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Boys Will Be Boys: 10 Activities to Engage Them in Education

A February 2 New York Times opinion piece decried the fact that boys are academically falling behind their girl counterparts. Nothing new there. Girls are apparently getting better grades, graduating in greater numbers from high school and pursuing higher education.

The prevalent theory is that today’s classrooms, curriculum and assessments are not set up for boys. So they disengage.

As parents, we can take part in engaging our boys in their education from the start. I have three boys, so I have thought a lot about what the articles are saying. These are some ideas for parents of boys in Denver (they are great for girls too):

1) Create a fantasy football league, do baseball stats, or otherwise find ways to play with numbers and sports together so that they are doing math without even thinking about it.

Becoming Mothers: My Birthing Epiphany–It’s All About Letting Go! Seriously!!!

My husband and I had been trying to get pregnant for about a year. We decided to shift gears and do some home remodeling since the baby thing didn’t seem to be happening. We ordered new windows, hardwood floors, and “rice paper” white carpet and, of course, promptly discovered I was pregnant. We let go of our expectations and then, surprise!

I loved being pregnant, had very little nausea – really, like twice, and my biggest complaint was how large my mammary glands, aka breasts, became. For a while they extended farther than my belly. I let go of the image I had of my body and practiced accepting the beautiful body of motherhood.

We were absolutely certain we were having a girl and had a name all ready. Then, of course, we found out we were having a boy. We let go

All’s fair in love and siblings

One of Grandma Marshmallow‘s favorite places on the planet was her family cottage on the cape near Boston. She brought her children there as a young mom, and this is where my husband learned to swim from his grandfather, Grandma Lisa’s brilliant and reportedly eccentric father.

The cottage is teeny — barely 750 square feet split between two levels. And it’s, uh, “quaint,” if that word implies run down and without amenities. If one of us remembered to call the town early in the season to turn on the power, we had power. Usually we had plumbing. The second floor has been stuck at the tear-out stages of a remodel since I joined the family, and the whole place has an unlived-in, musty smell, it’s heyday, when a houseful of cousins would gather here for the entire summer, long gone.

Still, Lisa’s eyes lit up when she uttered the town’s name, which became shorthand for the house.

Practically, we used it as a place to change our suits and to shower after swimming in the ocean.

To get to the ocean, we’d have to walk through an old and small cemetery. The etchings on the thin slate or granite headstones had eroded to almost nothing, but I’m told some go as far back as the 1600s. It was eery-spooky to walk through. I amused myself by imagining the ghosts and the stories they would tell.

A year ago, the last time Grandma Lisa visited her cottage on the cape, Tessa and Reed were done swimming, done changing, and were waiting for Daddy and Grandpa to load the lawn mower onto the truck for the ride home. They busied themselves by playing with two Scottish Terriers across the lane.

There was a path to that house that was framed by railroad ties. Reed began bouncing on the railroad ties, as boys will do, not realizing that there was a wasp nest underneath.

The wasps were not happy about being jostled by this boy, and their fury was unleashed. Before any of us knew what was happening, two children were shrieking at the top of their lungs, racing for the front door of Grandma Lisa’s cottage. We adults, at the time, knew nothing of the wasp nest — we simply thought the children were playing a very intense game of some sort.

But the gravity of the situation emerged as we saw the swarm of raging wasps swirling around Reed. Tessa screamed, “BEES! DADDY SAVE ME FROM THE BEES!” She made it, insect-free, into the cottage and slammed the door behind her, locking it as protection from the “bees,” which in her mind had opposable thumbs that could turn a doorknob.

Meanwhile, Reed was at the doorstep and we were plucking angry hornets from his scalp (newly shorn in a Kojak-cut), his hands, his shoulder, his chest, his legs. The majority of the swarm returned to its railroad tie, and we worked at stamping out the offending hornets and calming down an understandably shaken Reed.

As he realized his time on earth was not over, he remembered his sister. His first words, after “GET THEM OFF ME! I’M GETTING KILLED!” were, “Is Tessa all right? Make sure my sister is OK.”

Yeah, Buddy, she’s fine. She’s safe in the cottage. Which she locked you out of.


Soon the cottage will be for sale. It’s the end of a summer ritual that has played out each summer of my husband’s entire life. The wasp story is a fitting end to the sting of the loss of Lisa.

Cross-posted on

Image: Don’t Mess With Us by Pahavit

An explosive start to summer

You know how a mom’s antennae go up when there’s just too much quiet for too long?

