Why Parenting Eight Year Old Boys Can Be So Tough: Expert Explains All

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. Welcome to parenting eight year old boys.

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 year old boys – why eight is not so great

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?

eight year old boys
Source: Bigstock

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.

raising eight year old boys
Eight year old boys need you more than ever. Source: Bigstock

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.

eight year old boys splashing in the water
Source: Bigstock

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.

And be sure to check out Maggie Dent’s other articles, which tackle several tricky ages and stages in parenting. 

Avatar of Jenna Galley

Born and raised in Canada, Jenna now lives in Far North Queensland with her tribe. When the mum-of-three is not writing, you can find her floating in the pool, watching princess movies, frolicking on the beach, bouncing her baby to sleep or nagging her older kids to put on their pants.


  1. Avatar of Eva

    This article is spot on!!!! Everything I read, I related to. Thank you❤️

    • Avatar of paul larner
      paul larnerReply

      The article makes no mention of why we want our boys to man up. I fear the world he is going to live in, with climate change and war etc. I want him to be tough so he’ll survive. Is this just silly on my part?

  2. Avatar of Kate

    Hi Jenna,
    You are like my very own fairy godmother lol! Honestly I have been in tears these last few months because I didn’t know what was going on with my little man. I was even questioning my ability as a mother and blaming myself because no one ever told me about this phase of their life. I can not express to you just how much this has not only been so helpful but how grateful I am because it has given me a sense of connection and reassurance that It’s not just me going through this with my son. I don’t have a lot of “mum friends” who I can talk to about this stuff, and I’ve just been asking the universe ‘please just tell me what to do’ (I know it sounds silly but when your son mutters such negative self talk under his breathe or has a semi panic attack/anger fit cause his unable to get his shoe on; I’m sure I’m not the only one lol).
    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing this, you’re a blessing and an angel!
    Kate xx

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