5 Stages of a Boy’s Development (Part 1) – RTC 35
Laurie Christine
Laurie Christine
November 30, 2021

In today’s episode, we are talking about the 5 stages of a boy’s development.

Do you ever wish your son came with a handbook? Have you ever wished for a resource that could tell you exactly what to expect from your boy at each stage of development and what he needs from you as a parent?  

Well, I have good news for you. Such a book does exist!  Stick around and I’ll let you in on the secret. 


When my oldest son was a baby, I was reading through a parenting book that was teaching me how to sleep train my son. I remember one time when he was crying and I was frantically flipping through pages of the book, trying to figure out what to do next. Is he hungry? Is he tired? What’s next in his schedule?  

We are actually not going to talk about that book today. We’re going to talk about a book that I wish I had when my oldest son was younger, but I am very thankful to have it today.  

The book is called Wild Things by Stephen James and David Thomas. If you haven’t heard of the book or read it before, pause this episode and go order it right now.

Purchase Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys by Stephen James and David Thomas (affiliate link)

These men are therapists, speakers and the authors of several parenting books. In my opinion, they are the gurus of raising boys. 

(I have some exciting news that I can’t wait to share… I was going to wait to the end of the episode but I’m going to go ahead and share it now.  I had the privilege of interviewing David Thomas, one of the co-authors of this book, and he is going to be on the show next week! David and I talked about some specific ways that moms can relate to their boys in each stage of development.)

Today on the show, we are going to just barely scratch the surface of all the wonderful advice Wild Things has to offer. It would probably take me five episodes to cover all the material. So if you love what you hear today, you’ll just have to go buy the book yourself

Today we are going to be discussing the 5 stages our boys go through on their journey to manhood: 

What are the 5 Stages of a Boy’s Development?

1). The Explorer (ages 2-4)

2). The Lover (ages 5-8)

3). The Individual (ages 9-12)

4). The Wanderer (ages 13-17)

5). The Warrior (ages 18-22)

As we talk about each stage, we are going to discuss “who boys are” and “what they need.”

THE EXPLORER (ages 2-4)

5 stages of a boy's development

On average, compared to girls at this age, boys:

  1. Are bigger than girls at birth
  2. Are more active
  3. Are less relational
  4. Make less eye-contact as babies
  5. Are happy to interact with toys or objects where girls prefer interaction with people
  • “The male brain is wired for activity; the female brain is biased toward personal connections.” p.13, Wild Things
  • David Thomas describes the chaos that ensued in his household when his twin boys were in the explorer stage: yanking blinds off the wall, broken toilet seat, had to replace doorknobs and cabinet hardware, broken clocks, lamps, TV’s, picture frames, refrigerator doors, dishes, appliances, couches, and chairs. 


Boys in the explorer stage love to explore their world. They are imaginative, and often can’t separate reality from fantasy. They have a desire for battle and they’ll create weapons out of anything they can find.  Boys at this stage of development are both delightful and demanding (and exhausting!) 

Listen to Redeeming the Chaos Episode 19: Battles and Bombs and Booby Traps, Oh My!

1). The Explorer is Active

  • Boys have less serotonin than girls of the same age.
    • Serotonin helps regulate impulse control.
    • Lack of serotonin makes boys more impulsive and aggressive.
  • Boys climb everything.

2). The Explorer is Aggressive

  • He demonstrates affection through aggression – wrestling, head butting, punching.
  • Aggression is an emotional response and a means of communicating. 
    • Are they overstimulated?  Tired? Hungry? 

3). The Explorer is Curious

  • He investigates the world around him.
  • He needs to touch and feel everything.

4). The Explorer is Self-determined

  • He has a hunger for purpose and power.
  • We need to allow our boys to have some power and control in the choices we give them. When we do this we are honoring a developmental and emotional need.
    • Do you want crackers or cheese for your snack? 
    • Do you want to pick up the legos or the army men first? 
  • “When we deny him some opportunities and turn every exchange into a power play, we function in opposition to some of his basic needs.” (p.19)


Boys at this age need discipline, structure and patience. They need boundaries, open space, consistency, and understanding. 