It was the first day of my children’s summer vacation, but just another work-at-home day for me. I’d been solving registration problems, uninterrupted, for about 45 minutes. Glory be. And then…

MomMY…!?” Tessa’s last syllable inflected upward in a controlled panic.

In one leap I got rid of the laptop and headed up the stairs. As I took them two at a time, Reed was saying, “It was an exPLOSion!”

Holy crap, I was thinking. How bad is this gonna be?

Tessa had wanted the room brighter so she removed a lampshade from a lamp. Then Reed wanted to see what happens when you put a Lego® on a light bulb.

Of course you know what happens when you put a Lego® on a light bulb: it melts. And then it smokes and then it frightens children.

A child who is frightened by both the situation and by the prospect of telling her mom what is happening will try to solve the problem herself. By pouring hand sanitizer on it.

Hence the fire. And the explosion.

The flash-fire was out by the time I got to the bedroom, in about 5 seconds. Shards of glass sparkled in a wide disaster zone.

Remarkably, neither child was hurt and nothing was damaged (besides the shattered light bulb). I picked up the larger shards by hand and carefully vacuumed the rest. And had A Talk with the children about the properties of matter and what can happen when you add heat.

And how hot one’s bottom could get if they ever do such a thing again.

How many more days until school starts?

Image: Kalimist on

How do YOU know when your nicely playing children need attention?

The Good Son

It’s one thing to see my husband day-in and day-out as a partner and father.  I sometimes forget to even notice all he is and does for our family.

But recently, I saw Roger in a new light: as a son. We had been visiting his mom, who calls herself Grandma Marshmallow, but whom we call Grandma Lisa.

Grandma Lisa was diagnosed last summer with stage 4 lung cancer (she is a non-smoker).

Obvious statement alert…cancer sucks. Understatement alert…chemo sucks.

Roger worked tirelessly during his extended stay to cook for his mom, to fix up her bathroom with bars and handles, clean out her attic, shovel her snow, shop for groceries, cheer her on, nourish her soul.

She entered the room after a nap one day and he greeted her cheerfully with the simple words, “Hi, Mom,” delighted to see her.

And witnessing tenderness in his voice, the latest in a long string of kind words and deeds, I experienced a perfect moment, just by noticing how extra-ordinary my husband is.

I suspect he gets it from his mom.

When was the last time you saw your partner or significant other in a surprising new way?

This post originally appeared as part of Perfect Moment Mondays.

Mama Drama: Respectful Independence

Dear Mama Drama:

My eight-year-old son has recently become very rude and disrespectful. Every time I ask him to do something he argues with me. When I try to help him with something he becomes surly and impatient. When he is with his friends he is either rude or acts embarrassed to be seen with me.

We used to be so close and he would cuddle with me and hold my hand wherever we went. I don’t understand his behavior and am not sure what to do.

~ Disrespected Mom

(photo credit)

Dear Disrespected:

It sounds like your son is trying to exert his independence, but he does not know how to do so respectfully.

Around the age of eight or nine, boys begin to feel the need to individuate from their mothers. They become aware of the gender difference between themselves and their moms and need to find ways to identify themselves differently. When they have strong bonds with their mothers, this can be confusing to both them and their moms.

Eight-year-olds are also seeking to be more independent in their skills and completing tasks. As parents, we sometimes provide too much support and forget to let them try things out on their own a bit more. Children often don’t know how to express what they need, so they act rude or surly.

Take a look at your expectations for your son and reflect on what he may be able to do more independently and what new responsibilities he may be able to take on. Then have a frank conversation with him about his behavior. Let him know that it is normal for boys to want to be less dependent on their moms. Then help him develop some phrases he can use to respectfully let you know he needs more space, less support, or more independence. Phrases such as, “Thanks mom, but I can do this on my own.” or “I’m working on a project right now; is it alright if I do that in ten minutes?” Discuss the importance of tone of voice and practice by role-playing different situations.

Continue providing choices for your son when you give him directions just as we recommend with younger children. Allow him a range of time to complete tasks or give a deadline to help him feel he has some independence and is respected for his ability to be responsible. Be consistent with your expectations and be ready to adjust as he demonstrates more responsibility.

It is important to be clear and direct with your son regarding his behavior towards you and particularly his actions in front of his peers. Let him know that the way he treats you communicates to his friends how they should treat you. Discuss how he perceives peers who treat their parents rudely and if he wants his friends to think of him that way. Plan ahead for giving a hug at the car away from peers, keeping endearments such as “sweetie” or “sugar” out of ear shot of friends, and maybe creating a special handshake or non-verbal sign you can give each other that provides the connection you need and the independence he is seeking.

