“Can’t you guys be nice to each other?!?” Words like these ring out in our house on a fairly regular basis. I have two wonderful sons and they are usually obedient – but there are times when my words seem to go in one ear and out the other. Sometimes I feel like I have to repeat myself over and over and my boys don’t pay any attention to what I’m saying. So, what is the best way to speak to boys?
When I ask my boys to be “nice” what do I actually mean?
It depends on the context in which I am saying it. If I’m on the phone, that might mean, “I need you to be quiet because I can’t hear.” If the roughhousing looks like it’s getting out of control, it might mean, “Stop what you are doing because someone is going to get hurt.” If it has been loud in the house for awhile and my head feels like it’s spinning, it might mean, “Please go play somewhere else for awhile because I need some peace and quiet.”
Believe it or not, phrases like “be nice” are very difficult ones for boys to interpret. Females are good at being empathetic and deciphering verbal clues. Boys aren’t as good at this. They will genuinely have a dumbfounded look after we say these things and often their response will be, “What did I do?!?”
This is because boys have a harder time moving from abstract concepts to concrete ones.
What do I mean by that? Abstract concepts are things which can’t be experienced by the senses. For example, love, happiness, work, responsibility, bravery, and relaxation are all abstract concepts.
If your children are arguing and you ask your son to be kind, he may have no idea what you expect of him. It would be better to ask him to speak with a softer tone and to share his toys with his siblings.
If you notice your son is nervous around the neighbor’s dog, it’s fine to ask him to be brave but don’t stop there. You should then explain to him what brave behavior you’d like him to exhibit. Ask him to approach the dog with you and to attempt to pet it.
This same concept is true when doing schoolwork. If you are using prepared questions for a subject such as reading, you may notice that many of them will ask what he thinks the character was feeling during the story. Questions about feelings are abstract and very hard for a young boy to discern. If you notice your son struggling with these types of questions, change them around to ask what the character did instead.
Boys notice different things in stories than do girls and that’s alright.
We aren’t trying to force them to notice the same things their sisters notice – although it would be nice if they would occasionally notice their messes in the house and pick them up unasked!
As boys grow into manhood, they will become more in tune with their feelings. No matter how mature they are, however, they will never be as aware of emotional issues as are their female counterparts. Try asking your husband how he feels about something. Then ask your best female friend the same question. You’ll notice that their answers will be a drastically different length.
Men don’t talk about their feelings as much as do women. They have emotions, of course, but they are buried much more deeply than they are in women. That is not a defect, it’s just how men are. Men are usually more steady emotionally and help to steady us women, for which we are much appreciative.
We need to keep this in mind when educating our sons. Instead of vague concepts, we should try to give them specific, detailed instructions. This will cause less anxiety in our sons as they no longer have to try to interpret our requests. This will also cause less frustration for us as our sons will actually understand what we’re saying to them and can react appropriately.
If your sons don’t seem to pay any attention to what you’re saying, this may be part of the reason. Eliminate abstractions, tell them specifically what you do or do not want them to do, and you may discover that they are listening to you more closely than you thought!
Questions: Have you encountered this with your own sons? What changes have you made in your own speech patterns which have helped you communicate better with boys? Please leave a comment below.