1). The Explorer Needs Boundaries

  • He is incapable of self-regulating at this age.
  • He needs help setting limits.
  • Boundaries help boys feel safe and know what he can or cannot do.
  • Don’t place unrealistic expectations on boys at this stage to control their own behavior; don’t require high levels of self-control.
  • The authors are not saying don’t have any expectations – just have realistic ones. 
    • Unrealistic expectations: 
      • Sitting for long periods of time
      • Staying quiet
      • Picking up toys all by himself

2). The Explorer Needs Open Space

  • He needs room to run and be wild!
  • Make sure there are spaces in your house or yard where it’s okay to hit, kick, throw, spit fart, dig and jump.

3). The Explorer Needs Consistency

  • He thrives on structure and consistency.
  • It’s important to follow same schedules / routines / rituals every day. 
    • Ex – bedtime

4). The Explorer Needs Understanding

  • It’s important to understand that his wiring is different than girls, so our expectations should be different
    • Remember – lack of serotonin means less impulse control.
    • Be concrete with directions and commands – don’t be too wordy, give an instruction, don’t ask a question: 
      • “Put your shoes on” or “You need to put your shoes on.” 
      • NOT – “Why don’t you put your shoes on?” or “It’s time to put your shoes on.” 


  • Don’t confuse him – be specific and set clear boundaries.
  • Limit his choices – don’t give too many options.
  • Anticipate changes and announce transitions in the daily routine (set a timer).
  • Set a few basic family rules that everyone can follow:
    • We are kind.
    • We dont’ hurt people or things.
    • We are helpful and cooperative.
  • Discipline should make sense – use logical and natural consequences.
  • Give him space to roam. Go outside every day.
  • Model self-control and self-regulation in your words and actions when you are frustrated or angry.
    • “An emotionally charged adult only provides more fuel to an already emotionally charged child.”  Wild Things
  • Praise him like crazy when he does something right.

THE LOVER (ages 5-8)

5 stages of a boy's development

At this stage of a boy’s development, he become more sensitive to the feelings of others. He becomes more chatty and he often enjoys painting, drawing or reading. His curiosity about God and spiritual topics begins to develop.


1). The Lover is Tender

  • He adores mom and dad.
  • He is very sweet, sensitive, kind-hearted, and tender. 
  • He has a heightened emotional sensitivity.
  • He sometimes suddenly becomes afraid of the dark, loud noises, strange dogs, monsters, thunder storms, etc.
  • As he progresses through this stage, he can sometimes become obnoxious, critical and rude.
    • Shows impatience with siblings
    • Argues and talks back
    • Loses temper with parents, especially with mom

2). The Lover is Obedient

  • Boys begin to understand the difference between right and wrong at this stage of development.
  • The more secure a boy feels with his parents = a greater sense of right and wrong.
  • He wants to follow the rules.
  • He wants to please his parents.
  • He has difficulty dealing with guilt and shame.
  • He struggles with things being unfair.
  • It’s important to help your son make wise choices and explain why something is wrong.

3). The Lover is Attached to Dad

  • He wants to be just like Daddy.
  • It’s very important for fathers to spend time with their sons during this stage.
    • Time with Dad is crucial to gender identity and development.
    • Just do ordinary things together.

4). The Lover is Competitive

  • He is often racing to be first.
  • Competition is not usually aggressive at this age.
  • Competition and cooperation are not mutually exclusive.


1). The Lover Needs Reprieve

  • Allow him to start school later.
    • Needs extra time to mature
    • Can’t sit still yet
    • Difficulty with written and oral expression
  • Give them time to unwind and play outside after school before starting homework, chores, etc. 
  • Give them time to be alone, if needed.

2). The Lover Needs Relationship 

  • He needs and craves one-on-one attention from parents.
  • Especially seeks attention from Dad.

