Parenting educator, Maggie Dent says that her latest release, Mothering Our Boys is the book she was born to write. Which is quite a thing to say, given the ‘Queen of Common Sense’ is loved nation-wide for her advice on parenting. She’s published 11 books, produced a DVD series and her live events sell out across the country.
Maggie shares five of her top tips for raising our boys well.
1. Understand that biology has a part to play
While times have changed and we’re no longer as defined by our gender, Maggie says it’s important to understand that when you break it down to biology, boys are fundamentally different to their mothers.
“We’re still basically wired to be cavemen and cavewomen; the biological drivers are still quite strong. Boys still have the drive to be the defender and protector, which involves a lot of warrior play.”
Women might be more inclined to be introspective, and then talk it out (as women would gather food, prepare food in groups and look after children). Whereas men and boys have the drive to complete things and to be successful on an external level (such as when hunting for the tribe).
Maggie says if we can understand how biology can affect the way we communicate, then we can understand the strange behaviours our boys sometimes display (like making every stick a sword, pestering you for nerf guns or karate kicking every inanimate object).
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2. Why labelling boys as ‘naughty’ is misguided
Ever had a boy smash someone else’s sand castle? Throw their clothes on the floor in a tanty? Smack you in the face?
Maggie Dent says that branding a boy as naughty is fundamentally missing the point.
“Boys find it much more difficult to articulate big ugly feelings, and their behaviour is actually a form of language. Brain research shows that when we get upset as women, it goes from our limbic brain, straight into our words centre. For boys, it goes into the limbic brain, straight into the body. So his body is expressing what a girl might say in words at that moment.”
When a boy does something completely inappropriate, Maggie says it’s often that his body is trying to express feelings he hasn’t got words for.
3. Everyone needs to accept that boys can cry
If we want our boys to grow up with an ability to express their emotions, we have to let them cry. Often mums can be understanding of letting their boys cry, but other significant people in their lives (dads, educators, grandparents) haven’t received the memo.
Sometimes, Maggie says, we have to get our men to a place where they understand how important it is to be vulnerable.
“When I do my workshops with men, I say the most brave and courageous thing you can ever do is own your vulnerability and sit in the feelings, whether it’s loss or failure. That is way more courageous than denying it or hiding it.”
4. Show your boys you love them, even when they make mistakes
We’re not talking about mistakes like misspelling your name. We’re talking about the kind of mistakes that make you want to howl at the moon. Like spilling beetroot on your favourite pastel shirt, punching his sister, or telling your mum she smells like old cabbage.
Maggie’s counselling work with young men has shown her how vulnerable they can be to the fear of failure.
And with the suicide rate currently higher in men, what we teach them as boys really matters.
“A man can often have a sense that it’s easier for him to die than lose, or lose something huge to them (like their sense of status),” says Maggie. “That’s why we’ve got to help little boys when they muck up. We have to help them work it out, talk about what went wrong and what they were trying to do. Tell them we can make it right and that we still love them, even when they make mistakes.
“The only way for our boys to grow into men who can absolutely hold their heart open to the people they love the most in the intimate spaces, is by not crushing it when they’re little boys.
“There is just as much tenderness inside boys and men as there is in girls and women.”
5. Work out your boy’s ‘love language’
Women tend to be responsive to words of love, but boys need to be shown.
Maggie’s advice on this front is to be demonstrative in your love. Have a special bedtime ritual – maybe you’ll tickle them, cuddle them, make up a special handshake, or write notes and meaningful cards.
With her own son, Maggie realised that a regular head massage was all he needed.
“He would often just sit in front of me, right the way even through his puberty years. When he was really revolting and didn’t wash his hair, he would put his head up waiting for me to massage. He didn’t want me to talk to him, he just wanted me to do that every now and then.”
Working out how your boy receives love is important, but Maggie says there is always one surefire way to make a connection.
“Don’t forget the power of the little tiny fart. From a mum to a son, a little quiet fart next to them can be a sign of bonding and love, especially when they’re 14 and not wanting to talk to you. Trust me, it’s in their language.”