Articles for Parents

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    How to Help Boys Thrive

    Not long ago, I wrote a provocative column concerning men and marriageability. At the end I asked, “What will we do to help our boys succeed in life and relationships?” The good news is, we can do all kinds of things to ensure that boys and girls have the same opportunities in education, earning potential and life in general.  

    Many researchers believe that the educational system itself plays a large role in how well boys do or don’t fare. Others cite technology and video games, the breakdown of the family, the focus on women’s equality or the lack of positive male role models as reasons - just to name a few. The reality is that ALL of these things contribute to whether boys succeed or fail. 

    Will Honeycutt, assistant director of counseling at The McCallie School for Boys, believes that technology plays a role in disconnecting boys from real life. Whether it’s binge-watching episodes of Game of Thrones over a weekend, playing video games or being entrenched in social media, technology is isolating boys from valuable experiences, interacting with others, engaging in conversation, learning emotional regulation and figuring out who they are as a person.

    So, how can we help boys thrive in an ever-changing culture? 

    Troy Kemp, executive director for The National Center for the Development of Boys in Chattanooga, Tenn., has some ideas we can use, whether at home or in the community. 

    BOYS AND GIRLS ARE NOT THE SAME

    Boys are different than girls - not better than - but different. Their bodies and brains mature differently, and they take in and process information differently. Boys and girls have varying strengths and weaknesses. 

    Research shows that teaching in educational settings leans heavily toward the strengths of the female brain, so actively addressing variety in learning styles and responses is a great place to start. Teachers can choose reading materials to reflect the interests of boys. Boys need to be surrounded by positive influences that will help them break through the popular culture’s narrow definition of manhood, and having more male teachers in the classroom would be a step in the right direction. 

    WHAT ABOUT AT HOME?

    Kemp feels that parents need to educate themselves about how boys (and others who wiggle) learn best and what intrinsically motivates them. Boys need examples of excellence, and using words and visuals can help them see things more fully and hold their attention. It is important that we don’t automatically assume boys aren’t trying if they don’t respond the way we want or expect. It may be possible that we didn’t clearly express our expectations, which may be very different from theirs.

    According to Kemp, boys also need to develop a proper vision for manhood and masculinity. In order to achieve that vision, they need to be exposed to male mentors who are balanced in their approach to life, learning, unconditional love and emotions. Having a community of men who are behind them makes a great impact and prepares them to mentor others. 

    “Boys need a crew and a cause,” says Kemp. “They need to know someone is counting on them and they can count on others. Boys need to know what is important to them is also important to parents…especially their fathers.”

    If you’re a father, get on your son’s level and don’t discount what is important to him. Give him choices within the choices you approve. Parents can model responsibility and healthy relationships with technology and everything else. 

    • Count the number of hours boys are in front of screens. Excessive amounts of screen time for children, especially boys, can be detrimental to healthy brain development. 
    • Make sure they are getting at least two hours of physical exercise every day. Don’t pull your son from a team or group if his grades drop. Work with the coach or group leader and use their power and influence.
    • Be intentional about teaching and modeling the qualities of healthy relationships and don’t assume they know what unhealthy looks like. 
    • Drive-time is a great time for conversation about what a lot of teens consider awkward topics. That way, nobody is looking at facial expressions. You can make it a media-free moment, too.
    • Take advantage of current situations to talk about accountability and responsibility, including healthy ways to handle anger or disappointment and treating people with respect who are disrespectful to you. 
    • Point them toward healthy role models beyond Mom and Dad - coaches, trusted friends and relatives - so they have more than their parents speaking into their lives and encouraging them on their journey into adulthood.
    • Spend one-on-one time with your child. Let them set the agenda for your time together. Fathers, try reading to and with your children. 
    • Volunteer together as a family. Go on a mission trip, help out at a local nonprofit or do something that involves giving to others. There is a real chemical reaction in the brain when we help others in need that makes us feel good and makes us want to do more acts of kindness.

    All of these things combined can help boys thrive in school and in life. Boys with a strong support system have a foundation to build upon as they enter manhood and make wise decisions about their future.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on October 5, 2019.


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    Easy Ways to Help Your Child Develop Fine Motor Skills

    As a parent, you might be in too much of a hurry if:

    • You talk on the phone when your child tells you about their day;

    • Your kids eat most meals in the car;

    • You dress your child when she can dress herself – buttoning, zipping, finding her coat, etc;

    • Your child constantly hears, "Are you ready?" or "Hurry up!";

    • Your child never completes a project at play time;

    • You don’t have time to read to your child or let him/her read to you; and

    • You don’t have enough time to talk with and listen to him/her.

    Why does this matter? All of these activities help your child develop fine motor skills critical for reading and writing.

    “In order for a child to develop holistically, fine motor skills are very important,” says Lu Lewis, early childhood educator. “When you slow down and allow your child to do the activities listed above, you allow him to learn eye-hand coordination. His hands and eyes learn to work together. For example, when you give a child something to cut out, their eyes see what you want them to cut and their hands cut what their eyes see.”

    Even simple things like a baby grasping for an object is a fine motor skill.

    When a parent always gives the rattle to the baby, it robs them of an opportunity to learn this skill.

    “A mom once asked me if it was bad if she didn’t play with her child all the time,” Lewis says. “In today’s society, I think many people believe they are not being good parents if they are not always entertaining their child. The truth is your child needs to play for a period of time with an object in order to complete a play cycle and concentrate to the point that it is etched into their long-term memory. Many educators see children in their classroom who are always dependent on an adult to complete a project for them because they have never completed a project by themselves.”

    Believe it or not, helping your child develop fine motor skills is not complicated.

    Just including your child in your day can help develop these skills. Folding laundry, talking with your child as you cook, letting him walk with you to the mailbox and allowing him to open the mailbox and grab the mail, asking him to get a pan or utensil for you, and allowing him to play in the tub with toys are all activities that help to naturally develop these necessary skills.

    “Most parents I work with really want their child to do well,” Lewis says. “Sometimes parents do things they believe are helping their child when they are actually hindering their development. The number one thing I would tell parents is to slow down, relax and let your child truly experience life.”

    In addition to including your child in your daily activities, Lewis encourages parents to:

    • Walk with your child down the street and count bricks or pick dandelions.

    • Encourage them to sit at the kitchen table while you fix dinner and string beads or sort blocks by color instead of watching television or playing on the computer.

    • Incorporate time for your child to play every day.

    “Learning is a human endeavor,” Lewis says. “It takes place from one human to another and it requires your most precious commodity, time.”

    For more insight on parenting, download our E-book "4 ways to stay connected after Baby" Download Here


    Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!