Why Boys Aren’t Wired For Sitting Still

By ParentTV on 6 May 2019
Categories: Behaviour, Parenting Boys

Most people associate young boys with noise, dirt and destruction. But is this a realistic image or simply a sexist stereotype?

While most children are bundles of energy regardless of gender, it is generally true that young boys tend to have more issues with sitting still, impulsive behaviour and rough play. Anecdotally, this is often put down to boys being more immature than girls, however, neuroscience tells us that boys’ brains actually have a different biological makeup to those of girls.

Boys don’t fidget and lose concentration in class simply because they are immature. It turns out their brains are wired for continuous movement, competition and exploration. This is thanks to two chemicals in the brain – testosterone and serotonin.

Even before birth, hormones begin shaping the brain for life. Research has shown that exposure to testosterone in boys begins as early as 7 weeks gestation when the testes start producing the hormone which contributes to a boy’s physical and behavioural development. This explains why gender-based play is evident in even very young children. Testosterone has also been found to interact differently with a boy’s amygdala, which is the part of the brain responsible for the instinctive fight or flight response. In males, testosterone is present in the amygdala in high levels, which is believed to contribute to a predisposition to playful aggression or “rough housing”.

The other chemical in this equation is serotonin, which is often referred to as the brain’s “feel good chemical”. Serotonin acts as a neurotransmitter sending messages all over the body. Primarily associated with mood regulation, serotonin also helps with sleep, impulse control and even digestion. Generally, high levels of serotonin are associated with feelings of well-being, while low levels of serotonin have been linked to aggression, depression and anti-social behaviours.

Serotonin has also been found to be processed in boys and girls differently as it is impacted by the presence of other chemical and hormones, such as testosterone. Fluctuating serotonin levels in boys can contribute to compromised impulse control and lower levels of attention.

Considering the chemical cocktail happening in their developing brain, it is hardly a surprise that young children have trouble regulating their emotions and controlling their behaviour, particularly boys.

Once they reach school, the general expectation is that children will be able to sit still, follow instructions and pay attention for extended periods of time. As many educators of boys can attest, the reality is far different.

Fortunately, there are a lot of strategies you can use to meet your child’s need to move which can also help their concentration and ability to complete tasks. Paediatric Occupational Therapist, Elise Easdown, provides some great tips for use in both the classroom and at home in this ParentTV video. It is also important to keep expectations realistic when it comes to young boys’ capacity to sit still and focus for long periods of time.

Maggie Dent also provides some great insight into the primal-brain of boys and how it impacts behaviour in this video.

Find out more on parenting boys on ParentTV here.