{Book Review} Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys

I love being a boy mom. There is always adventure. My son loves to pee outside. He loves to burp and toot. He loves to play imaginary games that, if you listen closely, are hilarious. He doesn’t like to be wrong. He is competitive. He loves to win. He loves to be loved and affirmed. 

Do you ever butt heads with your son? I do, all the time. We are a lot alike, which is scary. Do you ever get so angry with him you want to rip his head off? I have. He pushes me to my limits … so many times. 

I was a little fearful to have a son at first because I wondered, Will I connect with him? I’m a girl. I’m not sure I will “get” him. My, how my perspective has changed! (But I sure am glad for my husband!)

He is such a joy now at 5 years old — most of the time — but from 2 1/2 to 4, it was rough! We had knock-down, drag-out fights. I had major anger issues and when I responded to him in anger and rage, he would respond to me in anger and rage (let’s be honest, I raged and yelled yesterday). Thankfully, we got through it, though I know there will be more hard times ahead. Having come through that rough period, I wanted to take some time to encourage moms of toddler and preschool-age boys … there is light at the end of the tunnel! (But they will always have lots of energy!!!) 

When I was struggling with understanding my son and with how to discipline a toddler boy, a dear friend of mine suggested I read a book, Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys by Stephen James and David Thomas. It is a fantastic book that goes from ages 2 to 22, giving you practical advice for each stage, encouragement for you as the parent, and insight into the mind of a boy and the heart of a boy. I am going to give you some tips from the book that have been particularly helpful for me. These are for ages 2-4 and 5-8 because those are the only ages I have gone through so far. So, here it goes!

The Explorer :: Ages 2 – 4 

“Explorers need choices and responsibility, boundaries, and lots of opportunities to succeed.” (pg. 24) 

Tip: Don’t confuse him. Anticipate changes, and announce transitions in the daily routine. Boys need boundaries and clear expectations. Example: “You can play outside for 20 min and I am setting a timer. When it goes off you have 5 minutes to finish what you are doing and come inside.”

This was a helpful tip to implement for our son when we would go over to our neighbors’ house and play. He used to have major tantrums when we had to leave our neighbors’ house. Even when I started to warn him he had 5 minutes left to play, it was still tough and he would come home crying, kicking and screaming. But it didn’t take long to see improvement once my husband and I were consistent and really stuck with the 5-minute rule (instead of staying there talking to our neighbors forever). Tantrums became less and less. 

Tip: Limit his choices. This will bring a sense of achievement when he makes a choice and accomplishes a goal. Bonus if the activity provides an opportunity to burn energy! Example: “We are going to clean for 15 minutes. Do you want to dust the furniture, sweep the floor, or pick up the toys?””

Tip: Have your discipline make sense. Example: “Remember, I asked you not to throw balls in the living room. You can throw balls outside. Because you threw the ball in the living room, I’m going to put it up in the closet for the rest of the day.”

Tip: Give him space to roam.

A boy has to be outside … lots of outside time. Or a spacious area inside to play. Boys need boundaries (i.e. don’t run out in the street) but also freedom to just play, get dirty, and have fun. When my son was between the ages of 2-4, every time he woke up from his afternoon nap we would go outside and play. He loved every minute of it and so did I! If it was raining, we had a playroom inside with a small trampoline that he loved (and still does). He would jump and jump and jump on it! (I highly recommend a small inside trampoline as a gift from a grandparent or someone for a 2 year old!) It also helps get aggression out. Little boys have so much aggression they need to get out and these are great, safe places to do it, when supervised! 

Tip: Model self-control and self-regulation in your words and actions when you are frustrated or angry as a parent, teacher, or caregiver. If you are fired up, you will only add fuel to your child’s fire. It is important to use calm words and body language that communicate your authority. 

This is truly the hardest one for me… still. Who can really stayed controlled and calm when your son does something so stupid?! I get so mad and hot headed, I respond madly and on fire, and then what happens? So does my son. How else would he respond if I responded to him like that? I have learned to count to 10 to myself to calm down (take deep breaths) and then discipline him. Or I send him to his room for a few minutes while I can gather my thoughts and he can cool down too. He responds so much better when I model self control. I also think this gets easier with age. When they are young, they can’t regulate their own emotions (gosh, it’s hard for me to do and I am 34 years old), but when I can keep myself calm — which is hard — it does fare well for everyone involved. 

Tip: Praise him like crazy when he does something you like (or I say, when he obeys the first time!)

When JB was about 3, I started a “praise chart” in our kitchen. It was a sticker chart that kept track of when he obeyed Mommy or Daddy the first time. Each time, he would get a sticker. If he did not obey immediately, I would take a sticker away. He had to get 20 stickers, and then he got a prize. He always talked a lot about getting a pet, so his first prize was a Beta fish! (But it doesn’t have to be that kind of prize … it could be as simple as a water gun or a toy at the dollar store.) He was ecstatic!! This really was exciting to him, and it really encouraged me at a time when parenting was really hard.

The Lover :: Ages 5 – 8

“Lovers find themselves at a complex spot on their journey to manhood. Though they still exhibit many of the traits of Explorers (such as curiosity, activity, aggressiveness, and self-determination), these are balanced by more tender and relational characteristics. Our job as parents and caregivers is to nurture and help Lovers find the balance they need during this season.” (pg. 42) 

Tip: Give him lots of love and affection. Boys need this physical affirmation from trusted adults.

Tip: Reward good behavior. This is an important way to motivate your child in the Lover stage! Make sure he knows you’ve noticed when he does something right, especially if it’s something you’ve instructed him on. Giving hugs and high-fives and verbal encouragement will keep him doing the things you want him to do.

Tip: Get Him Involved. Little boys like to be involved in making decisions and plans. “Getting him involved will support the Lover’s emerging sense of responsibility and personal power.” 

My son loves to help with jobs/chores around the house, thankfully. He loves to help my husband with just about anything. For example, he loves helping wash the car, vacuuming, and emptying trash cans. He really enjoys doing a “project”, which is what we call them. I even let him help me in the kitchen! I grab a stool and pull it up and give him jobs like stirring the cookie mix or putting the spices in the beef for tacos. It is not only teaching him to help around the house and do his part, but it is giving him a sense of responsibility! 

Tip: Plan family game nights.

My son loves Uno, Jenga, Memory (matching), and Go Fish. We play these all the time and he loves it! We say Friday night is Family Game Night, and we let him pick out the game. He gets so excited! 

I hope this was helpful. It has been for me! And the great thing about this book is it gives you advice all the way to adulthood! 🙂 I don’t have this parenting of boys thing mastered by any means, but I know mommas need to encourage other mommas (makes me feel not alone). You  are doing a great job, Mom! Keep loving on those sons of yours. They are such precious gifts! 

“Boys need us first to recognize who they are. Then they need the help of wise and committed adults in navigating their way from boyhood to manhood.” (pg. xiii) 

 

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