Bringing out the best in boys
Lucinda Neall, author of About Our Boys, a practical guide to bringing out the best in boys, answers some common questions about bringing
Q. I feel like all I do is moan and nag my nine-year-old son, and I’m sure we’re stuck in a vicious circle. How can I get him to do as he’s asked without nagging?
A. Lots of parents do get stuck in a vicious circle like this, so it’s good when you recognise it and take avoiding action. The trick is to think of what you say as a reminder rather than a nag, and to use a positive tone and as few words as possible.
So if you want him to take off his shoes when he comes in, you say ‘shoes’; if he’s about to leave without his packed lunch, you say ‘lunch’; when it’s time for bed, you say ‘it’s bedtime’. Do make sure, however, that you have his attention before you say anything or you might be wasting your breath!
When he does what you ask then acknowledge it – ‘thank you’, ‘well done’, ‘nice one’… If he doesn’t do what you ask remind him again in firmer but quieter voice.
Q. I seem to spend so much time telling my son ‘no’, and don’t do that, don’t act like that, don’t use those words – I’m worried his self-esteem will start to suffer. But how do I get him to behave better without being so negative?
A. You are right, focusing on the negative all the time can affect a child’s self-esteem, so it’s essential to notice when he’s doing the things you want him to do and praise him for that. And actually he’ll be doing what you want him to do most of the time, it’s just that you take it for granted so don’t comment on it!
Once you are in the habit of telling him what he’s doing right, he will feel good about himself and tend to behave better anyway. But boys like mischief so there will still be times you’ll find yourself asking him not to do things; at these times try to be more positive by telling him what you want him to do rather than what you don’t want him to do.
So instead of ‘don’t leave your toys all over the floor’ say ‘put your toys in the toy box’; instead of ‘don’t go in the road’ say ‘stay on the pavement’. You’ll find this hard at first, but after a bit of practice it will come naturally.
If you have a son in year six, you might want to start planning for the next few years, by reading Lucinda's latest book, How to Talk To Teenagers
Q. I’m so tired of battling to get my son to do his homework. Any ideas?
A. Find a time when both you and he are relatively relaxed and calm to sit down and make a plan together. Acknowledge that he may not enjoy homework but it has to be done, so you need to come up with the least painful way of getting it out of the way.
Explore your ideas on paper (you do the writing, not him, unless he volunteers to). For example, you might write down all the things he’s likes to do after school e.g. play outside, computer games, see his friends, watch TV; and all the things he needs to do e.g. have a snack, do homework, have a meal, go to bed by a certain time. Then work out between you the best
way to fit these in while making sure the homework gets done.
So you might agree that after school he needs to be able to chill out, have a snack and play outside, but at a certain time he has to come in and do homework. Once the homework’s done he might be able to play a computer game for half an hour as a reward. The conversation needs to be collaborative, and the solution needs to be something he can readily buy into.
Try the new system for two weeks and then review it. Once you get into the habit of problem solving in this way you can use it for other situations.
Q. My son’s teacher called me because he had used inappropriate language at school. I’m horrified because I have not brought him up to use that sort of language. Why would he do that?
A. Most boys (and girls) will experiment with inappropriate language; it’s part of growing up. They usually do it out of earshot of their parents, so some parents will find out about it and others will not. While it is disappointing and embarrassing when you are told about it, don’t be too horrified – he may simply be experimenting and testing out boundaries.
The good news is that he has come up against a strong boundary: the school is unhappy enough to report the behaviour to you. Explain clearly and calmly why such language is inappropriate and unacceptable.
No need for big lectures or punishments though, as this may just make him resentful and rebellious. The fact the school has called you is likely to be punishment enough.