Let Boys Be Boys


Most of us recognize that the behaviour of little boys is very different than that of little girls. But are we aware that:


  • behaviour is learned in a way predetermined by nature,
  • male and female brains develop differently,
  • brain development drives behaviour, and
  • the male brain develops far differently from the female brain?

I just finished reading two excellent books that shed considerable light on their development and, in doing so, allay fears that young boys are dysfunctional and every effort must be made to change their ways.

Louann Brizendine in her book, The Male Brain, Random House, 2010, points out that “boys’ fascination with movement is the result of circuitry that starts to form in the brain just eight weeks after conception.”

Anthony Rao & Michelle Seaton, in The Way of Boys, Harper Collins, 2009 states, “Boys build skills in a different order than girls.”

Little girls excel at talking and nurturing since they develop language and eye contact first. They learn quickly to recognize their‘s as well as other‘s feelings and put descriptive words to them.

Language and social skills develop later in boys. They may lag by as much as three years. Instead of dwelling on the face they turn away from eye contact preferring to investigate mechanical objects, wondering how they come apart. Their hot spots become physical activity, spatial awareness, categorizing things, and tactile skills.


Movement & Action

Researchers have found that by the time a boy is seven months old, he can tell by his mother’s face when she’s angry or afraid. But, unlike a girl, by the time he is twelve months old, he’s built up an immunity to her expressions and can easily ignore them. Instead of concentrating on mom’s emotions, he switches to automatic pilot, racing off into his next perilous experience.

This fascination with movement may be at the expense of listening and explaining. When asked to explain how they got answers in a math class (where they actually got answers quicker than the girls) words were a hindrance. Instead, they squirmed, twisted, turned and gestured with their hands and arms to explain how they got the answers. Not only do most boys need to move to explain, they need to move while learning. Sitting still is not “in their nature”. They need more space to move around to learn.


The “feeling-recognition and empathy” part of the boy’s brain is put on hold while the “problem-solving and exploring” part flourishes. Boys love to figure things out. To them, things are part of a system which needs to be taken apart and put back together sometimes in a different way. They are tactile and need toys they can take apart and put together again and again and again


First, do; second, see what happens; talk and listen much later. Boys learn by trial and error so be prepared for colossal errors as they experiment to determine what works for them. Rules have to be explained as a part of a set system. Rules must be consistent; if not, boys easily recognize the inconsistency and quickly learn to push the correct buttons to get what they want.

Competition, Strength

Having a brain that likes to categorize things leads to competition as boys wonder who is the fastest, who is the tallest, who is the strongest, loudest, etc. Competing to be first matters more to boys than girls.

By the age of two, a boy’s brain is driving him to establish physical and social dominance. From there on, forget about rules and working together. Young boys want to take charge, do want they want to do, and make their own rules. That’s more interesting than following a boring routine that’s supposed to make them better base-runners. Why not just race over that hill and see who gets to the playground first!

By the age of six, boys tell researchers that “real fighting” is the “most important thing to be good at.” However, the biggest boys are not always the leaders. The leaders are the ones who refuse to back down during a conflict.


Boys’ development is often “quirky”, but behaviour problems are often transient. Parents need to recognize that challenges are a part of development and there may be struggles prior to breakthroughs. Patience is essential as well as providing an environment that is consistent, clear and structured.

Boys end up being more resilient because they are not plugged in and responsive to social information.

The hormones in action also differ during this first year. The little guy is far from a teenager, yet the level of testosterone in his brain is the same as in an adult male. With testosterone driving his reality, every trait and tendency set up during childhood (action, strength, desire for dominance, exploring, and risk taking) is magnified.

This entry was posted in boys, parenting and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Let Boys Be Boys

  1. Caroline Secko Voutianitis says:

    As a teacher and parent I know about some of the differences in how boys and girls learn. What I did not know was that by 12 months a boy can tune out and ignore his mother’s emotions. Interesting stuff. This article is a good reminder to make sure lessons meet the diverse needs of all learners. I always try to keep the boys I teach moving, especially now that I am a Special Education teacher. Only 10% of people are auditory learners, yet so many teachers use this method of instruction and then wonder why the students are not learning! Good post, thanks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s