and the teacher is hopefully aware of that. If not, you need to make her aware! 🙂

    When all else fails, call me and I’ll send Eli in to regulate.

  4. dee February 22, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

    I have the same issue with my 5-year-old. When he started kindergarten this year is when I started realizing just how hard it was on him. Thanks to a very understanding teacher who picked up on it right away and a little work at home, things seem to be better. He’s getting a little better at standing up for himself, but it is still a struggle.

  5. TJ February 22, 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    You aren’t teaching him to be a pacifist, you are teaching him to be a bigger man. I wish I would have just walked away from many of fights back when I was a kid. Sure, you always need to stand up for yourself. There is something to be said about not being a pushover. But you are teaching him something golden. To walk away from hitting/violence is one of the best things you can teach a child. Does that make him a “pussy”? Absolutely not.

  6. Melissa February 22, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

    I think your 3-yr old son’s compassion, and the way he DOESN’T understand why people do mean things, is great. 🙂 It’s really hard to raise boys, and you’re obviously doing an awesome job. But I don’t think you’re letting them be passive; I think you’re showing them that reacting *physically* is not always the first or correct option. Just looking at the news every day proves that there are plenty of ADULTS who could stand to learn a few lessons from your sons. 😉

    I have two little guys as well: the older (Oliver) is 4.5 yrs old, the younger (Andrew) is 1yr old. And I agree with you 100%: We don’t want them to be a bully, but we don’t want them to GET bullied, either. And it’s tough to teach down the middle, you know?

    My husband and I agreed to keep things simple while they’re little, e.g. “no hitting other people,” period, without all the exceptions. As they get older and can understand more, we’ll gradually expand on when/why/how people might need to defend themselves. We told our older son if anyone hits or hurts him, he is to come and tell US. I told him if anyone isn’t nice, just to go play with someone else, or by himself. I figure he’s only 4… his life will get more complicated soon enough… for now, if he’s happy, I’m happy.

    This parenting gig can be rough, lol. Good luck!

  7. Jessica February 22, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

    Oh, that has to be so hard for you. I am sure you are raising him right. As a mama to a very strong willed boy, I wish I could set him free in a room of kids and know that he won’t be the one taking the toys if he thinks it’s his. As challenging as it is to make my son understand it’s not ok to take things, I don’t know how I would teach him to stand up for himself at such a young age. Bringing to his teachers attention and telling Tony to tell her when they are mean to him might help.

  8. LizzieV February 22, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

    In my opinion, age 3 is so, so very young to learn how to stand up for yourself against bullies. And that is exactly what it sounds like is happening in his class. Sorry if I sound harsh. If it was one or two kids…. If it was one or two popular toys…. If it was the kids have a rough-and-tumble give-and-take and the little guy just didn’t like to horseplay….. then I’d just assume that the little fella’ marched to the beat of a different drummer, and to help him be happy being himself. On that score, as the mom of a kid with Asperger’s, I know about being different; I’ve watched my son be the one to react inappropriately & hit, or not understand the unspoken dynamics of horseplay; we’ve had to teach sharing, and how to treat others they way you want to be treated. (Not easy, but worth it. And my boy likes pink, too.)

    What you described sounds like “let’s pick on the little guy, different guy” and your Tony is being the far, far better man in this situation: not crying, not fighting, not tattling, always hoping that the best will come out in these other guys.

    Kids need to learn from experience, too true. And we moms have to stand back & let it happen. But we do not have to strand them on The Island with The Lord of the Flies. Are these other 3 year olds? Is the teacher taking her once-a-day potty break while this is going on?

    You’re doing a great job letting Tony grow up to be the best Tony he can be— warm cuddles, hard knocks & all. What you describe is not a fault of YOUR parenting. It is a shortcoming on the part of the other parents & the school. Speak up. Let them know that you will not tolerate what they are allowing. In almost any other school, public or private, the teachers would step in to stop such a persistent targeting.

    One day Tony will have to fight his own battles. One day Tony will know himself and the world well enough to know what is worth standing up for and what is useless enough to walk away from.

    Three years old is not that one day. Be a Momma Bear.