3). The Lover Needs Routine

  • He needs repetition and consistency.
  • It’s important to develop regular routines. 
    • Ex – bed time routine
  • Charts are helpful at this stage.
    • Routines with pictures
    • What comes next? 
    • Chore chart, getting ready, bathroom
  • Routines give boys confidence and build self-esteem.
  • Routines also help them direct their energy into positive outcomes.

4). The Lover Needs Regulation 

  • Unwanted behavior should be named and reprimanded. 
  • This helps them control their impulses.
  • Give feedback that is straightforward, accurate and specific. Not belittling or shaming:  
    • DO:  “You threw a rock at the car. That is destructive.” 
    • DON’T: “I can’t believe you did that. You’re just out of control. You never listen.” 
  • Feedback should be short, firm and measured.
  • If there is authentic remorse, usually no additional discipline is needed.
  • If there is no remorse, try to use natural or logical consequences. 
    • Ex: He ate a cookie when he wasn’t supposed to, so now he doesn’t get one for dessert when everyone else is eating one.
    • Ex. He didn’t put his toys cars away when asked, so they disappear for awhile.


  • Give him lots of love and affection – physical touch, tickling, wrestling, snuggling.
  • Reward and affirm good behavior.
  • Focus him outward – get your family involved in service, outreach, community volunteer; teach about generosity and service.
  • Help him with hygiene & personal cleanliness.
    • “Regarding good bathroom habits, we’re stumped. You may just have to tolerate some skid marks for a few years.”  Wild Things
  • Encourage his imagination – boys love super heroes and super powers at this age.
  • Take him camping.
  • Plan family game nights – provides a good opportunity to practice winning and losing in a healthy way.

We barely scratched the surface of the first two stages of a boy’s development. Leave a comment below and let me know which stages your boys are in! What is the most challenging aspect of parenting your boys at this stage?



  • Just a reminder to join us for an upcoming episode of Redeeming the Chaos, where I interview David Thomas and we talk specifically about what boys need from their moms at each stage of development. 
  • Hey, momma, real quick before you go… I need your help to spread the word about my podcast. I want as many boy moms as possible to benefit from the information in this podcast. I want you to think of two friends or family members that you know would benefit from this episode and share a link with them.  It would really help out the show and I would be super grateful. 
  • I have a free gift for you! Read about my free family devotional for Christmas below:

The Night the Angels Got Lost

The Night the Angels Got Lost, Laurie Christine

The Night the Angels Got Lost is a captivating, three-part family Christmas devotional for kids ages 6-10. 

The Night the Angels Got Lost retells a familiar story through the first-hand experience of a young shepherdess. Connect with your kids on a deeper level this Christmas as you join young Abigail on the hills outside of Bethlehem. Enjoy a cup of cocoa and snuggle by the fireplace, using this resource to inspire imagination and encourage thoughtful discussion as a family. 

Capture your children’s attention and connect with their hearts as together you celebrate the arrival of the Promised Child.



Part 1, Part 2, Part 3


  1. Amanda J Trumpower

    This episode made me feel so seen, I nearly cried! 🙂 Your description of the Explorer fits our almost-three year old son perfectly. We don’t want to be exasperated with him, but we are at our wit’s end with his newly defiant and aggressive behavior. Bought the parenting book immediately after your show ended. Can’t wait to go through it with my husband–I think it will really help us improve our strategy!

  2. Laurie Christine

    Hey Amanda! I’m so glad you found this episode useful! You’ll really love the book. And trust me, you’re totally normal!! 🙂


  1. Paging Dr. Sanity - Amanda Trumpower - […] after all! By happy circumstance, one of the parenting podcasts I enjoy started a series on the five stages…

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A New Devotional for Preteen Boys


Rise of the Enemy

Book One of the Dragon Slayer Bible Stories

Rise of the Enemy, a Dragon Slayer Bible Story, will inspire boys to join the armies of the Dragon Slayer in the epic battle of good vs evil.  Through action-packed stories, inspiring scripture, and challenging devotional readings, boys will be trained to stand firm against the invisible enemy, and to use weapons of warfare to deflect the lies of the Evil One.

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