When my boys have all left home- this is what I shall miss…

I walked into the bathroom today to be met by this amazing geometric wall of bulk- buy loo rolls. It took me by surprise, it made me smile, it made me think and … it spoke so much about my son.

Sam is currently going though, perhaps the most gruelling set of exams I have ever witnessed. His life is controlled to the very minute by revision schedules, crammer sessions, exams themselves and yet more study. I woke him on the weekend to be met with venom. ‘Mother! Sleep is the one thing in my life I still have some control over and you have just ruined it!’ He is fifteen years old and going through GCSEs. Mothers and mornings are never popular.

Children, and especially boys, need to feel they have some choice, some control. In situations where life is stressful or over-ordered this can cause anxiety and an innate need to take back some control. This is at any age or stage of their life, from two to their twenties and beyond.I am thrilled that, one way Sam takes control is by cooking: choosing, buying and combining the most delicious ingredients and taking control of his time, his creation and most wonderfully- our supper.

But back in the bathroom (don’t panic!), he felt the need to take control of the stockpile of toilet rolls. My ‘making the house look lovely’ system is to store the toilet rolls in a pretty, wicker basket adorned with pine cones from our family holidays. Sam’s preferred method is to build a wall, but not a conventional one, oh no, a diagonally patterned wall, a precariously balanced wall, a wall that was a challenge to build, that appealed to his mathematical brain and gave him a sense of achievement.


Boys need to feel like they are in control.  (The TV remote is testament to this!). They need to have order and structure in their lives to help them feel safe and secure, however within this each boy needs to feel like he is in charge of something, he has a choice, he can do at least some things his own way.

If he is doing something in a different way to the way you  had planned, try to be less rigid:

  1. STOP– Don’t dive in and correct him, pause, see what he is doing- it may work better for him, after all we are all individuals who function and learn in different ways

THINK– Do you need to channel him to your way or does his way work?

ACT– If it is important that a task is done in a certain way, such as putting things where he can find them in the morning, then, respectfully redirect him, explain in just a few positive words why this system works .

‘We put the shoes by the door so they are easy to find when we want to go out’

Otherwise, we may decide to take no action if none is needed- this is a real skill if you are a parent or educator who feels they need to be in charge!

REFLECT– Look back and see if the way you handled this situation worked well. Whether it did or it didn’t, bank the lessons you learned from it. Use this wisdom to inform the future balance of providing structure, routines and boundaries versus allowing him to investigate, solve problems and overcome difficulties for himself. This helps him feel like he has some control and is also a fantastic tool to support self-regulation.

  1. Rather than telling him to do something, give him two positive choices and ask which he will do first:  ‘Will you clean out the rabbit first or pack your swimming kit?
  2. Let him have some time each day to be creative, to be relaxed, to be free…

Time to walk, play, exercise or just be is an essential antidote to the throbbing theme park- style busyness which dominates our childrens’ young lives today.

The lesson I have learnt from the control tower of toilet rolls is…

to stop being so controlling, to let my son feel as if he has control of at least some aspects of his daily life, at this stressful exam time and into the future.

I will be leaving Sam’s wonder wall of toilet rolls- you can check it out next time you pay a visit.

If you would like to know more about Ali’s courses, to book an INSET or Parent Talk for Making it Better for Boys or so much more visit her website at www.alimcclure.co.uk.

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