With the newborn haze, the toddler phase and the first year of school done and dusted, I was under the impression that I had passed most of the tricky stages with my son.
Sure, we still have the tween and teen years ahead, but I get a bit of a break, right?
Wrong. Because no one mentioned that my little man, who turned eight this year, was about to step into another difficult hurdle, one that neither of us were prepared for.
That’s right mums and dads! It turns out that the ’emotional eights’ is a thing. And a damned difficult one at that!” Parenting expert, Maggie Dent, shares some seriously helpful insight on her website relating to this tricky stage. What she writes resonated so much with me and I wanted to share it with all other mums who may be going through something similar with their not-so-little boys.
Eight: Not so great for boys
It’s not uncommon for little boys around the age of eight to “suddenly become emotionally very sensitive and even fragile, despite not being like that before.”
Little things might upset him, things that he didn’t give a stuff about before. Like doing poorly on a spelling test. Or not being able to tie his shoelaces tightly enough.
Then comes the tearful self-loathing, the “I am useless, I can’t do anything right.” Or, my son’s latest, “I suck.”
As a mum, hearing this sucks. Super sucks. My son went from a cheeky, confident, carefree seven-year-old to an anxious, self-doubting eight-year-old. Maggie explains that some eight-year-olds go as far as “expressing that they wish they could die.”
“Naturally this is incredibly distressing and frightening for parents and teachers to hear these powerful sad words”, Maggie says on her website.
So what can we do to help our little men learn to love themselves again?
Stop with the “toughen up”
First of all, we need to get rid of the idea that little boys need to ‘man up’ or that showing emotion makes them weak.
“This kind of talk can teach boys that vulnerability is something to fear, hide and avoid at all costs,” Maggie explains.
Eight-year-old boys don’t need that sort of downright confusing message in their lives.
Accept the emotional meltdowns
Instead of trying to get your little man to ‘man up’, try to understand the emotions behind the outbursts. He may be struggling with self-acceptance, peer pressure and identity, which are all very common for boys at this age.
According to a long-term study of 1,200 boys at Melbourne’s Murdoch Institute it’s a hormonal stage called adrenarche that makes boys struggle emotionally around this age. It seems that this is a very early preparation for puberty” – Maggie Dent.
Great. The P word. But before you pass it off as pre-puberty behaviour, remember that your little boy isn’t 12. He’s eight.
While we all want our kids to be independent, at eight, your little boy isn’t quite ready yet. At eight, your little boy still needs your reassurance. Even if he acts like he doesn’t.
Bring on the cuddles
Some eight-year-olds are a lot more affectionate than others. Regardless of whether your little man still openly accepts cuddles and kisses or thinks they are “gross”, let him know your arms are always open, just in case.
“Being a supportive and reassuring grown-up for our boys during this tricky stage is incredibly important,” Maggie adds.
Sometimes all boys need a cry, a big squeeze and a reminder that they are loved. Even big boys.
Prove them wrong
Hearing my son say, “I’m not smart enough”, “I can’t do it,” and “I’m too stupid” is horrible. It’s far worse than hearing him say things like, “I don’t want to” which tends to be an act of defiance rather than an act of defeat.
He is smart enough. He can do it. He’s not stupid.
When our kids say these things, it’s up to us to remind them gently that this isn’t the case. Provide examples of when he’s succeeded, explain how proud you are of him and remind him how amazing he is.
And when he does succeed? Congratulate him and cheer embarrassingly loud, even if it’s something small like passing a spelling test. You’ve got a few more years of loud mum cheering allowed before he bans it completely.
Stay strong for the both of you
Like every stage in childhood, this too shall pass. According to Maggie, “for the vast majority of young lads, they will return to their usual selves for a couple of years before the full onset of puberty.”
But, of course, there are always exceptions to the rule and if you feel like something isn’t right, then “trust your parental instincts and go and have a chat to your family GP.”
For more expert advice on these extra tricky stages, check out our article on Steve Biddulph’s parenting seminar: Raising Boys and Raising Girls.