Back in August, I shared my excitement about having a future Mom in the City Q&A with Michael G. Thompson, PhD in the post “Questions About a Boy.” Dr. Thompson is a psychologist, school consultant, and author/co-author of eight books, including the classic bestseller, Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys and It’s a Boy! Understanding Your Son’s Development from Birth to Eighteen.
Well, I’m happy to write that the wait is over! Dr. Thompson was gracious enough to answer ten of our top questions. I will be sharing a couple of questions and answers each Friday during the month of November, so be sure to check back each week. Here are the first two …
1. What do parents need to understand about preschool-aged boys?
I think parents, especially moms who weren’t raised with brothers when they were young, need to understand that boys really are different from girls, or more accurately, the average boy has a different arc of development than the average girl. Boys cry more easily than girls and are harder to calm; they are more impulsive and developmentally immature when compared to girls of the same chronological age. Their impulsivity can sometimes be scary to parents; boys are so impulsive that they can dash out into the street in an instant. We have to keep an eye on them. Fathers sometimes need to be reminded that boys don’t have to be “turned into” men, that their crying and need for cuddling when they are two and three doesn’t mean they will grow up to be soft. Little boys need every bit as much love, cuddling, attention, comfort, and guidance as girls do.
Most of all, parents need to remember that boy development is trustworthy. For some reason, parents generally feel that girls are going to be okay and they seem to trust in their development. With boys, parents sometimes panic and are afraid that developmental immaturity at three or four, a problem with anger for example, will mean that their son won’t be a healthy or loving man. It is overwhelmingly likely that he will grow up to be a loving, competent man. When an exasperated mother is trying unsuccessfully to potty train a reluctant boy at three, she may lose faith in boy development, especially when she remembers that her daughter was trained at two. She has to remember that almost no sixteen-year-old boys are still wetting their pants! Boys do get there, just more slowly.
2. Why are boys’ fantasy stories and imaginary games often so violent? Is that something parents should be concerned about?
I prefer to think of boys as being drawn to stories of adventure and power. They love dramatic tales involving conflict between good and evil, life and death. People are so disturbed by the fact that there are killings in boys’ stories that they fail to notice that the hero has often slain a villain. Boys work out their aggressive and angry impulses in stories in which they are heroic figures, filled with moral and physical strength. I believe that is what mythology, drama, art, and storytelling are all about and have always been about. (After all, almost every one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays—Hamlet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar—is full of murders).
It is every boy’s wish to grow up to be a strong, respected man. His play and his fantasies always reveal that wish, if you can listen to his heroic yearnings behind the surface blood and guts. Children under five don’t really understand the permanence of death, so killing and dying in a little boy’s stories is just an expression of his desire to win. Since girls rarely engage in this kind of play, we have to ask the question: are little boys’ brains wired to be attracted to aggressive stories? I think they are.