My oldest is a six-year-old boy, and I must admit he’s a bit of a mama’s boy… but in the best way, and I’m particularly proud of his maturity in this respect: He’s not whiny or shy. He sees women with a sense of respect and honor. He’s thoughtful of his mother’s feelings and he’s very aware of my needs (sometimes, I fear too aware for his age). He knows about the stress of my work and he’s seen me cry about ‘adult problems’. Moreover, he’s seen his Dad get upset and even cry over naturally upsetting situations, and, overall, is a boy that’s very in tune with his emotions. In these times of heated discussion about gender and societal expectations, the question of how to raise emotionally strong boys has come into this editor’s radar on more than one occasion. I think my husband and I have done a pretty good job with our son.
Regardless of your view on the subject of gender, we are living in times when it’s more important than ever to raise strong, confident individuals, and having a healthy connection with their emotions is key. How do we help our boys express their feelings and grow up to be unafraid of them? How do we help them understand that they can be masculine — and have feelings too? How do we help them survive the tests of masculinity intact and on their own terms? With conflicting ideas of machoism (in my case, even conflicting ideas between Dad and Stepdad), it’s vital to have open, clear and positive conversations about emotional health with boys of all ages.
In the book Raising Cain, co-authors Michael Thompson, Ph.D. and Dan Kindlon, Ph.D. present 3 great following strategies, designed to help parents nurture and protect the emotional lives of their boys, to respect their interests and needs, and help them grow up to be caring, intelligent, successful men. Some of the most impactful techniques described in the book include:
SPEAKING THE SAME LANGUAGE
Talk to boys in their language — in a way that honors their pride and their masculinity. Be direct with them; use them as consultants and problem solvers. “Because boys are miseducated to fear excessive feeling and vulnerability, it is important to communicate with them in a way that honors their wish for strength and does not shame them… Is communicating with boys sometimes difficult? Yes, it often is. Is it impossible? Almost never. Only with the angriest, contemptuous, and suspicious boys is conversation impossible. If you are willing to ask consultative questions, put your emotional cards on the table, and not be disappointed by brief answers, you can communicate with boys.”
SEPARATING THE ‘INTERNAL LIFE’
Give boys permission to have an internal life, approval for the full range of human emotions, and help in developing an emotional vocabulary so that they may better understand themselves and communicate more effectively with others. “The simple idea here is that you consciously speak to a boy’s internal life all the time, whether he is aware of it or not. You respect it, you take it into account, you make reference to it, you share your own. There is something of the prophecy fulfilled here. That is, if you act as if your son has an internal life — if you assume that he does, along with every other human being — then soon he will take it into account.”
EMBRACE THE NATURE AND PERSONALITY OF YOUR BOY
Not all boys are created equal, but for those who are active, it’s important to recognize and accept their high activity level and give them safe boy places to express it. “Many parents of boys do embrace the physicality of boys… some do not. Most teachers of boys also love boys; some, unfortunately, do not. Boys are tremendously sensitive to adults who do not have a reasonable tolerance level for boy energy, and when they do sense that a person has a low threshold of boy tolerance, they usually respond to it as a challenge…Boys need to learn how to manage their physicality to do no harm, but they need not be shamed for exuberance.”
Likewise, and this is not necessarily the opinion of these two authors, but I believe that the “boys will be boys” blanket statement often feeds the formulation of inadequate expectations from parents and teachers. Not all boys have a higher level of activity than girls. Thus, another reason to establish a clear vocabulary and define a range of emotions among boys is to learn (from their individual personality) when the lack of heightened physical activities is a product of other factors that we need to take notice of.
What else works for parents and teachers?
I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts; it’s of the utmost importance to continue helping all the members of the #NoniTribe to grow and achieve personal greatness!