Boys are taught to “man up” by parents and men acknowledge that they have learned to not express their pain. Phrases like “boys don’t cry” were modelled by caregivers such as fathers (Brownhill, Wilhelm, Barclay, & Parker, 2002). Boys are humiliated when they play with dolls and they are expected to do well in sports (Reichert, 2019). However, parents need to understand that every child has different strengths and a child who is not good at sports, may be talented in music. It is important to view your child as a person with a different personality from others and to encourage the child to hone their skills. By not allowing boys to express emotions freely, they grow up to be men who lack emotional intelligence.
In an Asian country such as China, a real man is required to be slim, tough and independent. A child who lacks these qualities and is emotionally fragile or weak-minded is not considered a man. A seven-day boot camp exists to strengthen boys between six and twelve years old. In the camp, boys learn how to sumo wrestle, play American football, tidy their room and be independent by washing clothes by hand. They are also taught what it means to be a man and ideas such as shouldering burden and being the pillar of support for their family are instilled in them through conversations, “man’s cheer” and men’s pledge where they have to assert their strength (Paulo, 2018).
How does a society define “emotionally fragile”? Where do emotions get transferred to if boys are taught to no longer be emotionally fragile and that they should be perfectly fine to shoulder heavy burden?
Although giving boys the opportunity to learn how to wash clothes and tidy their room is good, it should not be restricted to boys alone. Such life skills should be taught to all children.
What should parents do?
All children go through a whirlpool of emotions and gender should not be the main focus when dealing with it. Below are some steps for parents to raise emotionally intelligent boys:
When parents start to listen to what their sons are saying, it creates room for boys to express their emotions. Over time, parents become the people they transfer their tensions to and the boys will be able to trust their parents, restore their own mind and have a clearer mind when making decisions. Parents need to ensure that they do not remind their sons of any stereotypical roles they think the child should conform to. Instead, this should be an opportunity for them to build a bond with their sons and to ensure he is able to acknowledge his emotions and verbalise it (Reichert, 2019).
Listening is the first step. Advocating is the second. Some boys may still be unsure about what they should do during their difficult phase. Parents should acknowledge the struggle and display empathy. Together, the parent and son can brainstorm ideas to decide what can be done. Although the first instinct for most parents is to provide advice, it is important to ask yourself what your son needs when he is opening up to you. Does he need scolding or a warm hug? Is he able to figure things out on his own? What kind of pressure is he facing right now?
As boys start going to school, they may face pressure from friends who are brought up with male stereotype. It is important for your son to develop his identity from young by instilling good values and the kind of person he desires to be in the world. A child who is accepted by his parents and has a strong sense of self in terms of values and behaviour will be able to resist conforming to stereotypes. However, the child may still be curious about why other students behave a certain way and they may show signs of adopting some behaviour. During these moments, it is important that the parent does not react negatively. Instead, they need to have a healthy conversation on the behaviour and remind the child of the values taught (Reichert, 2019).
These steps apply to both, male and female children. However, these steps are commonly seen when parents are bringing up a female child compared to a male child. It should be understood that by giving your child a listening ear, your child knows their emotions matter and you are giving them an opportunity to be able to regulate their emotions. Let’s raise emotionally intelligent boys and girls!
Brownhill, S., Wilhelm, K., Barclay, L., & Parker, G. (2002). Detecting Depression in Men: A Matter of Guesswork. 259-280. doi:10.3149/jmh.0103.259
Paulo, D. (2018). ‘Masculinity crisis’ in China leads parents to enrol kids in boot camp. Retrieved from https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/cnainsider/masculinity crisis-china-leads-parents-enrol-boys-boot-camp-10869716
Reichert, M. (2019). 5 Ways To Help You Raise Emotionally Intelligent Boys. Retrieved from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/five-ways-to-help-you-raise emotionally-intelligent-boys
Reichert, M. (2019). Parenting after #MeToo: Changing the skewed ideals of masculinity should start at home. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/metoo sexual-harassment-boys-parenting-toxic-masculinity-a8882236.html’