Have you seen this absolutely adorable video of a boy helping his baby brother out of the crib? If you haven’t, take a moment and watch right now.
This video showcases everything I love about little boys — their compassion, creativity, persistence and problem-solving. I mean, think about what’s happening here: Baby brother wants OUT. He can’t make that happen on his own. Big brother comes in, recognizes his brother’s need, and manages to solve the problem with the materials at hand. (Would you think to put the chair in the crib, to make it easier for the baby to crawl out?) This plan takes quite a bit of strength and daring, yet big brother worked with baby brother, encouraged him and helped him just as much as needed. And in the end, both brothers celebrate their accomplishment.
Now, as a mom of four boys, I also appreciate the frustration experienced by the boys’ parents. I mean, I know how hard it can be to get a baby to go down for a nap! I know exactly what it’s like to crave and NEED the few moments of peace and quiet you get when your kids are each tucked soundly in their beds (or, at least, in their bedrooms.) I’m pretty sure Mom & Dad didn’t want that baby up yet, and Mom was probably slightly terrified when she saw the video of her older son easing a chair into the baby’s crib. (After all, the chair could’ve clonked the baby on the head.)
The paradox of parenting boys is that the very same traits that make them wonderful and awesome create all kinds of challenges as well. Risk-taking can lead to great accomplishments — and emergency room visits. A desire to experiment while problem-solving can lead to creative solutions — as well as massive messes, injuries and broken materials. The drive to figure something out via hands-on exploration leads to mastery, growth and pride — but can also create chaos.
All too often, we adults squash boys’ innate inclinations simply because they make our lives more complicated. All too often, we have a hard time looking beyond our own goals and interests; we don’t pause to consider the world through our boys’ eyes. Think about it: The energy and determination in this video is too often viewed as troublesome, rather than as a strength. In far too many schools, boys’ desire to experiment, to touch, to take risks is seen as problematic. No wonder our boys feel unwelcome and undervalued in school!
One thing we can do to help counter that negative messaging is to recognize and reaffirm boys’ strengths. Don’t think of risk-taking as a liability; pause consider all the positive things that have come about in the world because brave people have taken risks. In conversations with your son, praise his willingness to take chances, and talk about some of the great inventions and advancements that have occurred only because someone was willing to take a risk. (It’s OK to weave in a few words about safety and prudence!)
When you see your son help another — as the older brother did in this video — acknowledge and praise his inclination to help others. You can add detail and clarification to help him tailor his interventions next time — “When you hear your baby brother us, come check with Mom or Dad before going in” — but don’t scold, belittle or shame him for what, in his eyes, was an altruistic gesture.
When you see boys working together physically to solve a problem, let them, if at all possible; boys learn more when they are allowed to work out problems together. Boys spur each other on to take risks, try harder and persist longer, and far from being a bad thing, that’s as aspect of masculinity and boy culture that helps boys and men grow and achieve. It’s an aspect of masculinity that helps our families and societies too.
Boy energy is so often misunderstood, and so underappreciated. Build your boy’s self-concept and self-worth by recognizing, embracing and celebrating his strengths.