How to Raise a Boy Who’s in Touch with His Emotions
Boyhood is often defined by diggers, dinosaurs, wookies and warplanes. But, according to some eye-opening new studies, we can add “limited emotional vocabulary” to that list. Aka: Ee train our sons to be stoic from toddlerhood—even though some studies indicate they’re born more sensitive than girls. Here, six ways to flip the switch from suppressing to supporting our sons.
1. Let your little boy express himself.
No judgments (“You’re too old to have a tantrum"). No offering solutions (“Next time, don’t run so fast/climb so high/play so wild”). Just sit with him and let him vent. Acknowledge and validate his feelings (“I can see you’re upset. Can you tell me why?”). Just as with adults, feeling heard is everything. And since repressing emotions can lead to serious issues, let’s just banish the phrase “boys don’t cry,” because they do.
2. Speak the language of emotions.
Teach him there are more than two ways to feel (angry or silly). Ask him if his feelings are hurt, if he’s sad, frustrated or confused.
3. Seek out role models.
“Put good men in the space of your son,” one expert advised The Times. If your husband or partner, for all his amazing-ness, is not all that emotionally expressive, spend time (together) with a grandpa, a coach or a family friend who is.
4. Give him opportunities for empathy.
Hang out with babies, play with dolls, read to him, make him responsible for the family pet or visit a relative who is sick. “Given all the benefits associated with empathy for success in life and work,” writes educator Gayle Allen, “it seems like now, more than ever, we need to mind the [gender] gap.”
5. Encourage co-ed friendships.
Boys who form strong friendships with girls gain an edge in social competence, communication and problem solving, and show less aggressive and exclusionary behavior. Time to expand that birthday party list.
6. Let him be himself.
If your son is more into arts and crafts than Nerf guns and skateboards, embrace it (and bask in the concussion-free safety zone). Actively participate in his interests; take him to museums—and to Michaels! Positive action is worth a thousand encouraging words.