A great resource for understanding the behavior and development of boys is The Wonder of Boys by Michael Gurian.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.

Mama Drama: Handling Disappointment

Dear Mama Drama:

My 5 year old son seems to be very sensitive.  He cries at nearly everything; if we say no, if things don’t turn out how he hoped, if he doesn’t win a game.  I’m not sure how to help him deal with his feelings.  I am not sure if he reacts this way at school, or just at home. I just don’t know what words to use.

Mom To A Sensitive Boy

(photo credit)

Dear Sensitive’s Mom:

Many children struggle with being told no or things not going as expected. Five-year-olds are increasing their autonomy, but often experience difficulty modulating their emotions. They are very rule oriented and can have strong feelings about justice and fairness. Five-year-olds are also still very ego-centric and struggle to see things from the perspective of others.

I encourage you to talk with your son’s teachers to determine how he is responding to similar situations at school. He may be doing well at school and you can build on that at home. He may be struggling at school and need more support there as well.

A trick to helping your son handle being told no is to say yes as much as possible, even if it is yes later. If your son asks for a cookie and you want him to have his dinner first, you can say, “Yes, you can have one after dinner.” Once we say no, children often don’t hear anything else. If we say yes, they are able to listen to the rest of what we have to say. Saying yes honors the desire of your child and the when sets the limits you need to set as a parent. Of course, there are times we need to say no, but finding a creative way to say it can help.

For losing games and situations not turning out as hoped for preplanning is a great strategy. Help your son prepare for the possibilities that may occur by having discussion beforehand. I addressed a similar issue with siblings in a column in October. Practice with your son how he can respond if he doesn’t win a game. Give him some simple phrases to say that can assist him in handling his emotions such as, “Good game. I had fun playing.” or “I’m sad that I didn’t win, but I’m glad I got to play.” Model being a good sport when you are playing games together. Talk through your thinking and about how you are feeling so he can develop a better understanding of how others feel.

If you are still having concerns after trying these strategies, it may be helpful to seek additional behavioral or mental health support.

Mama Drama: Why why?

Dear Mama Drama:

My son is always asking me “why?” when I ask him to do something. I get very frustrated with his constant questioning of my authority. We often end up in arguments and power struggles because of the constant “why, why, why?”

(photo credit)

I have friends whose children do not question them at every turn and I don’t know what I am doing wrong. I really just want my son to do what I’m asking and not question me.

~Tired of the questioning

Dear Tired:
Having your child question your directions can feel like your authority is being threatened. Parents often take this personally and respond with anger and indignation to this perceived slight. It is important, however, to remember that “why” is not always a challenging question. “Why” is also an information question.

Children are naturally curious and are interested in how things work and why we do what we do. If they don’t understand why they have to do something, it is typical for them to ask.

When your son asks you why, try explaining briefly why you need him to do whatever it is you have asked. For example, when you ask your son to wash his hands before dinner and he asks why, tell him, “We wash hands to get the germs off. This helps us to stay healthy.” Often this explanation is enough to satisfy his need for information and then he will follow the direction. If he is very curious, he may have additional questions. To keep him on track say, “I’ll be glad to answer more questions when your hands are clean.”

Sometimes your son may be asking a challenging “why” question. In this case it is important to remain calm and not take the question as a personal affront. You can treat the question as informational and answer with the facts as above. This in itself can help to keep you calm. If he continues to challenge you, set limits about completed the task asked.

For example with the hand washing situation, you could calmly say, “You are welcome to join us for dinner when your hands are clean.” Repeat this phrase as needed. Then be sure to follow through, refraining from nagging or threatening him. Have the rest of the family go ahead and eat as planned. He may join you or not. If he does, thank him for washing his hands and joining you for dinner. If not, he’ll probably be hungry later. With empathy and kindness you can respond, “I’m so sorry you are hungry. Breakfast will be available at 7 tomorrow morning for people whose hands are clean.” He may be stunned or angry by this response, but remain calm and empathetic. Following through and staying out of the power struggle with be the most effective way to change his behavior.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.

Mama Drama: Toddler Tantrums and Clean Up Meltdowns

Dear Mama Drama:

My three-year-old daughter is driving me crazy! I love her to death and she’s got so much spunk, but when I need her to get things done and she refuses or throws a tantrum and I am at a loss. She could care less about consequences and seems to enjoy all the attention she gets from lectures. I seem to be the only one frustrated in this situation.

