We’ve all seen the damage that the “be a man” mentality can create, for men and boys as individuals but also for society as a whole. For too long masculinity has been disconnected from healthy displays of emotion. It has led boys to stay quiet when they feel sad or upset and even resist embracing feelings of joy or tenderness. They avoid showing emotion because they don’t want to be seen as “weak”. And the result is deeply unhappy boys, male teens and men who find themselves depressed or angry, unable to cope with emotional challenges. This toxic masculinity is profoundly unhealthy and it’s time for us to help our boys identify and express their emotions just as we do for our girls. Here’s are some ways you can help do this:
- For younger boys, teach them what each emotion means and how it is expressed.
- Make sure they have the opportunity to express these emotions and be able to identify them when they do occur.
- Explain and identify your own emotions when expressed in front of them. For example, you get upset or frustrated about something and your child witnesses this – explain to them what made you feel this emotion and what you are feeling as a result.
- Praise your son when he expresses, or attempts to express, how he is feeling.
- Create opportunities to talk about feelings and emotions. Always be curious about how your son feels, whether positive or negative. For example, you pick up your son from a playdate, don’t just ask how it was and what they did, but ask more in-depth questions about how he felt after playing a game or – if his friend teased him – how he felt afterwards. And talk about potential strategies to use next time something similar happens.
Teach your son multiple ways to act on his emotions in a healthy way:
- Asking for help
- Say it, don’t do it
- Solve problems with words
- Tell a grown-up
- Take a deep breath
- Express how you are feeling
- Relax and try again
All of these approaches can be used for all genders, but we have focused on boys here because society is reflecting back what happens when men don’t have a healthy emotional intelligence. Flipping centuries of gender-based programming and messaging isn’t always easy, but it’s definitely possible. As a parent, you’re in a unique position to do so right in your own home.