It is so important to raise emotionally aware boys.
Girls are more sensitive than boys, right? Wrong.
For years, we have had it all wrong. Research indicates that the opposite is true and that boys are actually more sensitive than girls. And yet we have taught them to “man up” because “boys don’t cry” and they have learned to stuff their feelings accordingly.
This has got to change.
People are finally talking about toxic masculinity and looking at how we raise our boys. It’s been an interesting shift in my practice, as I have had an opportunity to work with more men in recent years. I have been shocked by how eager many male clients are to talk about how they feel and connect to emotion when they haven’t been given space to before.
Many men hide their sensitivities, embarrassed that friends will discover that they actually have feelings. Others are so disconnected from emotion that they don’t even know how they feel anymore (And, by the way, the same holds true for some women who have learned to hide emotion to compete in a ‘man’s world’.)
The question is: How does this change? Here are five tips to raising emotionally-aware boys who grow up to be emotionally aware men:
Instead of shaming boys for crying, mirror and help them understand.
For example, if a boy is crying because he lost the baseball game, don’t shame him for the tears. Instead, mirror the emotion: ‘You’re sad because your team lost.’ He will feel heard and validated. This does not mean you encourage him to lie down in the middle of the field and sob.
It’s our job as a parent to teach them that it’s okay to feel the emotion and also to teach them how to move through it. Show them how to be a good sport, take a deep breath and shift their attention.
Give boys a vocabulary for their feelings.
When a boy gets frustrated to the point of anger, don’t dismiss it and say, ‘Boys will be boys.’ Instead, mirror their experience: ‘It looks like you’re getting frustrated with that.’ Give them the vocabulary to understand what they are feeling. This sounds so simple and yet often boys don’t understand how they feel at all because they lack the vocabulary. ‘I can see how that would be frustrating’ feels much better than ‘Knock it off’ or ‘Get over it.’
Tolerate their feelings.
It’s okay for your child to feel disappointed or frustrated. It’s important for them to tolerate their feelings. And that means as a parent, we need to tolerate their feelings too. Don’t always rush in to fix it. It’s okay if they feel disappointed that something didn’t work out the way they hoped. No parent wants their child to hurt, but you’re not doing them any favors by preventing them from having to cope with negative emotions.
Encourage creative expression of emotion.
Let them draw, paint, write. Creativity is such a healthy way of moving through emotion. However, boys are often pushed towards sports while girls are encouraged to be artistic. Both deserve the opportunity to engage creatively and athletically as there are benefits to both.
Teach them empathy and take harassment of any kind very seriously.
If you son degrades a girl, do not brush it off. Sadly, I hear stories from teenage girls that upset me about how they are sexually harassed at school and it’s not taken seriously. I have even heard stories of parents complaining to the school when their son does get in trouble for this kind of behavior.
As parents, it is our job to teach our children – both boys and girls – what it means to respect all people. Teach them empathy, model empathy for them, and take harassment very seriously if it happens. Don’t minimize the severity. If your son tells a little girl something sexually inappropriate, it is your job to walk them through and teach them why that’s not okay.
It’s not enough to yell and punish. It’s your job to teach. Help them understand the discomfort of that girl who has been treated like a sexual object. Sexual harassment happens in our schools far too often and girls are asked to tolerate this behavior. We need to teach them what sexual harassment is and why it’s not okay. If we don’t, they will never understand fully that it’s wrong.
The way we raise boys in this country gave rise to the “me too” movement. We need to make big changes. Our children deserve to grow up in a world where they feel safe and empowered – and that starts with what they learn in childhood. We must raise emotionally aware boys. Teaching boys to respect girls is critical to creating a respectful, kind world. I want nothing less than that for all of my children, and for yours too.
Whitney Boole is a therapist with a focus on her clients’ needs and goals, offering a compassionate non-judgmental approach to psychotherapy. Whitney’s book, You Got This: Healing Through Divorce, was released on May 7th, and almost immediately, hit #1 New Release in the Divorce category on Amazon. Whitney is a mother to three children, including twins, and understand firsthand the challenges of divorce. Whitney earned her Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University and her Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies at UCLA where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa. To learn more about Whitney Boole and the important work she is doing around trauma as it relates to divorce, please visit www.whitneyboole.com.