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Tips for raising boys during a pandemic

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Little boys having fun with their father at home


Speaker, author and academic Dr Michael Nagel looks at the special developmental needs of boys and how to support them during lockdowns and restrictions.

Raising children isn’t always easy! Add a global pandemic and this task becomes much more challenging. Indeed, there is mounting evidence that as the COVID crisis continues, parents in many countries are struggling to keep their children healthy and occupied.

If you are a parent who is a bit anxious about how to nurture your children through this time let’s start by getting something important out of the way, don’t feel guilty. You are not the only parent in this situation and there are things you can do.  From the outset, however, it is important to keep in mind that raising sons and daughters can often be different.

Why raising boys can be different

There is little need to document all the evidence noting the different developmental timelines and needs between boys and girls. Instead, what I’d like to do is focus on a couple of key areas that are noteworthy when it comes to boys and then move on to how you can nurture your son during a time of unpredictability.

First, always remember that boys can get bored sooner than girls. And second, boys are more inclined to be fidgety, impulsive and in perpetual motion, especially when bored!

For all children, movement and physical activity is important, but for boys it is almost a biological imperative. This is evident in children as young as two where the physical activity levels of boys will begin to dwarf those of girls so that with each year you can observe a demonstrable difference in how boys engage with the world around them.

This is not a cultural phenomenon as some might have you think, but is actually observable in boys across the globe and is likely due to a higher male metabolism and the influence of testosterone. It also turns out that if you want boys to sit still and focus, this is best achieved after some physical activity. 

In the end, boys are generally bundles of energy with an insatiable appetite for doing things. Therefore, if you are stuck at home due to lockdowns or limited in when and where you might normally go to playgrounds, extracurricular activities or neighbourhood play dates, you will need to find ways to help your son and maintain your sanity. Here are some things that may prove helpful. You can equally use the activities with girls given that physical activity is a precursor to all aspects of physical and mental health.

First, always remember that boys can get bored sooner than girls. And second, boys are more inclined to be fidgety, impulsive and in perpetual motion, especially when bored!
Dr Michael Nagel

Activity guidelines for children

Let’s start with some basic guidelines. When considering what to do with your son, it is also important to keep in mind that physical activity guidelines can vary with age. For infants, 30 minutes of ‘tummy time’ throughout the day with opportunities to push things, reach for objects, sit up and crawl is sufficient. 

Toddlers up to two years of age need at least 180 minutes of activity throughout the day and this can include exploring the outside with you, playing in a sandpit or wading pool and generally anything that you can find that is safe and age appropriate. 

From three to five years of age boys should have about 60 minutes of vigorous play followed by other physical activities throughout the day. Obstacle courses in the yard or home, mini-Olympic competitions designed by you, competitive games or even helping wash the car can provide the ‘vigour’ needed in play. 

At the very least, physical activity should be part of a daily routine and may require you to set limits on screen time while encouraging breaks from sitting throughout the day in front of a TV or computer. 

Tips for being active with children at home

If you feel that you are not creative enough to come up with different ways to get your son active, you can find an abundance of things online for children of all ages. For example, Joe Wicks, a British fitness guru has become an internet sensation with his online physical education classes, ‘PE with Joe’.

Joe has made exercise fun, doable at home, immensely popular and something the whole family can do. Doing PE with Joe not only offers your son an outlet, but it can be a shared activity with many benefits for you as well. 

If you find that exercising with Joe is not for you or not working, you can also use an app called ‘Sworkit that lets you build a child friendly workout, or one for you as well. This app is a great way for boys to plan their own routines with your help and build a daily exercise regime.

Aside from apps and exercising online, perhaps a trampoline would be a good investment if you don’t already have one.  Alternatively walking up and down stairs can become a daily challenge of personal bests.  Or have your son do an ‘exerclean’ with you as you actively incorporate lunges, squats or other exercise movements with daily household chores. Being active can have the added bonus of creating a tidy home! In fact, do this after you have created an in-house obstacle course and you can get more bang for your buck. 

Another important factor here is to be a role model for your son. Finding time to do things together is important and can provide a great deal of family fun. You can achieve this by simply writing down exercises on small pieces of paper, putting them in a jar, and then letting family members choose from the jar. Remember, however, that everyone, including you, has to do the selected activity so keep that in mind when deciding what exercises you want to include. 

In the end, there are infinite possibilities for creating opportunities for your son to burn off his endless abyss of energy.

Once again, if you are stuck for ideas on how to turn parts of your home into a playground you can find many ideas online from parents who are dealing with the same challenges as you during the pandemic.

And finally, stay calm and make life as predictable as possible. Boys and girls alike are great at seeing stress in their parents and then wearing those feelings on their own shoulders.

At a time when the world is in a state of immense upheaval it is even more important for you to be calm and to find ways for your children to cope. To that end, physical activity can be an important aspect of taking care of your body and also your mind. 

Harness your son’s energies and roll with them and you may find that the benefits of the activities for your son extend beyond his maturing body and mind and help to make your days calmer and healthier as well.

Nagel, M.C. (2021). Oh Boy: Understanding the Neuroscience Behind Educating and Raising Boys. Amba Press.

Nagel, M.C. (2021). It’s A Girl Thing: Understanding the Neuroscience Behind Educating and Raising Girls. Amba Press.