“Boys will be boys.”
“Boys don’t cry.”
Historically, men have been less likely to seek help for their mental well-being, have had higher rates of suicidal behaviour, and have often struggled in silence with their mental health.
Growing up, many men received messages of needing to “man up,” hide their emotions – push them down, that it’s “girly” to feel, and so on.
These toxic messages have contributed to a culture where many men have difficulty feeling tuned into their emotions. They turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, are less likely to want to attend therapy, and are less likely to get help for their mental health.
One of the biggest challenges for men who grew up with messages like “Big boys don’t cry” is that they have a hard time tuning into their own kids in their role as parents, and the pattern can continue.
Validating your boys’ emotions will not raise them to be a “wimp”
It’s so hard to change these patterns, but I want to acknowledge all of the incredible dads and men out there doing this work every single day. The work you are doing now will help an entire generation, and that’s incredible!
Let’s look at some ways we can raise our boys (and girls) to be respectful, strong and confident.
Raising boys who are respectful
Replace: “Oh, they were just rough playing. Boys will be boys!”
With: “You pushed Sam when he took your toy. It’s okay to feel upset, but it’s not okay to hit. Let’s go check-in and make sure he is okay. Do you think saying sorry will help you both feel better?”
When our child hears us say, “boys will be boys,” what they hear is “it’s okay to push around other people when they do something I don’t like.” Instead, we want them to understand it’s okay to feel upset with their friends, but it’s not okay to hurt them.
Raising boys who reflect
Replace: “No wonder that happened! If you had just listened, it wouldn’t have happened.”
With: “Tell me more about what happened, and help me understand.”
To learn from our mistakes, we need to reflect and figure out what we could have done differently.
Imagine you made a mistake as you were filling out paperwork for an important order at work. The way your boss responds to your mistake is going to affect what you learn from this situation.
If your boss says: I can’t believe you did that. You really messed it up.”
You will learn: I suck at this job; I have no idea what I’m doing.
If your boss says: “Mistakes happen, that’s okay. Let’s work together and figure out what happened!”
You will learn: When I mess up, I have people who care about me who will help me so I can do better next time!
We want to respond to our children in a way that lets them know we want to understand what happened and that we are there to help them do it differently next time.
Raising strong boys
Replace: “Big boys don’t cry. Toughen up!”
With: “Your feelings matter. It’s ok to cry. I’m here with you.”
If you were raised with the message that showing emotions is a weakness, it can feel like the only way to be strong is by “toughening up” and holding in all of your feelings. The truth is, the more we share how we are feeling with those around us, the stronger we can be. If we spend all of our energy holding in the emotions, we won’t have any energy left to stand up and be strong for our loved ones.
Raising confident boys
Replace: “I just need to lose this extra roll and drop 5 pounds.”
With: “I’m so grateful for how my body has served me. It’s incredible!”
It’s hard for our children to be confident and comfortable with their bodies when they hear us talking negatively about ours. We want our children to understand and appreciate how amazing their bodies are.
Raising boys who feel safe sharing emotions
I can’t begin to explain how important it is for our children to know that it’s okay to talk about how they are feeling. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, those who have difficulty tuning into and expressing their emotions tend to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms and are at higher risk for mental health struggles.
Replace: “I don’t want to hear it; you can put on your big boy pants and figure it out.
With: “You are feeling unsure right now; I know what that’s like. Tell me more about what you are worried about. We can figure it out together.”
Encouraging children to talk about how they are feeling from a young age is SO IMPORTANT.
Raising kind boys
We are models for our children. They are constantly watching, listening, and learning from us. What we say, they will say. What we do, they will do.
Replace: “They get a turn now because those are the rules.”
With: I know that you love playing with that toy. See how happy it made your friend to have a turn? That’s because you shared. How does it feel knowing that you helped bring them joy?
Raising boys together
I love that together we are raising boys who don’t have to “toughen up.” Boys who are allowed to be soft, brave, in tune with their emotions. Boys who will have the ability to cope with their emotions in healthy ways. Boys who don’t need to grow up into men who can’t regulate their anger and have healthy and functional relationships.
I’m excited for our girls to grow up alongside boys who are respectful and thoughtful towards them and all people.
Validating your boys’ emotions will raise them to be respectful, kind, strong, and confident.