Let boys be boys?
A report released this week by community and daycare workers in the Estrie region of Quebec has garnered some national interest for its focus on differentiating between how girls and boys behave — and specifically, for encouraging boys to play "war" and "battle" games.
The 28-page report, translated in English to read "Better Supporting Our Boys," takes a look at the different socialization of boys and girls between the ages of zero and five by their parents and what's observed in the classroom.
There's plenty of psychological research to back up roughhousing, including the physical, emotional and even intellectual benefits that can be achieved.
In their findings, they note an emphasis on boys playing outside, asserting dominance while playing, and having more physical conflicts than girls. And while the idea of children fighting while at daycare sounds negative, their research appears to support the idea that it could be to everyone's benefit.
According to the guide, the World Organization for Pre-school Education has recommended that rather than shut down battle games, for example, educators should facilitate this imaginary play by participating and supporting the boys. If the game is stopped, goes the logic, the pent-up energy could become a bigger issue than if it's allowed to continue in a positive manner.
There's plenty of psychological research to back this up, including the physical, emotional and even intellectual benefits that can be achieved. The only difference is, science sees roughhousing as beneficial for both girls and boys.
As Brett and Kate McKay wrote in a blog on The Art of Manliness celebrating roughhousing with your kids, "While boys are naturally prone to engage in roughhousing, make sure you don’t leave your daughters out of the fun. Studies show that girls who roughhouse with their fathers are more confident than girls who don’t."
In recent years, more and more education facilities are banning violence in any form, but many childhood education experts believe a widespread rule can't be applied to this type of play.
Frances M. Carlson, author of Big Body Play: Why Boisterous, Vigorous, and Very Physical Play Is Essential to Children's Development and Learning, notes differences between fighting and roughhousing, namely that roughhousing is enjoyable, spontaneous and voluntary. She also believes teachers and parents can learn to watch and figure out if the play is for fun or not, and react accordingly.
The Quebec daycare recommendations speak specifically to how teachers can positively encourage this type of physical behaviour, though it's easy to see how the guidance can be applied to girls, as well as boys, when warranted.
"Educational staff should set the rules of the game to provide a safe environment that respects the limits of the community, but also the need for action and competition in boys," reads the guide (translated). "Experience shows that once their needs are met, it is easier for boys to become interested in something else: they become more attentive and take part in more activities requiring concentration."