By Suzette A. Cohen
I thought I had it all figured out back in the mid-1980s when my first son was born. I believed the way boys acted was completely a result of society and how they were raised. All I needed to do was provide my son with a variety of boy and girl toys, raise him to be female sensitive and he would end up as a caring and nurturing adult. Well, he did turn out that way, but it was despite me.
I have had my own personal laboratory to study and understand boys. I was blessed with three of them born within five years. I was given the best opportunity to examine and evaluate how these little people, so different from me, operated. My background in psychology, sociology and juvenile justice provided some framework, but personal experience was the best teacher. And this is what I learned:
- Boys like to make loud sounds. I did not hear my boys cooing over the sweet cabbage patch dolls they each had, instead they made highway noises with their trucks as they drove them up and down the hall walls, for hours on end. This fascination with sounds further developed into a love of body sounds including burping, that horrible sound made by flapping your armpit over your hand, and yes, other sounds made by other parts of the body.
- Boys like to run, climb and jump. After my oldest son broke his arm for the third time, I realized we were in trouble. Having been a former DFCS worker, I knew red flags were flying over the many stitches and broken bones we presented at the ER. Fortunately, our orthopedic surgeon immediately calmed my fears and said to me, "we know there is no way you could have done this to him". At least he understood what my life was like. He was the one who taught me about the 60 degree rule. When the temperature rises above 60 degrees, there are more orthopedic injuries because children are outside playing. He is still my personal hero to this day.
- Boys need to be given words for their feelings. There is a lot of energy in those little bodies and teaching boys words is magical. My two year old son, Jordan learned to say, "I am frustrated" or "I feel sad". Teaching words for feelings at a young age helped us avoid much aggression and many meltdowns. And to this day, my sons are very much in touch with emotions and feelings.
- Boys love bad smells. I still cannot figure out why all three of my sons gag when I put on sweet smelling hand lotion, yet smile when they walk into a rank smelling hockey arena and say, "mmm, it smells like hockey". I should have known this was in my future when Eric, my youngest, cried when I washed his blanket because he liked the way it smelled (it was disgusting). I believe my boys are hardwired in this way-maybe as cavemen the smell of rotting meat was pleasant to them.
- Boys need structure, stability, and boundaries. As a kindergartener, I thought my oldest was destined for prison. His behavior cards were on red most days, he was always in trouble over not following the nap rules (he had not napped in two years by the time he got to kindergarten) and he loved creating and implementing his own school rules. What I learned from Zach is that there needs to be rules, but expectations have to be reasonable. He was a spirited little boy who always walked on the periphery, but with a watchful eye and, with teachers who appreciated his unique ways, he was able to soar academically. I wish I had realized that expecting a five year old to lie still for one hour on a mat was torture. Most teachers along the way were amazing and I learned to hear what they had to say and be grateful for the difficult job they were doing. I saw school as an extension of our home and appreciated the partnership between the two. Prison was not in Zach's future; in fact he is now in medical school studying to be an orthopedic surgeon. I guess those three broken arms made an impression.
- Boys need men in their lives. My husband is a boy in a man suit. Most of the humor that my children find funny comes from him. I do not like the Three Stooges, Mel Brooks or Austin Powers. My home already contains those characters. After watching the Three Stooges, I had to intervene to keep Zach from poking his brothers' eyes out. OK-so maybe I am a bit too serious, but my husband balances that out with his sense of humor, enormous capacity for play, and yes, that love of hockey.
- Boys need free time. I intuitively knew that over scheduling my sons would be devastating. They would come home from school, have a snack and then play for at least an hour. They needed that outlet. They played hockey from the ages of four through high school, and all became accomplished musicians. This was their passion, not mine. I did not live my life vicariously through them. They could have become video game addicts, but I monitored their usage and certainly screened the games they played. When it was homework time, I made it their job, not mine. Homework was never a hassle because my children's future was based on their performance, not mine, and they knew that. They took ownership of their school work and I am proud say, all three are excellent students. But there is something important to mention-there is wonderful help for those who are struggling with homework, school or have some learning challenges. GET HELP SOONER RATHER THAN LATER. I was lucky to work with some of the best psychologists in this city who I asked questions of all the time. Those who have children who are struggling, consult with a psychologist or your pediatrician TODAY. Advocate for your child and get them the help they need.
I have highlighted some of the lessons I have learned from the three boys in my life. This is not to say that all boys are like this or that girls are not like this for that matter; this is just my experience as a mom of three boys. What I know for sure is that raising boys has been a challenge, a learning experience and most of all, an honor. I now have three young men in my life who are loving, funny, smart, and productive members of society. I did not do this alone. With the help of family, community, and co-workers, I am proud to say, I have three sons who are sensitive and caring men, and still boys to the core, and probably always will be.