No More Clowning Around: How to Build Self-Confidence in Boys
Ever noticed how boys often seem to be the ones with behavioral issues? Whether it be oddball antics in the classroom, constant clowning around when you’re dining out, or negative behaviors that seem to exhaust your attention, that Y chromosome that makes your boy a boy seems to be up to no good. But is gender really at fault here?
Author Kim Payne of Simplicity Parenting labels the underlying condition that can lead to behavioral problems and self esteem issues in middle or later childhood as the overwhelm of boys. According to Payne, the culprit is too much verbal input, environmental stimulation, and rushed activity. So what can you do about it?
Risks We Don’t Want
Boys are at higher risk for learning disabilities, lower grade point averages, and even suicide. Sad but true. They’ve fallen behind girls educationally and it’s surely not because they’re less intelligent. So what’s holding them back? Boys often get frustrated, begin to act-up in school, and the cycle of difficulties begins.
Maybe there’s something we’ve overlooked in our push to gain equal opportunities for girls. Maybe it’s time we address the actual differences in developmental styles for both sexes, equally.
Boys Need Time
“Boys need time, and lots of it,” says author Payne, and they “are much more affected by being hurried.” That gives us a good place to start helping boys at a young age. Cut out the rush and work within your child’s pace.
But how can you do that when you’re so hard-pressed for time? The philosophy of Simplicity Parenting – in very general terms – is that less is more. Less adult input and conversation, less media and screen time, and less exposure to one-dimensional, single-function toys. No robots that walk, talk, and spit fire simply by pushing a button, please. The more a toy does, the less a child does.
Similarly, the more you have scheduled, the less your child actually benefits. With boys, it’s generally best to keep your routine open and schedule transition time between activities. If change doesn’t come easily, rather than try to hurry your child, give them the time to prepare mentally for the next item up on the schedule.
Start with Your Toddler
When it comes to learning, play is an important factor – and the two work together in building self-confidence. Your toddler boy needs lots of time to experiment and discover his world. Simple toys with moving parts are a good place to start. Using his little fingers to repeatedly turn the wheels on a toy truck builds his confidence. Boys need to feel they can make things happen. Let him repeat the wheel-action as many times as he wants to. No rushing.
Boys “get into the world through ‘doing’ and that needs more time than thinking,” says author Kim Payne. A little boy is experiencing each nuance of possibility as he handles his toys. Later on, he may think through a problem in an abstract way, but for now he is figuring it out by moving stuff around. And trying things over and over again.
Boys Need to “Do Stuff”
Boys develop a wonderful sense of purpose and self-confidence if they’re allowed to do things at their own pace. Little boys begin to feel unworthy when they don’t feel industrious. That’s where their self-esteem develops. Behavioral problems can come up quickly if your little boy doesn’t feel he can perform and execute. Boys are also developmentally behind girls when it comes to both gross and fine motor skills – which means they need more time to learn to manipulate objects for the results they want. So rather than step in and help, give your child ample time for learning. He’ll feel accomplished and purposeful if he does it on his own. And if you feel empathetic to his efforts to “do stuff”, he’ll develop empathy for others as well.
Nature is your ally in supporting your boy’s growing self-esteem. There are the obvious reasons it’s good to go outside; the fresh air and movement are healthy and the sunshine gives you that feel-good vitamin D. There are also no media screens outside and less talking happens. Remember: The Simplicity Parenting idea calls for less adult conversational input. Figuring out how things work and making things happen is often a pretty quiet affair.
Nature is always changing and that means there will always be a different set of challenges for your boy to encounter. One day it might be worms crossing the sidewalk, and the very next day it’s interesting sticks and rocks that they discover. Your son doesn’t need a constant barrage of explanations, he needs slow time to figure them out himself. He will come to you with questions when he’s ready.
Self-Confidence and Careers
Of course you’re not thinking about your boy’s future career while you’re watching him spin the wheels on his truck, but his toddler-confidence will have an effect on his life choices to come.
Career coach Marty Nemko, Ph.D says in a recent issue of Psychology Today that “it’s harder than in previous generations for boys to acquire even moderate self-esteem.” He goes on to say that little boys do not get the same amount of “You’re great!” messages that little girls do.
Parents Can Help
Dr. Nemko has some suggestions for parents to help instill the “moderate self-esteem” boys really need to succeed:
- Remind him about his strengths, but also set reasonable limits and keep them.
- Find boy-friendly teachers at school. Elementary school teachers are 87% women. Find a teacher who allows boys plenty of movement time. She should also show appreciation for reading material that is action and adventure oriented.
- Encourage extra-curricular activities suited to your individual child. Video games have been shown to yield “a surprising array of learning and personal developmental gains.” Whatever your boys’ curiosities are, find a way for him to follow them.
- Choose books with positive male protagonists. PBS network has assembled a list of Best Books for Boys to get you started,
- Choose movies and TV shows that have positive stories about boys. Risk-taking, adventure, heroism, and personal drive are all qualities your boy needs to feel good about himself.
How do you help build self-confidence in your boy?