Helping Boys Understand Their EmotionsMany parents work to teach their sons that both boys and girls should be able to express a full range of emotions in a healthy way. But often in society, boys who express emotions like sadness are called weak or overly emotional. Boys are socialized to not be as expressive as their female peers, but that doesn’t mean that they do not experience the same emotions. Refusing to acknowledge those feelings can be incredibly harmful to boys’ development. Society often expects men to mask their feelings, even when those feelings are serious or dangerous to their overall health. There is a misguided idea of how “real men” are supposed to act, which often only allows emotions like anger to be shown, while healthy expressions of sadness are not encouraged. One 2010 study showed that as boys move into adolescence, they are more likely to embrace hyper-masculine stereotypes and become less emotionally available. Focusing on productive ways to counter those stereotypes is important during the preteen and teen years when boys are getting a lot of mixed messages about how they should act and who they should become.
Helping Your Son Understand His Emotions
- Build Emotional Literacy: An important tool for helping your son understand his emotions is giving him the words to describe those emotions. Maybe you corrected him in from on his friends and he lashed out in anger. But really, the emotion he was feeling was embarrassed, which lead to anger. Giving him the ability to describe his emotions can help him begin to identify the root feeling.
- Positive Role Models: Since we know that society often presents stereotypes of masculinity, young men need positive male role models in their lives who feel comfortable showing their emotions. This could be a father figure, a teacher, or a coach. The more boys can see healthy male role models, the more comfortable they will feel expressing their own emotions.
- Create a Safe Space: Vulnerability can be a scary thing, and talking about your emotions is the height of vulnerability. Show your son that he can talk to you about his feelings without judgment. As parents, the inclination is to want to solve the problems for our children, but most of the time, adolescents just want to be able to share their thoughts and experiences. They need someone who will listen and hold a safe space for them.
- Be Patient: Boys who are learning to communicate their emotions will need practice. It is not something that will just happen overnight. Try checking in with them every evening at dinner. Maybe they start with one-sentence answers, but the more they practice communicating, the more comfortable they will become.