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Helping Our Sons Feel Their Feelings (To Parents)

It can be difficult for young boys to feel their feelings. For thousands of years, men have been written into the history books as warriors, emotionless heroes and the bread winning heads of households. They are politicians, doctors, war vets, and engineers that are expected to hold it together at all times. Recently, we’ve seen a slight media push away from this archetype. The Gillette commercial, The Best Men Can Be , sparked serious debate. It’s a perfect example of how far we need to come as a nation to let our boys grow and feel and process. The commercial highlights common trauma such as bullying and nods at the #metoo movement. But it also showcases dads stopping said behaviors through their sons, negating the concept of “boys will be boys.” This is beautiful progress from years past, but if this is the first instance we are seeing a commercial like this, if people are so rattled by this display of love and compassion, what have our boys been exposed to before this moment in time?

Steps to Helping Our Boys Open Up

         As a parent, how can we help? First, we must clear out our own biases and learned behaviors. To help understand this type of ingrained conditioning, let’s look at an old parable to illustrate subversive messaging. A mother and daughter cook a pot roast every Sunday night. The daughter watches her mother cut off the ends of the pot roast, put them in the pan, and put the pan in the oven. For 18 years, she watches this exact recipe come to life. The mother gathers her ingredients, cuts the ends of the pot roast off, puts them in the pan, and places the pan in the oven. When the daughter is grown, she invites her mother over for dinner and surprises her with her famous pot roast. Now, the mother watches the daughter cut off the ends, put them in the pan, and place the pan in the oven. During the process, the mother asks her daughter why she cut off the ends of the pot roast. The daughter, confused, says, “Mom, this is how you made it. You always cut off the ends.” The mother laughs and says, “yes, because we didn’t have a bigger pan.” What do we learn from this ancient wisdom? We are unconsciously teaching our kids everything we unconsciously learned from our parents. Is it all bad? Absolutely not, but this parable should shake us up. It should force us to stop and question how we treat our kids, especially when it comes to males and their feelings. Are we giving them time to process? Or are we implicitly putting them in the role of what a “boy” should be? Once we acknowledge our past, it’s time to work on our behaviors. However you react to your child will set the tone. For example, if you’re constantly emotionally unavailable after long days in the office, your son will not come to you with problems. If you consistently ignore their emotional needs because you feel they don’t need to be upset, they will begin to repress those feelings. Look at it through the lens of Pavlovian conditioning. Pavlov was a Russian Psychologist who trained dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. He did this by ringing the bell every time he fed the dogs. Eventually, all he had to do was ring the bell, and the dogs, conditioned to know they would receive food, would begin to salivate. Are our children the same as dogs? Of course not, but this example reminds us that whatever we consistently do, we teach. What you allow, you teach. If kids are allowed to share feelings removed from gender stereotypes, they will grow in a different way than giving them trucks and telling them big boys don’t cry. Lastly, we need to listen with an open mind and open heart. It’s easy to react, propelling the behaviors of our parents’ forward into a new generation, but just as this planet has evolved, so have the people that inhabit it. Let’s break the stigma of males not having feelings and break the cycle of oppression in men once and for all. Ask more questions that result in full answers, negating yes and no responses. Remove other distractions while talking to your children, such as phones, TV, and household chores. Make this type of interaction the norm in your home, so just like the bell, when your child has a problem or feeling  to work through, they will seek you out.          No parent is perfect. No parent can be, but we can attempt to break the toxic masculine cycles our country has created to help our young boys move forward into the world with empathy and compassion.

         If you think your son is struggling with depression, anger issues or addiction, call Stonewater Adolescent Recovery Center today. Get him the help he needs to break free from his pain. The team at Stonewater will create an individualized treatment plan to help your son express his feelings in a healthy way and show him the road to peace and his God given purpose. Call: (662) 478-9463