About a boy: How to discipline boys under five.

I recently did a community parenting course called “About Boys” that was designed to help mothers provide boundaries and discipline for boys under five.

It also aimed to build confidence for mothers with raising sons and help them better understand their development and behaviour.

Some of my friends were outraged that I was attending a course that segregated genders – especially under five-years-old.

Hear Rachel talk about her experience on the course on this week’s podcast This Glorious Mess, here:

However, I only have a son and I needed a hand in figuring out how to make my son stop hitting the TV (that could topple on him) or throwing his food on the floor or having a complete meltdown at 4am. Despite my attempts to use the course’s techniques these things continue to happen but I still got a lot out of the discussions.

I was touched by the other women’s honesty about dealing with their sons and the challenges they faced. We all wanted good relationships with our boys and to be able to have boundaries without damaging our children.

At the heart of The Boys Development Project’s course were 17 positive discipline techniques for boys under five-years-old.  Writer Trefor Lloyd had these tips:

  1. Touch and Talk: “If you want his attention, touch your son on the arm. Even if he looks away his ears will open. This isn’t a grip or a tug, just a touch.”
  2. Low and Slow:  “If you want him to listen to what you say, you will need to deepen your voice and slow down your speech. This is just low and slow, not aggressive or angry.”
  3. Fewer words:  “Whatever you want him to do, strip it down to as few words as possible without commentary. If you go from ‘I’ve asked you ten times to put those toys away, you’re doing my head in,’ to ‘TOYS AWAY PLEASE.’ then you can drop all of the ‘can you’, ‘would you’.”
  4. Right words:  “Boys take words literally. If you say ‘in a minute’ he will think you mean ‘in a minute’. If you say ‘you can walk on ahead’ without saying ‘near enough so you can hear me if I call,’ he will go further than you want. This will only increase, so get used to it now.”
  5. Know the rules:  “Boys need to be told the rules; they rarely ask what they are. Assume he doesn’t know how to behave in a supermarket, so tell him ‘here we walk,’ ‘the trolley is pushed slowly,’ ‘we put in the basket what is on the list.’ Boys often see the world as a playground, so if there are rules they need to be told them, and often more than once.”
  6. Do boys need different discipline techniques? Image via iStock.

  7. Eyes and mouth:  "When we deepen our tone, our sons will look at us to make sure that our eyes and mouth match our words. If you are speaking firmly, but having trouble not laughing, or feeling bad because you are telling him off, your eyes will give that away. Make sure that your words, eyes and mouth are all saying the same thing."
  8. Look over here:  "If he is becoming too focussed on something that is likely to lead to him getting upset, then draw his attention onto something else, such as another toy; something funny; someone else; or another activity."
  9. This or This:  "Boys will often react to what you ask them to do. If you give him a choice, then he will engage with the choice. So rather than saying ‘eat your sweetcorn’ ask him if he is going to eat his rice or his sweetcorn first."
  10. NO:  "Especially if you tend to give him a lot of explanations and certainly if he knows he should not be doing it, a very firm NO will do the trick. If he is about to throw something at someone, say NO firmly, but not aggressively or threateningly. An explanation can follow later, but he needs to know there is no negotiation."
  11. Nip in the bud:  "Some parents say they ask their sons to do something ten times and then shout. Sometimes this is about timing; if you use the techniques above when you can see that something WILL become a problem, then both of you are more relaxed. Sort it out before it becomes a drama."
  12. Three-week rule:  "Boys form habits quickly. If you use any of these techniques consistently for three weeks they will become habit and you will find you need to use them less and less."
  13. Walk and Talk:  "A lot of boys find it easier to talk when on the move. We ask boys to sit down and talk, but they are often more comfortable when they are in motion. If you have to have a difficult conversation, then try walking him around the block."
  14. Time Out for YOU:  "Usually Time Out is suggested as a way for the child to sit by themselves, so they are able to reflect on what they have done. This does not work for under-fives because they don’t reflect in that way. This time out is for you, giving you a chance to reflect. You are the adult; problems arise because of the way two people react to each other and you have a part to play in the drama."
  15. Find Out:  "Many boys prefer to learn by doing. If he looks out on a winter’s day and sees the sun, he may say ‘I don’t want to wear a coat today.’ Rather than trigger a disagreement, let him go out without it (but take it with you) – he will ask you for it before he gets to the gate. If he can’t get hurt, let him find out for himself."
  16. Fits the Crime:  "A parent might say ‘go to your room’ because her boy doesn’t put away his toys, but there is no link between his toys and going to his room. He probably won’t think about it when he is in his room, so where possible make sure that the punishment fits the crime (if he doesn’t put his toys away then he doesn’t get to play with them)."
  17. Later when calm:  "When the level of tension is low is the best time to deal with situations. As parents we usually want to explain what our children did wrong at the time. Even if your son is able to reflect, he probably won’t be able to at a time when both of you are upset. Wait until later, when you are close and cuddling to discuss it calmly and quietly."
  18. More gears: "Boys often push the boundaries until they are stopped. They stop when someone shouts, but if parents have more gears than ask and shout, boys notice the subtle changes in each gear and then parents find they only need to get to gear three or four before he does what he is asked."

The course provider states: "Courses so far have been particularly effective in targeting and engaging mothers and increasing their understanding, and confidence of their sons."

Many of Lloyd's tips could arguably be applied to little girls as well. I wonder if my discipline techniques would be different for a girl? Would I have different expectations of a daughter? Do children under five need different approaches to discipline according to gender?

I don't have to worry about all that right now because I only have a boy and I can just focus on him and perhaps get around to putting my TV out of reach.

Would you buy your son a doll?