Should I Try To Toughen My Little Boy Up?

Should I Try To Toughen Up My Little Boy?

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During the holidays we had visitors and made plenty of visits ourselves. I watched my little man interacting with children his own age, some younger and some older. Our neighbour’s son is 18 months older than Liam, but I encouraged him to join in a game of goal scoring/football. The older boy very kindly offered to put the ball closer to the net for Liam to shoot. The major difficulty thereafter was that my child has no idea that aiming for the goal is the point of all this running around business. Instead of complying with the goalie’s requests, he headed off in the opposite direction happily kicking the ball.

Cue a not very impressed child. Not that I blame him, trying to include kids younger than you who clearly have no interest in scoring a coveted goal must be frustrating. I encouraged the little fella to return to the goal in the interest of fairness and hoped that my son would stop picking the football up from the ground.

Unfortunately the older child’s patience had thoroughly waned and he decided to give up!

Instead, the boy’s sisters and her friends brought him on the green where they all had a run around. A bag of goodies was produced from a child nearby. She offered them to her gal pals and took off in the opposite direction. It reminded me of just how clicky girls can be. Suddenly one was gnashing on her beloved Haribo. Liam sidled up beside her. She steadfastly refused to part with any treat. As a sugar fiend I empathised with her plight. Her dad tried to convince her with the sharing mantra parents love so much.

What made my heart sink a little was watching Liam respond to her. He was confused and hurt, he couldn’t understand why someone would want to keep something as precious as sweets all to themselves. I assured him that we would get him something when we returned home. Another child broke off a piece of her chocolate bar and offered it to my son, he was delighted with his treasure!

I struck up a conversation with a nearby mother, soon after her daughter (I’d guess around six years old) ran to her clearly upset. Cue the regular mother/child questioning session, my son looked at me very perplexed. What could possibly be the matter with this girl? Why was she so sad? The sadness etched on his face made my heart swell. He wanted her to be happy. It also made me wonder, was he a little too compassionate?

When we returned home I asked had he enjoyed our brief excursion to the park. I was assured he’d had a wonderful time. I was nowhere near as certain.

Recently we were in a furniture store and typically enough my little lad decided upstairs was the first port of call. He happened to meet whom I imagine to be a slightly older boy on the stairwell. Liam offered him a hand for them to walk up the stairs together. The other child was not a willing recipient and dismissed Liam’s offer. Instead he jaunted up the stairs solo. It was during the moments he stood waiting for the other child to grasp his hand that I felt a little hollow inside. Liam was not too bothered by the rejection but I wondered how long more that happy go lucky reaction would last. Furthermore I wondered should I nurture his positive, optimistic outlook or was I just setting my boy up for an emotional fall.

We made the decision to start Liam in playschool earlier than the ECCE scheme catered for. He was a little over two and a half years old when he had his first experience of education. Our reasoning for sending him early was solid, Liam was minded by both Grandmothers, had never spent time in a creche and was unaware of how he might need to compete for certain items/toys even the teacher’s attention. Indeed, it was a heart-breaking playdate where I watched a child physically lash out in anger that I realised my son had no idea how to react. It cemented my decision.

School life would toughen him up…I hoped. Or did I?

One of the mornings Liam ventured to school a peer attempted to block his path. Surely this was the moment we were all waiting for where Liam would stand up for himself and assert his rights! (somewhat territorial sounding, I know!) but my boy looked at this other little boy and was nonplussed so decided he’d walk around him…as if he was a statue! Had school toughened him up or further underscored the fact that there are many ways to approach life?!

Now please don’t get me wrong, my four year old is as professional as the rest when it comes to deciding what he does and does not want to do, where he does and does not want to go, what he does and does not want to eat. The stubborn streak is strong… he got it from both his parents after all.

I hope as Liam grows, he continues to show kindness and compassion but limits the empathy he currently displays for all.

It isn’t that I want him to be a tough, macho, non caring individual I just don’t want him to be totally immersed in everyone else’s difficulties to the detriment of self care.

Róisín Burke
Róisín Burke
Married Mama of a terrifically imaginative and energetic toddler. A secondary school teacher with a love of family. I’m permanently peckish and love live music and the escapism of a great book. A believer in empathy, understanding and lifelong learning. Never underestimate the power of determination, mixed with a little stubbornness of course!