Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Boys Will Be Boys

Normal male behavior is often incomprehensible to women.  We who are in charge of small children should try to be aware that when boys are violent, loud, messy, obstinate, competitive, and otherwise "not nice," they are simply being boys. 

I have a bright, personable eight year old boy on my caseload who was referred for handwriting and other minor academic delays.  He's doing really well these days, but his mother reports that his teachers complain that he has "anger management issues."   I was surprised to hear that, because despite some sensory defensiveness,  which we are addressing successfully, this child doesn't strike me in the least as having any social difficulties whatsoever.  He is affectionate, flexible, good natured, has a strong sense of humor, and interacts well with the other adults and children in the clinic.  He is also a talented, driven, exceedingly passionate athlete.

 I asked his mother what the school was telling her, and she said that the teachers feel that he cares way too much about the outcomes of the games that are played in gym or at recess.  I asked if his caring extended to hitting, swearing, throwing things, refusing to concede points, excessive arguing, disrespectful behavior to teachers or classmates, or otherwise acting out.  No, was the response.  He just gets very excited, turns red, and yells more loudly than the other children.

Anger management issues?

Here's what I have observed:  he does insist on turning every clinic activity into some kind of competition, which can be a little tiring for a middle aged lady such as myself, but isn't that normal for a boy?   Once when he was playing with a much younger, less skilled child, I took him aside and asked him to please hold back and let the other boy score some shots.  He behaved in a very gentle, classy manner throughout the game, and I was frankly impressed by his restraint and kindness. 

He likes to play games in which he competes with me, and when we face off,  he assumes a look so concentrated and fierce that a little thrill of fear and awe runs through me. It's a bit unsettling.  He reminds me of Dave Stewart,  my favorite lead off pitcher from baseball's greatest team ever, the Oakland A's circa 1988.  {Favorite closer: Dennis Eckersley.} But although he is determined to win, he does not cheat, nor does he tantrum if I score a point against him.  He simply revs himself up, talks a little trash, and competes twice as hard.  His level of sportsmanship, in my clinical opinion, is perfectly acceptable for such a young child.

I wonder why the people in charge of this little boy's life feel the need to educate him out of his greatness.  He is highly, unusually competitive, but isn't that a trait that will carry him far when he is out in the big bad world?   If he does become a professional athlete, or even just goes to school on an athletic scholarship, his coaches should expect nothing less from him.

 People in Manhattan are not used to athletes.  We are, for the most part, things like bankers, lawyers, businessmen, therapists, and artists.  We generally behave, for the most part, like city dwellers, who value exquisite manners and a soft spoken, polite demeanor.  Consequently, the grownups, who are not looking at the big picture, are telling him that the very thing that makes him unique, and that gives him an enormous edge over others, is not an acceptable part of his personality.  Did Babe Ruth's grammar school principal suggest to his parents that he needed therapy because he was overly competitive?  What about the people who raised and educated Bobby Orr?  Barry Bonds?  Joe Namath? Roger Clemens? Claude Lemieux? Michael Jordan?  I am sure that even as very young boys, they wanted and needed to be the best, and as far as I can determine, no one sent them to psychologists to re-educate them and make them more socially acceptable to others.

Normal human behavior varies tremendously, from country to country, culture to culture, family to family, person to person.    Unfortunately, we as a society are delineating what is acceptable and desirable behavior into ever narrower parameters.

Let's not force children whose personalities and character traits fall outside of these narrow norms to behave only in ways that we can understand, or that the culture of their schools deem acceptable.  Let's not shame them or make them feel that they are bad because they are different.  And let's be especially careful not to demonize normal male behavior.  It's perfectly normal for boys to swagger, trash talk, yell and scream, enjoy violence, hit each other, and be viciously competitive.


Linda said...

Great post! I agree 100%, and have seen what you are talking about. Many years ago, a boy such as the one you are talking about would have been seen as a potential great warrior or hero. Somehow in our society, these same qualities are now seen as being bad. Different children deal with things differently, and that is not a bad thing.

Anonymous said...

Being a mother of three boys who act the same way is really hard...the problem these days is with the people around us ....there is always an explanation behind my kids' behaviour and what makes it worse is they always have the "theory" .many theories means no theory stop analysing kids all the time ..they are just being kids "sometimes"

Joena said...

Wow, ur article is really open my heart, Trully right, thanks. Keep posting.

Anonymous said...

First of all God bless you,for such a wonderful words

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this article.I have been very worried about my 5 year old not sitting still in class.