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  • Meredith Shaw

Standing Up for Boys: Parents and Educators as Advocates

Why do we need to stand up for boys? Two compelling reasons are provided by 

Barry McDonald, the author of Boy Smarts and Boys on Target:

“Boys are half our future.” 

“It is better to build boys than mend men.”

Although every child is unique, young boys often require extra time and mentoring to learn how to focus their vitality and channel their exuberance constructively. By deepening our understanding of boys’ developmental and educational needs, we can help them thrive. Here are some practical ways to build on boys’ strengths and tap into their potential.

Let Them Stand: In a Boy Smarts Newsletter (Feb. 2014) Barry MacDonald encourages parents and teachers to “Beware the Chair”. He points out that many daily activities can be done standing, and this habit engages the muscles in the lower part of the body. Standing is a non-sedentary activity that also increases both metabolism and brain activity. Schools are beginning to provide standing desks or higher tables that serve as “standing stations.” At home, try having them stand at a higher surface such as a kitchen counter or island when doing homework. Letting them stand helps some boys and girls to focus better and stay engaged longer.

Let Them Move: Boys are more likely to fidget and be distracted when they are anxious, experience boredom or perceive a threat. A body in motion stimulates blood flow, gets more oxygen to the brain and helps relieve stress. Physical movement also helps boys to process and store information. In addition to recess, many elementary teachers routinely incorporate short “deep breathing and movement breaks” to help students reset their bodies and brains for optimal learning.

Let Them Wrestle: Outside of school, horseplay allows rambunctious contact without harm. A good way for young boys to learn the “rules” of harmless roughhousing is for a parent to tussle with them and model how to stop when asked. When siblings horse around, parents can coach them, clarify limits and promote fair play. For young boys these exuberant “puppy piles” are often a wonderful way to show genuine affection and build positive connections.

Let Them Read: Boys are often drawn to exciting stories, full of dangerous exploits, heroes and villains, mysterious plots and tests of courage. Books and storytelling can also include challenges to loyalty, moral dilemmas, and vicarious risk-taking. Encouraging boys to explore both real and fictional worlds through reading can stimulate curiosity, broaden horizons, test problem solving and build their confidence.

Let Them Expand the Boy Code: Boys can become confused, discouraged, isolated and angry when they feel forced to hide behind tough guy masks. Ironically, girls no longer have a truncated notion of what it means to be a woman. But boys do not always have the same freedom. Dr. William Pollack, author of Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood, encourages parents to challenge masculine stereotypes and enable boys to discover their true selves. Pollack explains that “real boys” hunger for support in developing their natural capacity for compassion and justice. It is up to parents, coaches, teachers, and other allies to model respect for, and support of, a full range of healthy masculinity.

Let Them Have Adventures: Take boys (and girls) on a nature scavenger hunt, make a snow fort, create a terrarium, play flashlight tag, dig for fossils, explore a creek, sleep outdoors, plant a vegetable garden, create a backyard obstacle course, or cook over a campfire.

Let Them Play: Growing up with two older brothers in a neighborhood with few girls. My natural habitat was boy-land. Afternoons after school and school vacations were reserved for free play. We enjoyed coming up with activities, getting dirty, and having adventures. We learned to take turns, divide into teams, work through conflicts, stick-up for underdogs, and play fair. When children are over-scheduled with adult-run activities, they miss opportunities to explore their own creativity and imagination and expand their social skills. 

Let Them Be: A healthy childhood also includes time to relax, reflect and become at home in their own skin.

Parents, caregivers & educators of PK - 6, please join us for

Boy Sense: Decoding the Developmental Needs & Nurturing the Resiliency of Boys at Home and School

March 27th 7PM at the Center at 10 Elm, Boxford. More info at

For online resources -

Barry MacDonald’s website

Dr. William Pollack’s website

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