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Navigating the Boy Code: 7 Strategies to Understand and Connect with Your Boys

Navigating the Boy Code: 7 Strategies to Understand and Connect with Your Boys
Merryn Atkins, UWC Thailand Occupational Therapist

Understanding the inner world of boys can be confusing sometimes, and beneath the surface are complex young people who generally speaking are different to their female counterparts. To really connect with boys, we've got to understand why they act the way they do, and appreciate the unique emotional twists that shape their reactions. (Note: The ideas are not limited to boys, but generally more suited to boys.)  

Why Boys Act Out: Young boys, in general, can struggle to communicate their feelings. Their emotional vocabulary might still be in the early stages, and the understanding of what their body is signalling is evolving. As a result, they express themselves through actions, which may sometimes appear aggressive or irrational. This behaviour typically stems from deeper emotions such as fear, sadness, or feelings of inadequacy. It's crucial to understand that, generally speaking, boys develop differently than girls. Frustration may arise when they can't match their female peers' milestones. Recognizing this developmental difference is key to nurturing their self-esteem and motivation.

Dealing with Stress: By the end of the day, many young boys find themselves stressed out. Navigating the complexities of friendships, attentive listening in class, sitting still, and remembering daily tasks push their cortisol levels, the stress hormone, to an all-time high. When they reunite with parents and caregivers, they often feel emotionally drained, expressing this stress in less desirable ways with those they feel safest with.


Here are 7 Strategies for Connection and Regulation

  1. Get them moving and active (don’t forget unstructured play).  

Generally boys are wired to be physically active for extended periods. Incorporating movement at home helps them regulate and promotes the ability to focus. For example, allow them to carry in heavy groceries, wash the car, or time to ride bikes or play outside. Research also shows the importance of unstructured free play in developing minds. 

  1. Building emotional bonds & using ‘empathy first’ step.

The stronger the emotional connection a boy has with a grown-up, the safer he feels emotionally, increasing the likelihood of positive behaviour. One simple thing to remember when your son is experiencing anger or sadness is to not rush in to correct or teach a lesson. Connect first by acknowledging their pain point, this way they will feel heard and will be ready to regulate their emotions much quicker. 

  1. Short & Simple instructions 

Boys need to feel successful at school to avoid struggling and acting out. Keeping requests short and simple, around 10 words or less, increases the chances of them succeeding with a verbal instruction. (Note: Sometimes when your son is not hearing you, be mindful he may not be deliberately disobeying you, as they're wired to act first and think later).

  1. Positive Reinforcement: 

Using the ‘just right’ challenge - something that makes them think and still fosters growth but is achievable, is a good way to boost their confidence through the sense of competence. And providing the right kind of encouragement is key. Who doesn’t need positive feedback? Boys love praise so catch them in the act of doing something right. (Pro-tip for a healthy self-concept is to read up on ‘growth mindset’ from the work of Dr Carol Dweck in her book Mindset). 

  1. Sleep & Food  

Ensuring young boys stick to a routine and get enough sleep is a simple aspect with significant implications for their ability to regulate emotions. Consistent bedtime routines are critical for their developing brains. 

To help boys feel better, it's crucial to create new chemicals in their brains, such as dopamine and serotonin. A quick solution is through food – having a quick, accessible snack available as soon as they get in the car. (Check out Maggie Dent’s ‘Mothering our Boys’ for more insights). 

  1. Apply their Mindfulness learnings to home

Encourage the use of mindfulness tools learned at UWC Thailand. Join your children in applying what they have learned to promote emotional regulation, allow them to lead it. 

  1. Model Emotional Regulation:

Children learn a great deal by observing adults. Demonstrate healthy emotional regulation by expressing your feelings appropriately. If you're feeling frustrated, for example, discuss why and how you're managing that emotion in a positive way.

Try these practical strategies to support the unique development of our young boys. Remember that no parent is perfect and asking for support or ideas should be embraced. 



Dent, Maggie. Mothering Our Boys. Random House, 2018.

Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Random House, 2006.

Greene, Ross W. The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children. HarperCollins, 1998.