Saturday, November 14, 2009

Our Little Boy

Our 'Obi-Wan' is all boy.  
He loves collecting sticks for various purposes 
and here he is heading for the hole in the tree.

Before he was born, we nicknamed our son "Obi-Wan".  The pregnancy was a breeze.  The delivery was very easy.  And even after he was born, our baby seemed so calm, wise and gentle - even all-knowing.  He was so easy and then the Terrible 'something' just popped out of nowhere a few months shy of his 3rd birthday.  I was relieved when the Terrible 2s never seemed to show up... but these days I am at a loss of how to 'discipline' or in better terms how to teach our soon-to-be-3-year-old boy better 'habits'.

How to parent Obi-Wan without losing my head?  I reach for books to find solutions that can work for us.  Having read Raising Cain : Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys before 'Obi-Wan' was born, I have recently re-read it and found information I need to parent well.

Some excerpts:

Lacking an emotional education, a boy meets the pressures... with the only responses he has learned and practiced - and that he knows are socially acceptable - the typically "manly" responses of anger, aggression, and emotional withdrawal.

A boy must see and believe that emotions belong in the life of a man.

Many men readily acknowledge that... they prefer to avoid emotional people and situations.  That doesn't mean, however, that men lack the "wiring" for expressing or understanding emotion.  Newborn boys, on average, are actually more emotionally reactive than girls.  For example, studies show that baby boys cry more than baby girls when they are frustrated or upset.

We know that mothers who explain their emotional reactions to their preschool children and who do not react negatively to a child's vivid display of sadness, fear, or anger will have children who have a greater understanding of emotions.

In his weary review of life at school, Alan has described the nature of the problem so many boys have there.  In essence, they sit all morning, and they have to keep track of those little books and not drop them in the water.  And if they can't move around, they feel trapped and turned off to anything the teacher might have to offer.

A boy's most common response to controlling behavior is not to be controlled - to become confrontational or defiant.

The emotional turmoil a boy feels - shame, anger, sadness - and his difficulty expressing those feelings may contribute to high activity and impulsiveness.

Boys can achieve a high standard of self-control and discipline in an environment that allows them significant freedom to be physically active.

When adults use these more coercive, power-oriented approaches, even among young boys, we see a greater likelihood that the discipline will backfire: the boy will response with an aggressive counterattack to retaliate.  A parent may feel the incident is over when the boy stops the offending behaviour.  But if the boy feels unfairly assaulted or shamed, the conflict remains alive for him until he resolves the feelings.  That may take hours, days or much longer.

Good discipline contains a boy and his energy, providing the sense of physical and emotional security he needs in order to learn the larger lessons of self-control and moral behavior.  Good discipline is consistent; it provides clear and well-reasoned expectations and firm, compassionate guidance by adults who model the same standards and behavior in their daily interactions with a child and with others.  Good discipline engages a child, encourages contact instead of isolation, draws him into discussion instead of sending him away.  It involves the boy as consultant.  It may be with straightforward questions, such as "What is it you don't understand about this rule or don't agree with?" or "What do you need in order to change this pattern of behavior?"

If good discipline works so well, why don't we all just practice it?  Because it's work.  It takes a lot more time and effort to spend the hour with your son that he needs than it does to yell at him and then go do your own thing... When our disciplinary style encourages mutual understanding, it helps boys be better boys by leading us to better ways of teaching them.

... it helps to understand three things about the way a boy interprets incoming signals - real and imagined - and why he responds to his life and our lessons they way he does:
1. In boys the motivation for aggression is more "defensive" rather than offensive or predatory.
2. Boys are primed to see the world as a threatening place and to respond to that threat with aggression.
3. Boys often don't know or won't admit what it is that makes them angry.

... a boy will perceive a threat, either real or imagined, and react like a cornered animal.  It is aggression triggered by the need for protection or as a reaction to pain.

Once you understand that to be human is to be vulnerable - whether you are a boy or a girl - then you can go on and be brave, confident and productive from a solid foundation.

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