My boys, who are 6 and 8, are very physical. When they can’t be outside, they are constantly wrestling with each other, making noise or running around the house. What should I do to get them to behave better?

Not long ago, as I was walking through an outdoor mall, I noticed that nearly every child I saw was spinning in circles, hopping backwards or touching whatever they passed — nearly always while scolded by a parent. “Can’t you walk in a straight line?” “Come here!” “Don’t touch that!”

While I felt empathy for these parents’ predicament — wanting to keep their children close and safe — I also smiled. Their kids were doing what they were supposed to do: engaging with the world around them with curiosity and enthusiasm. Here are my thoughts about parenting your active boys:

  • Remember that children are not miniature adults. They are reasonably new inhabitants of the planet, programmed to discover all they can about the world around them. For some, that takes place through reading or making art, but for many children, learning about the world is a very physical experience. Rather than seeing your boys as misbehaving, recognize how healthy it is that they are so engaged with life! Simply making this shift in your mental outlook will help you rein them in when necessary, without shaming them for “being bad.”
  • Reflect on your own childhood. Often, parents find themselves particularly uncomfortable when their children behave in ways that were forbidden in their own childhood. Were you allowed to get a little wild and crazy when you were growing up, or did your parents lecture and criticize you if you made noise? We get to choose which of our parents’ qualities and standards we want to incorporate into our own parenting lives, and which do not resonate with us.
  • Provide safe outlets to express big feelings. Some children manifest pent-up anxiety in physical ways; boys, particularly, may be less comfortable verbally telling you about their hurts, worries or frustrations. There are wonderful toys that will give your boys permission to feel and express their emotions. A hollow plastic bat can be great for hitting a paper bag stuffed with newspaper hung from a tree. Or you may want to get a Bop Bag — an inflatable toy with sand at the bottom that bounces back up when they hit it.
  • Join with them for short periods of quiet play. Choose a few quiet activities with your boys — puzzles, Legos, art activities, card games — and set a routine of 10 minutes of floor play each afternoon. Gradually build that time, encouraging them to play without your participation for some of the time.
  • Keep your sense of humor… and be realistic. As one mother of five recently posted on my Facebook page, “Wait… aren’t fidgety kids just boys? I’m a mama of five young boys, and they’re always moving, no matter if I’m teaching them phonics or they’re coloring or we’re doing our mindfulness exercises. ‘Sit still’ doesn’t usually get said in our house!”

In the not-too-distant past, children your sons’ ages were spending most of their time outdoors running, climbing and exploring all day long. Today’s children are exceptionally constrained, required to be quiet in class, line up in straight rows from recess and keep their hands to themselves all day long. While there is nothing wrong with helping children develop self-regulation, we must respect their innate need to wiggle, fidget and make noise. It can be exhausting to be around little boy energy all day, so also be sure you get the time you need to recharge with a little peace and quiet!

To learn more about helping our boys thrive, join me with Maggie Dent for our master class, Learning the Language of Boys!

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