Boys Need Gentle Parents

An Argument for Gentleness


“Tender tiny fingers grip my seemingly monstrous hand with tightness.  Soft and silky skin so pure and supple, there aren’t words to describe.  This boundless connection delights my heart while bringing tears of joy to my eyes.  I blink and open my eyes again to look at you and am blinded by the light that illuminates, brightens, and warms.  The light you are destined to bring to the world.  It is my promise to you that I will never put out that light…” ~ A portion of a letter written my me, Jennifer Knickerbocker, to my newborn son the day he was born.

I won’t ever forget 4 days in my life that made me a mother.  The days my sons were born were the happiest of my life.  A private happiness that I guard in my heart… I don’t readily share my birth stories because I fear that they may become changed by words. 

However, there are promises I made on those days and while I was drunk with mother’s love.  Even though my stupor was induced, I don’t take those promises lightly. I remember.  I share.  I live those promises as best as I can.

I don’t have infants anymore though.  I have little boys.  Little annoying boys who are loud, tough, strong, and seem to delight in the destruction of my sofa.  They are unique creatures, those boys.  Always wanting to be tough.  They are willing to battle over the color of their sippy cup.  Wage war but then move on as though nothing every happened.

My sister, who has all girls, told me about a time when they came to town for a visit with us.  My boys were playing “nicely” when all of a sudden they piled up and started to wrestle.  Arms were flying.  Legs kicking.  And then just as suddenly as it started, it stopped, they got up and went back to what they were doing.

My sister was left feeling like “what the hell was THAT?!”

That is just boys.  I should clarify… boys in a pack/group/team/bunch

The boy tough exterior can fool a mama.  When seeking to guide my son’s behavior (i.e. get him to knock it the f*ck off), my first instinct might be to get a little Tony Danza and show him Who’s The Boss!  Grab him by the scruff of his shirt collar and sit his butt down so hard on the time-out stool it leaves a bruise and yell at him through my teeth, “Don’t ever do that again or I knock you into Sunday, mister!”

But alas, so much of parenting is counterintuitive, just like this is.  You can not match fire with fire with my boys.  Guiding must be gentle.  It must be sweet, soft and keep the promise of not stamping out his light.  We humans have been proving this with our ‘studies’ for generations now.

Here is a great example: 

In Sex Differentiation and Schooling, by Lisa Serbin 1983, she suggests that “loud reprimands of boys may increase their disruptive behavior; the more frequent physical disciplining interactions happen, the more disruptive behavior.” as she studies preschool aged boys and girls.

This is just part of the 120 page study.  If you read in full, the jist is that boys who are yelled at react aggressively.  The more you yell and the more frequently you yell, the more aggressive they become.  Throw in a little hitting and then you get a child who not only frequently disobeys, but also acts out toward other children and their parents.

I have heard many mamas and papas argue that what “works” for their child is a slap on the hand or yelling or time-out.  But with boys, I bet you a thousand dollars those parents are constantly having to raise the bar.  And in addition, their child isn’t becoming more obedient or compliant or helpful within their family system as they age.

Furthermore, if you yell at your little boys, it is similar to a gateway drug.  You are very likely to go ahead and hit your child (raise that bar).  In 1989, a national, random sample of 801 adults were questioned about the punishment they received as children and the way they discipline their own offspring. Analysis revealed that verbal and physical discipline are not substitutes, but, instead, are commonly used together. Parents who yell frequently are the ones most likely to hit frequently, and vice versa. (Child-rearing Violence, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA July 2002)

My point is, why even start the yelling in the first place.  If you do start, then seek help and stop.  Remember those promises you made your sweet baby boy when he was first born.  Let yourself soften under the gaze of his eyes.  Remember that he is tough on the outside but soft on the inside and you don’t ever want to crack that shell and damage his beautiful spirit.

Peace be with you,


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