Updated: Apr 5
How do we get boys to grow up to be men that know how to manage their emotions?
It was a typical show: the tensions were high, the wife was crying, the mate was asked how he felt. He could not [or did not] answer. He checked out while the camera zoomed in on his glossy eyes. His friends tried to encourage him to say how he felt but after some silence he said "it doesn't matter".
I don't know his life but this was something I've seen many times before.
It is not uncommon for adults to check out during conflict. You know the saying... everyone is grown until it's time to communicate. Usually, these patterns start very young. In terms of this post, when boys are not allowed to show emotion and told not to cry they grow up to be men that do the same.
Unprocessed Emotions In Boys
Story time: A few years back, when I was in the classroom there was an incident when a student hurt himself. He immediately started crying. When I looked at him he looked away. For one, he didn't know if I saw him jumping over the toys. And two, he didn't want me to see him crying. When I asked what happened, he said "I fell". I asked if he was ok, he said "yes". I asked if he was hurt he said "no". I gave him a tissue and asked why he was crying if he wasn't hurt. He said "I'm not crying! My daddy said boys don't cry". I said maybe your daddy does not cry but if you're hurt it's ok to cry. You can cry here, I will not tell your dad you were crying but I have to tell him how you got hurt. While I put an ice pack on his leg [as per policy], I told him if you're hurt and if you have tears it's ok to cry. As he continued to not cry I asked if he needed a hug? He said "yes". After a few seconds of crying while I held him, he jumped up and ran back to play with his friends doing the same thing he was doing that caused him to fall in the first place.
And that's how it starts...
Unprocessed Emotions In Men
When his mother came to pick him up I told her what he told me his father said. She rolled her eyes and said "that's how he [the father] is".
I will not deny that men carry a lot on their shoulders. It is also true that women are more likely to speak up or express themselves, still as a collective if we are in denial or not willing to break some patterns then history will repeat it self. That child will grow up to tell his son the same thing and the generational cycle will continue.
Boys grow up to be husbands, fathers and grandfathers. They also grow up to be leaders and protectors among other things. However they still need support and guidance too. Women seem to be more willing to do healing work but if the men don't do theirs then we will not be able to close the emotional gap. That's just a thought.
How To Help
It takes a village is an understatement. Beyond the sports and play, boys need role models, especially other men to show them how to be men AND how to communicate. Boys need men that can show them how to process feelings whether they are good, bad or indifferent.
Girls usually learn how to express their emotions from young, while boys are more action oriented and generally the least emotional of the genders. The best we can do is to model appropriate expressiveness so the people looking up to us can allow themselves to be who they really are.
Please talk to your sons and not at them and let them know that it is ok to express a range of emotions. Here are a few things to say:
I love you
It's ok to cry
Tell me more
You can say no
We all make mistakes
I know you did your best
You are loved no matter what
How can I help you through this
I can see why you're overwhelmed
I love how you said that [say what was said]
That was really brave of you [say what was brave]
That was a wise choice [say what the choice was]
That's a great question [repeat the question then answer]
What do you need right now? [for me to listen? a hug? space?]
You can talk about your feelings. Tell me what's bothering you.
What would you add to the list? Let me know in the comments.