  9. Geoff Taylor February 22, 2011 at 5:20 pm #

    I was like that to a point. I never told anyone. Years later when I did mention it no one seemed to believe me for some reason, like I’d make that up. I wish I’d said something so many years ago. But I didn’t and I don’t know exactly what I would have wanted my parents to do about it. I was afraid of my dad being disappointed when I was a kid taking it all. Now because of it, I think I’d want to talk with my son about his troubles if he has them, not have Christina do it. And I think I’d be the one at the school. He’s three now and he’s not in a full program yet. But whether he is 3 or 10, I’d do something because I was too afraid to when I was his age.

  10. BrownBabys February 22, 2011 at 9:52 pm #

    Inappropriate behavior on the playground (or anywhere in school) should be brought to the teacher’s attention. Then the director’s, if necessary.

    If this doesn’t work, call in the Nonna.

  11. TheJBO February 23, 2011 at 9:31 am #

    You know what I find interesting about this post? The teacher specifically said, “Don’t you let kid A or kid B push you around”.

    This indicates to me that the staff is aware of the issue and either don’t know how to deal with it, or it’s too much like work, so they aren’t. And that’s what I hate about daycare sometimes. When you get a good teacher…it’s GREAT. When you get the average middlewage “babysitter” it’s bad and almost dangerous.

    You should absolutely have a conversation with the teachers, and don’t apologize for your concerns. Don’t make up excuses for them. Just tell them what you saw, why you’re concerned and let them suggest solutions. If you don’t like their solutions? You need to meet with the director.

    I worked at a VERY affluent daycare in town and was appalled at how stupid some of the staff were. We like to give teachers the benefit of the doubt because we sympathize with what a hard job it truly is. The reality is that daycare is high turnover low wage position, so it does tend to attract people who are unqualified.

    You’ll know you have a good teacher when he/she listens to your concerns, validates them, and lets you know what the classroom protocol is and even what she is doing with the other kids and Tony to rectify. The teacher can’t really give names of the “bullies” but she can give generic examples of things they are doing to work with students who exhibit that behavior.

    Now I know WHY Duck and Fish keep playing together after Duck has hit Fish so many times he had to go to jail.

  12. Tami February 23, 2011 at 1:56 pm #

    My 5 yr old had an issue with bullies in his kindergaten class this year. As a mom it was soo hard to send him to school while thiswas happening- he was scared and crying and developed stomach aches because he did not want to go there. I had to talk to the teacher several times about several differnt students that were shoving, hitting and slapping him at differnt times during a 2 week period. The teacher and principle took every incident seriously and tried to stop it though it was difficult becasue the parents of one of the students did not seem to care or want to help stop their students behavior. During a time of extreme frustration my husband and I did talk to our son about keeping these students away from him- we talked about walking away, talking to a teacher or yard duty but if a student continued to follow him around just to pick on him that he could do what he had to in order to get away which might include a push or shove- I kind of feel that while leaving the situation is Definitly the best course of action there does come a point where I want my kid to defend himself so that he is not hurt or afraid. It was also hard to be a parent volunteer in the class and be nice and objective to theose students that were being mean. Thankfully everything has evened out without out my son having to defend himself (I hope he never has to) but he does still have a hard time conecting with the other boys in the class. I just want him to have friends and be happy in kindergarten-is that really too much to ask- seriously 5yr old bullies- CRAZY!

  13. katy March 4, 2011 at 5:18 pm #

    Thank you for your honesty, for expressing your concern. My boys are still young, my oldest is only 2 1/2, but we are already seeing what having a sensitive child is going to look like. Even at such a young age I have been asked how I feel about him being so “compassionate” and “gentle”! I didn’t realize that these were bits of his personality that were not ok. I am now left wondering how to encourage him in a world where it just isn’t accepted for a boy to be like that.

    Thank you for reminding me that we are not alone.


  1. The Anvil Tree » What About the Bullying? (and other follow-ups) - March 2, 2011

    […] WHAT: On Raising Boys […]

  2. The Anvil Tree » How Many Ways Can My Heart Break? - May 31, 2011

    […] I’ve written a few times about the increasing issues we’ve had with bullying at school. (Mind you, for clarification: I call it ‘school’, but it’s daycare.  He’s only THREE.)  Bryan had spoken to the director, who has since left the position.  We saw nothing improving, so when we learned of an interim director coming in, Bryan took another opportunity to speak to her. […]

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