Mothering Our Boys

Updated 14-Sep-2023

Mothering our Boys by Maggie Dent

Janet Lansbury spoke on her podcast with Maggie Dent who wrote the book Mothering Our Boys. Several interesting points came out of the discussion. Many people see gender differences in raising children as being purely cultural, and cross-cultural studies definitely bear this out. However, there are as well biological differences that research bears out in terms of brain-based behavior differences. These differences are the differences between groups (boys and girls) so actual individuals may or may not fit these generalizations. We raise individuals, not groups.

Focus and Attention

Maggie Dent makes the point that boys tend to have a more singular focus. This can be hard to interrupt and so having to call the boy to do something requires repeated effort. The boy is simply focused on something and doesn't really hear the request. She cautions that this repetition should be avoided, and usually leads to the parent becoming angry at the child for not listening.

While Dent makes the claim that boys are particularly susceptible to singular focus and a lack of attention on others, children in general fit this profile. Patience through understanding is needed, as well as alternative approaches such as walking up to the child and touching them lightly to get their attention. Raising ones voice and repeating the request by itself is a losing approach.

Sometimes my boys come and ask me a question they well know the answer to, for example where something is in the house. I tend to say you know where that is, at which point the child says where they think the something is located (and generally they get it right).

  • Patience, understanding, physical interaction and verbal variety are the keys to focus and attention.

Language and Communication

Children in general and boys in particular may not engage in language as readily, especially in times of emotional stress. It takes time for my boys to process or have available the use of language to explain or understand situations and how they are being affected. It is not reasonable for a parent to demand that a child immediately express their feelings or even the facts of what happened in an unfolding event. Instead, try and draw the child along the path of verbalization by asking simple questions, or simply waiting a short time before engaging in conversation.

  • Waiting for communication, and later engaging in dialogue around events, thoughts and feelings are the keys to language and communication.

Emotion Sequencing

Both boys and girls can experience emotional sequencing in the same or different ways. I don't make a claim that girls do this differently, only what I see in my sons (I am not raising any daughters). What I see in my two sons are two common sequences, though of course they are not rigidly consistent:

  • Hurt to Anger
  • Anger to Sadness

If my boy is hurt for some reason, being hit by his brother, or scolded by a parent, he can become hurt and then retreat into anger. The anger can come quickly, as in when he retaliates against is brother, or sulks or says mean things meant to hurt back.

The anger, once it dissipates, can then result in sadness, a depressive feeling. My eldest son is very aware of this, and can verbalize feeling sad. In the toddler, a temper tantrum can result, with screaming and incessant demands. Eventually the anger turns to sadness and the boy wants to hug.

  • Understanding emotional sequencing and supporting that process without rushing or demanding a short circuit to the sequence are the keys to emotional sequencing.