Mamas of Boys: Identifying & Decoding Their Emotions
Most people think bringing up boys is easier than raising girls because they don’t have as much drama going on. Having brought up both boys and girls, I can tell you that that assumption is incorrect. Boys do have as much drama and emotions as girls, they just show it differently.
Part of the reason boys are thought to be unemotional is because society teaches them that’s how they should be. Our society’s expectations for masculinity frown on men who embrace open emotional expression. Expressing feelings related to vulnerability –like sadness, fear or loneliness- is considered a sign of weakness. The only socially acceptable emotions men are allowed to express are anger and aggression.
Decoding Boys’ Emotions
This stereotype about boys and men ends up causing more harm than good. In order for boys to achieve healthy emotional development, they need to be taught to identify their feelings and then how to express them in healthy ways.
Unfortunately, asking our sons to tamp down on certain feelings can lead to a variety of issues such as teen depression, higher levels of stress and anxiety, mood swings and poor sleep patterns. Repressed emotions can also leak out as angry outbursts, physical ailments, and behavioral issues.
As the parent, it’s up to you to learn how to read and interpret your son’s emotions. One common way teen boys show emotions is by concealing them as something else. For instance, your son might complain of having a stomach ache or headache before taking an exam thanks to anxiety or nervousness. He might also use anger to cover moments of uncertainty, fear or vulnerability. If you pay attention, you’ll gradually learn to decipher his real emotions.
Empowering Your Boys to Freely Express Their Emotions
Once you’ve learned how to interpret your son’s emotions, the next step is to help him learn to appreciate and express his feelings. Here are some tips to help you do that:
Build his emotional vocabulary.
In order to equip your son with solid emotional resources, you need to start building his emotional vocabulary from a young age. Teach him to recognize what he feels and to correctly name his feelings and pretty soon he’ll be doing it on his own.
Be emotionally open.
We parents often try to shield our kids from strong emotions, mistakenly thinking that this is the right thing to do. However, if you want your son to be more emotionally expressive, you have to set a good example. Seeing you comfortably expressing and talking about a wide array of feelings gives him permission to feel and express his own emotions.
Listen to your son.
One simple way to encourage your son to talk about what he’s feeling is by listening to him. Pay attention when he opens up about his emotions and experiences. This is not the time to jump in with your opinions, well-meaning solutions or comments. Giving him space and time to articulate his feelings gives you a fascinating glimpse into his inner workings and allows you to get to know your son better.
Let him express himself.
Society doesn’t have much room for boys and men who display emotions. So make your home a safe environment for your son to explore and embrace all his feelings without fear. It’s easier for him to share his needs, dreams, and feelings if he isn’t afraid of being judged, ridiculed or shamed for it.
Teach him how to cope with negative emotions.
Boys, especially teens, experience some pretty strong emotions and need to be taught how to deal with them. Ignoring or repressing them only creates problems later on. There are different ways through which your son can cope with negative feelings. For example, he can go for a walk or use another physical activity to let off steam when he’s angry. He can also talk and share his feelings with someone he trusts or use creative outlets such as music or art to express himself.
If we want our sons to grow up to become emotionally healthy well-adjusted men, we have to teach them to identify and express their emotions in positive ways.
I am always thankful to have Tyler Jacobson write for my blog because he writes so eloquently about teenagers.
Check out Tyler’s other on-point articles: