Inside: It’s tough to raise a kind boy amidst the tough guy boy culture found on sports teams. It’s hard to balance teaching them kindness when they’re trying to fit in and be one of the guys. But there’s a powerful phrase we use to praise our son’s kindness while he plays sports with the boys will be boys societal norms.
It was 8:30 on a Saturday morning and instead of still being in my pajamas, I was sitting alone in the stands of a baseball field.
My 8-year-old got the last spot in the league so we didn’t know anyone on his new team.
And because of his birthday, he also happens to be the youngest and least experienced on the team.
So early Saturday morning as he walked away from me towards his team in the dugout, I reminded him: bat back, be a good teammate, and have fun.
Then I sat in the stands with my coffee, mindlessly scrolling through my phone until the game started.
But what snapped me back to reality was what I heard the boys saying to each other as they warmed up their arms:
What the hell?
That’s a load of crap.
Why is butterfingers in the outfield?
What happened to the “little boy humor” of farts, butt cracks, and poop?
Now it has escalated to “trash talking”: name-calling, put-downs, and a general nastiness which seems to be accepted by most adults in this “boys will be boys” tough culture of kids’ sports.
But these are words my family doesn’t say. It goes against one of our only two family rules.
In fact, I’d rather my kids cuss when they drop something than call someone else a “loser” or tell them they suck.
So if my son is going to be a part of sports teams, how can I ensure what he’s around and what he hears doesn’t change who he is?
Negative Talk and Put-Downs and Peer Pressure
Once the inner Mama Bear in me calmed down because none of the nasty comments were directed at my son, I was still pretty angry over it.
Because my son is hearing these mean comments.
And he’s going to think this kind of language is normal.
He’s going to start laughing at the put-downs and talking like this to be “cool.”
Listen, I want my son to fit in.
I want him to be part of a team, part of a group of guys, part of the boys club.
I find value in sports, being athletic, and learning how to work as a team.
Especially since he doesn’t have a brother or a male cousin.
But listening to this nasty banter and trash talk has me worried because my son is a bit of a follower.
So far, he’s followed positive kids and it’s stretched him to learn new hobbies, new skills, and try new sports.
He learned how to rollerblade and pogo stick on his own to fit in. He started collecting Pokemon cards to fit in. And he now will only wear basketball shorts to look more like the kids at his school.
All positive forms of peer pressure and adapting to fit in with a crowd, which hasn’t overly concerned me.
Because I know my son, like most of us, wants to fit in.
He wants to be cool.
He wants to be accepted and he wants the kids to like him.
And I totally get it.
But I’m nervous that to fit in with this group of boys, the boys on his baseball team, it’ll suck the sweetness right out of him.
Because at eight years old, my son is the boy who still wants to snuggle in my bed with me every morning.
He’s the boy who whispers in my ear I’m the best mama in the whole world and he loves me to the moon and back.
He’s the boy who is the first to check on someone–anyone–when they’re hurt and need help.
I can’t have these boys change him. I won’t let them.
Having a Conversation About What We Value as a Family
So the game began.
And soon enough, my son was on deck.
The boy who was up to bat struck out and as my son passed him on his way to the plate, my son paused, reached out to the other batter, and touched him on his shoulder to comfort him.
My son quickly mumbled words of encouragement and then took his place behind the plate to hit.
He does it everytime the boy strikes out.
After the game, as I drove my son home, instead of dissecting the game or talking about his swing, we talked about his teammates.
We talked about the words I heard the kids saying before the game and we reviewed our family rules and values of kindness.
We had the conversation again about hearing bad words or cuss words or mean phrases, but not repeating them.
We talked about how important it is to lift others up rather than tearing them down.
My message was sinking in, and he nodded in agreement from the backseat.
But I needed one more thing to really make my point hit home for my son, and at the same time praise him for his actions as he headed to the plate.
It will ensure that I continue to raise a kind boy.
The Powerful Phrase that Helps to Raise a Kind Boy:
“You’re the kind of kid who…”
Now this phrase works for a myriad of parenting conversations, but in this moment, I used it to praise my son’s heart. His sweetness. His kindness.
I gave him a little monologue:
“I saw you reached out to your teammate who struck out. You’re the kind of kid who stops to make sure others are okay. You’re the kind of kid who tries to help others feel better about themselves.
I want you to know I value that.
I’m always proud of you, but I was extra proud when I saw you lift him up.
Because you’re the kind of kid who is a good friend, a good teammate, and you have a good heart.”
He looked at me, blushed a little and quietly said, “Thanks, Mama.”
And then he winked at me.
Will my monologue and this powerful phrase prevent my son from trash talking or laughing when he sees someone belittled or hurt or bullied?
But hopefully, when he’s in those tough social situations, and he’s torn between being cool and fitting in or doing what’s right and kind, a small voice in the back of his head that sounds an awful lot like me will say, “You’re the kind of kid who stands up for others.”
“You’re the kind of kid who offers words of praise rather than words of hate.”
“You’re the kind of kid who helps others who need it.”
So as we navigate this boy culture and world of sports and “boys need to be tough” societal norm, I will continue to praise his sweetness.
I will continue to point out and praise kindness when I see it and condemn cruelty when I see it.
And I will continue to tell him, “You’re the kind of kid who doesn’t ever call someone else a loser.”
Even if it’s the cool thing to say to fit in and be one of the boys.