~Going crazy / CC BY 2.0

Dear Going Crazy:

Three can be a challenging age as children seek more independence and challenge expectations. They often run on their own time schedule and our demands can appear random and unreasonable to them.

Creating a daily visual schedule can help your daughter to understand the routine of the day. If something needs to change for that day, you can change the picture or sequence of the schedule and discuss that with her ahead of time. Three-year-olds also respond better when we explain, in developmentally appropriate language, why the change is occurring.

Provide transition warnings for your daughter when you are asking her to stop a preferred activity. Depending on her needs you may want to use several warnings at five minutes, two minutes, and one minute. When she does not want to do a task, using first-then statements and/or visuals can also help. “First bathroom, then snack.” Showing her a picture of what she needs to do and what is next in your routine can also motivate her to make that transition. Having the preferred activity in the “then” spot is most effective.

Mama Drama: Grocery Grabbers and Independent Eights

Dear Mama Drama:

Every time we go to the grocery store my two-year-old daughter climbs all over the cart. She stands up and grabs at things and has nearly fallen out several times. I have talked with her over and over, bribed her with treats, and threatened to leave the store, but nothing has worked. What else can I do?

~At my wits end!

Dear Wits End:

The first thing to do is buckle your daughter into the cart every time she is in one. She may fuss and whine, but this should be a non-negotiable point.

Next, give her something to do while she is in the cart. Sitting for long, seemingly endless trips to the store can be very frustrating for a child. Let her hold the shopping list and help you cross off items. Give her a drawing pad or magnet drawing toy and have her make her own list. Bring a small bag of board books she can read.

Try to keep shopping trips brief. Create a list of ten items and have her help you count them down. As you go through the store to find your items, enlist her help. “I’m looking for something blue (show her what blue is if she doesn’t know). Do you see it?” “We need bananas. Do you know where they are?” Stick to the ten items on the list for that trip, so she knows when the shopping is done.

Having an incentive at the end of the shopping trip is okay, but make sure the treat is an interactive activity most of the time. Tell your daughter, “We’re going to the store to get ten items. If you stay safe in the cart, we will play at the park when we’re done.” Be sure to describe what safe in the cart specifically means, i.e., strap stays buckled, bottom is on the seat, hands stay in the cart, etc.

Throughout the shopping trip frequently notice when she is being safe, “You are keeping your hands in the cart. Thank you.” If she is struggling, restate your expectations and her incentive, “If you want to go to the park, your bottom must stay on the seat.” When you reach the check out line (with all the tempting candies), remind her of her incentive and the expected behaviors, “You have been so safe in the cart. Keep your hands in the cart and stay on your bottom and we can go to the park.”

Finally, before you threaten to leave the store, be sure you are prepared to do so. Empty threats will only reinforce the unwanted behavior. If your daughter is not being safe in the cart, restate your expectations of what she is to do (see above). If she continues to be unsafe, park the cart and leave. Do this calmly, saying, “Uh-oh, you aren’t being safe in the cart so we have to leave. It’s so sad we won’t be able to go to the park today.” Expect a fit, but don’t react. You can empathize with her by saying, “I know. It’s so sad.” Then hold her hand or pick her up and walk out the door.

Dear Mama Drama:

My eight-year-old son is very rude to me in front of his friends. He says he wants me to volunteer in his classroom, but won’t acknowledge me when I am there. He wants me to walk behind him in the hallway and snaps at me when he does talk to me at school. At home he is all hugs and kisses.

~Confused Mama

Dear Confused Mama:

Your son is at the age where he is beginning to see himself as separate from you and seek more independence. Eight to nine is a typical stage for boys to begin this process. It is important to guide your son through this phase and set limits about his behavior.

Have a direct conversation about this issue with you son. Tell him you have noticed that at home he is kind and loving, but at school he is rude and distant. Let him know that all boys go through a phase of seeking independence and creating an identity separate from their mothers. Emphasize that this is a typical part of growing up. Be clear with him, however, there is no need for this to be done in a rude or disrespectful manner.

Discuss ways in which he would like to be more independent and make a plan to support him with this. Then, discuss how you expect him to treat you at school and other public places. Let him know that the manner in which he treats you will teach his peers how he wants them to treat you. Also, tell him that when he acts disrespectfully, he does not look cool, he looks rude.

While girls tend to like face-to-face conversations, this often makes boys uncomfortable. When you talk with your son, sit side by side with him or have the conversation while out on a walk or riding in the car. This will feel less threatening for him.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.