Four years ago I attended an amazing free course held at Rosendale Children Centre in Herne Hill, called ‘Raising boys’. Despite at first glance it may seem based on the homonym famous book, the course is instead more specifically inspired by some sad statistics in the UK. In the past decade it was noticed how in Great Britain, taken the whole number of young people who commit crimes, suicide or drug abuse, the percentage of male components was much higher than female ones. Getting a closer look at UK society patterns, compared to some countries such as Sweden for instance (where the percentage between females and males in those categories was nearly the same), anthropoligists realized that it may be influenced by the fact that boys are mainly raised by their mothers, since British fathers often work much longer hours and/or delegate all educational responsibilities to their females counterparts. Instead in northern European countries, children are generally raised in a more tribal way: each kid is actually everyone’s child, so they have many female and male role models around them to get guidance from. So the course is basically designed to give tools to female parents to approach the emotional world of their male child in a more effective and connected way, since they may not have the same way of communicating simply for being of opposite sexes.
Among the hundreds of amazing tips I learned from this 8 hours course spread in 4 weeks with free creche provided (if booked well in advance as they had limited spaces), one concept that stood out for me (first time I had heard of it, of many more in future) was how it is much more beneficial to encourage positive behavior rather than punish negative behavior (also promoted by another great parenting workshop, the Triple P course, still held at Rosendale). By repeatedly outlining when the child has done right, you increase their self esteem and feed their memory with the message that they can do very good most of the times, and not bad all the time.
The ‘Raising boys’ course purpose though, was also distinguishing between internal and external motivators. Unfortunately external motivators such as money, fame, food, prison, may not last long within the ethical development of a child as they can soon become the wrong boosters: once those are not achievable anymore (or if they become avoidable, such as not being caught by the police), one young man can feel completely lost and discourage by life struggles such as finding a new job or healing from a sentimental break up. It is therefore important to try and link positive behaviors to internal motivators such as pride, love, connection, happiness (the course gives of course lots of ideas to achieve this).
Another little important note was to help the child visualize progress such as with reward charts and another essential point was to never go back due to a bad behavior, in the sense that, to give an idea, a negative act could never erase the award of a sticker for a good one (crucial concept to develop the child’s emotional intelligence in a positive way). We were explained how a child moral is formed in their brain: how they finally follow the rules word by word when they are about 3 years old, only to start questioning them around 6! We were given important tactics to react to our boys misbehavior such as checking if they really had heard or understood our command in the first place, or reminding them rules before going to specific places (we are going to the supermarket: do you remember the rules? We don’t run in the aisles, we only put things in the trolley after having checked with mummy, we speak using our soft voice…).
We were made aware that it’s how little boys face changes from a very young age (if they can ‘survive’ in a positive way), that will determine how they accept every difficult moment in their life, even retirement… Another powerful tool which I heard for the first of many more times since then, is to always acknowledge their feelings and give a name to them. It’s OK to feel the way they do, it’s what they do about it that may need change (instead of having a tantrum in the middle of the library basically!).
Since Feb 2013 I have been going back to my notes from that workshop every now and then, but always regularly, at least twice a year, both for my son or my daughter. And I started understanding parenting much better for the first time since I had become a mum: it was the first time that I realized I did not need to make it alone, without tools and professional tips from parental advisors… I wanted to do a good job as a mother and instead I felt I was really struggling at times! I would not say anything wrong if I stated that it was thanks to this very first course that I have become and I am trying to become every day little by little the parent I want to be: it gave me clarity on what mother I wanted for my kids but also how to get there, without denying my own needs and struggles at the same time. That course was substantially the start of the end of the shock that becoming parents can bring, no matter how maternal you have been or how much you have wanted children.