A mom shared a delightful story of her 6-year-old boy:

I took our five children outside to run off energy one evening after dinner. Thunder started rumbling. We agreed to stay out until the rain came. It began slowly but picked up momentum quickly, so the children were anxious to get back to the house. Our 2-year-old son was riding a push bike and wasn’t bothered by the rain at all. So when the older children began to complain about how long it was taking, I gave them the house keys and told them to run ahead and get in the house. Three of them ran ahead, but 6-year-old Sam stayed with me and his little brother. I urged him to run ahead with the others and get in the house because by this time the thunder was loud and the rain was heavy. Sam replied, “No way, mom. I’d rather make myself die than leave you out here in this storm.”

God designed boys, including Sam, with a natural desire to provide, protect, and die for others.

The protective instinct

The man is in the boy. Early hints of this desire will appear in various ways. A mother needs to pay attention. When her boy is dressed up like a cowboy or a superhero and tells her that he will protect her, she often overlooks the significance of his comments and only notices how cute he is.

God put inside every boy something that stirs him to be brave and protective. There is no Scripture that announces, “Fight for your husbands,” only for “your wives” (Nehemiah 4:14). God does not require a woman to be the primary protector of the man. Yes, she watches over the children, but he secures the family in other ways. This is a male phenomenon around the world. God put this chivalrous instinct inside men. To Christ-following men, safeguarding women and children is a divine duty.

When your boy moves into teen years, you will see his instinct to protect you when something arises that could threaten or harm you. Watch for his safeguarding penchant and sing his praises.

Early signs in boys

In studying male preschoolers, researchers have recognized their tendencies to defend their domain and property, to be competitive, and to combat without fear of conflict. Here’s my question: Is defending property a good thing or a bad thing? Is this competitive nature without fear of conflict a vice or virtue? My wife, Sarah, asked our 4-year-old grandson, Jackson, what he did at preschool with his friends when outside playing. “We got to keep away the bad guys.”

There is virtue here. A mom can see the early formation of an honorable man learning how to defend what he thinks is right. In pretend play he protects the fort against evil invaders. Or when his friend unfairly grabs his toy from him, he grabs it back, and they tussle with each other. This is less about getting the toy back and more about fighting for justice. That is a good thing. He should not be shamed for demanding justice. Fair is fair. Even so, he needs coaching on better ways to handle these moments. There is a front-sided strength in the face of his back-sided weakness.

Mom can take her son aside and say, “I respect your desire to be treated fairly. He was wrong for grabbing the toy. I know that troubled you, and I am glad that it did trouble you. But as an honorable man, what can you do next time?” Ask him for a solution. Give him the opportunity to figure it out. Kids are moral and spiritual beings who know right from wrong and need to be asked. When they come up with their own solution, they own it.

Remember, boys are not girls. Girls will naturally negotiate; whereas, boys can be much more aggressive in the early years. There is a bad side to this aggression, but as the boy ages, he will naturally and physically defend and protect the weak.

For example, most boys will physically go after another boy who kicks his sister’s cat. Evil is in the world, and evil does not negotiate. Most violent crimes come from a small percentage of men, and other men must go after these men. Yes, there are female cops who carry guns, but on a day in, day out basis with families around the world, the men are prepared to physically defend the family unit. My grandson Jackson gets it right. There are bad guys out there, and somebody needs to keep those bad guys away.

Headship of the husband equals dying as the Savior died

We read in Ephesians 5:23: “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.” God does not call a wife to fulfill the headship role. What woman wants to be the one with the primary responsibility to provide for and protect her husband, and even die for him?

Headship means serving and dying as the Savior died, and this is a male thing. Let me reiterate: headship (hierarchy) is felt in a boy as a responsibility, not a right. As Christ acted responsibly as the head of the body, being the Savior, so most men feel like the Christ figure, who must fulfill his duty to protect. A boy desires to be this umbrella of protection out of a sense of honorable duty. He envisions himself as the prince rescuing the damsel in distress. That desire is not a chauvinistic zeal to exercise dominance over a woman. He is light-years away from thinking, I will treat her like a doormat under my feet.

Jesus said in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” This idea of laying down one’s life runs deep in men.

Honor the little things your boy does

Here’s how one mom started showing respect once she realized this truth about her son:

I’ve seen the qualities of serving and protecting in my 9-year-old son toward me … I told my son (as we sat side by side) how honorable he was in coming to the stores with me at night and for waiting until I got into the car first, and I thanked him. He had a big goofy grin on his face, and not only did the same as he always does when I had to go to the store that night, but he opened and closed doors for me too!

Is this tough for you to say to your son? Some have completely missed the masculine soul’s declaration, “I wish to take care of you.” In the movies when the hero recues the damsel and vows care of her for the rest of his life, out come the tissues, but in the halls of academia some of us posture ourselves differently.

When the longing in a boy to be respected and honored for this desire to provide and protect meets with scoffing in some quarters, it leaves him feeling bewildered and doubtful about himself. Apart from actually being pushed down, a boy will have normal doubts. He asks himself, Will I have what it takes to be able to provide, to protect, and even die?  As a mother who loves her boy, you can respectfully answer, “Yes, you will have what it takes.”

On FamilyLife Today®, Emerson Eggerichs explains the compelling desire of a mother to connect to her son, and how she can do that by what she says and how she says it. And in his book, Mother and Son, he describes how, even for young boys, the effect of respect is nothing short of astounding when applied properly. The book provides practical tips for moms who feel left in the dark on this topic.

Excerpted from Mother & Son. Copyright © 2016 by Emerson Eggerichs. Used with permission of Thomas Nelson.