A Mom’s Guide to Raising Thoughtful Young Men

As a mom of two growing boys, I can tell you that their emotions are much larger than their tiny bodies might suggest. They feel deeply and react accordingly to these strange, wild feelings that are entirely new and alien to them.

And, as silly as this might sound to MOST of us, some corners of society still need to hear this: girls and boys feel the same emotions! And they express themselves similarly—that is, of course, until society begins the brutal process of teaching them they ought to be and act a certain way according to gender.

Sigh.

Unfortunately, boys and girls both are taught some very damaging stuff from an early age on how to deal with their increasingly complex emotional baggage. Girls are taught to take everyone else’s problems upon themselves, and boys are taught to stuff their feelings down deep and keep their inner lives a secret from the world.

It’s absolutely tragic!

But newsflash, fellow parents: we have the power to change this for the next generation. That’s right! You can stop the cycle of emotional mismanagement before it begins.

Boys and Girls Face Different Problems

Sometimes, it is a little easier for girls to be taught healthy means of expressing strong emotions. This is because they are not taught to repress them in the first place.

Parents of boys face an uphill battle. They need to contend not only with the raging, hormonal tides of their growing boys, but also with the onslaught of dysfunctional emotional messaging inflicted by media and advertising.

Double sigh.

It would be nice if someone bothered to mention all these little intricacies before we signed up for this whole parenthood gig.

But as someone who is still in the thick of her two boys’ burgeoning adolescence, I have a couple of tips for greener parents looking to raise well-adjusted young men.

Don’t Take Things So Personally

Look, I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes my kids’ total lack of perspective can be incredibly frustrating. When you’re trying to juggle mortgage payments and debt and childcare expenses, all while your child is howling because they can’t get some toy from a commercial that they’re going to forget about in two weeks ANYWAY…sometimes the only thing you can do is take ten…or forty…or a hundred deep breaths. 

(And pour yourself a good ol’ glass of pinot grigio…or six.)

As a parent, it is imperative to remember that they do not share our live experience. It can be so, so, SO enraging when your boy doesn’t get some concept you have explained to them for the zillionth time.

Just remind yourself that you’ve had twenty plus years of practice managing your disappointment. Your child is experiencing all of this for the first time. Everything is brand new, which means you’re going to have to be patient as you wade through the bad stuff.

Use Every Opportunity to Teach Empathy

Empathy is an emotion we most often associate with girls, as though it comes naturally to them. The truth is that society expects girls to be naturally more empathetic, whereas they expect boys to intrinsically lack the ability to empathize as deeply. Then, the two genders are taught accordingly.

So not cool!

To raise an empathetic boy, you need to be taking advantage of EVERY opportunity to talk through their emotions and their relationships with other people. Society won’t help you, because of reasons outlined above. 

To teach empathy, acknowledge negative feelings and help them relate to others when talking out those feelings. Be it disappointment or anger or jealousy, help them associate their own emotional state with that of others. Impress upon them the importance of regulating their negative reactions to these emotions–especially when their response affects other people.

Nonviolent Communication Skills

As children grow older, they will become privy to all sorts of power dynamics. Be it in daycare or school or even with other kids, your boy will be exposed to a wide variety of different authority figures and hierarchies.

Oftentimes, authority figures will expect immediate coalescence to existing power structures, as though children should innately know to respect authority and act accordingly demure.

Um…that’s just so unrealistic! Naturally, different children have different means of coping with these new dynamics as they grow older. By giving them the tools to deal with their negative emotions, you can help curb the development of unhealthy coping mechanisms which may lead to anxiety disorders or the need for teen depression treatment down the road.

But you must also give your young man the ability to communicate peacefully and constructively. Nonviolent communication prioritizes the greater good and the needs of others, which is dependent on a healthy sense of empathy in your young man.

The ability to take responsibility and express one’s own feelings with clarity is the basis of nonviolent communication. Fortunately, these are skills you can nurture from a very young age in your growing boy.

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