Positive Associations, Education, and Boys

The first years of primary education can be incredibly challenging for many young boys. As a society we tend to give boys mixed messages very early on about behavior and expectations. Unfortunately, these mixed messages can lead to increased negative experiences and interactions during early education.

A common social and familial dynamic is to tell young boys that they are expected to go outside, play, rough house, and be rambunctious. This is a very valuable practice for encouraging social and neural development, as all children develop and learn through play.  In fact the importance of play and positive/cooperative interaction is so powerful that it is present in most young mammals.  The issue at hand is not the encouragement of play, or even rambunctious play, but rather the abrupt shift in behavior that is expected of boys when they enter Kindergarten. Expecting a boy to shift from a day rich with energetic play to sitting still in a classroom is quite often a recipe for disaster.

Associations and education graphic

These early negative experiences with the educational environment can plague a boy into the teen years and even into college. Many times adolescent boys and young men are experiencing academic challenges that simply stem from negative associations with education from many years ago. Psychotherapy can help greatly in addressing and bringing awareness to these issues. Through therapy teens can start to alter their negative connotations and cognitions that surround academics going forward.

Now, this brings us to a much larger question: instead of trying to repair years of negative associations in counseling with young adults and adolescents, what can be done earlier? The answer is surprisingly simple; make early education fun. Provide children, especially boys, who have been out in the yard breaking toy trucks and getting muddy for their first years, a fun positive experience around school. Most teachers work hard to create fun, tactile, and enriched classrooms for K-5 students. However, the excitement and fun around learning should start at home prior to Kindergarten. Finding creative and exciting ways to reward and engage a child prior starting early education can give them a considerable advantage. This is not to be confused with making children go to school earlier in life. Play and healthy interactions are the backbone of healthy neural and behavioral development in young children.