Last night I was reading a section in Steve Biddulph’s “Raising Boys” titled “Why boys scuffle and fight”. The answer is testosterone. “There’s no doubt it causes energetic and boisterous behaviour...Boys feel insecure and in danger if there isn’t enough structure in a situation...they begin jostling with each other to establish the pecking order.”
This is interesting, but difficult to know how to deal with in practise. Today was a good example.
My two boys were playing in the park with three children they don’t see that regularly so don’t know that well. They were just settling down, playing around each other while they got used to each other again, when two other boys about the same age arrived. The youngest, probably three but a big three, was being a dinosaur, approaching our children with hands out and growling. Ours didn’t like this, my three year old shied away, said he was scared. They all became aggressive with each other, prowling around the equipment, running off saying “he’s going to get me”, but not in a way that was fun, interactive play.
As a mother I was concerned whether my boys started the aggression or were just responding to those boys. The atmosphere did change when they arrived but that may just have been because there were two groups, unknown to each other. Following what Steve Biddulph says the two new boys felt intimidated so responded with aggression and ours were galvanised into working together and forming a united front against the “interlopers”. On a positive note our children were suddenly having a wonderful game making dens and running about, even if it was to “get away” from these other boys.
Steve Biddulph writes that aggression is a reaction to no structure; he goes on to talk about why boys get into dangerous gangs. But should we provide structure in the park or is it important to let them experiment with relationships and behaviour? Is it too easy to say “they’re just being boys” when we should be dealing with their aggression? Were they victims to their testosterone or simply being badly behaved!
As mothers do we sit back and let them find their own way or should we interrupt and encourage them to “play nicely”. I only intervened when the frustrations became physical and then I insisted they said sorry and told them all off, equally, as one group. I’m not someone who’s afraid of talking to other people’s children and maybe the other parents didn’t approve, but they were sitting eating Pringles on a bench while their son was grabbing at mine!
It is so difficult to know how to respond to two active and vocal boys. The more I discipline the more they react but I can’t use that as an excuse to let them do and say whatever they want. Steve Biddulph may have some interesting theories but, in the moment, when confronted with noisy reality, it’s always difficult to know how best to practically apply those theories.