Raising boys today is no easy task. When it comes to masculinity, our society still adheres to traditional and antiquated stereotypes.
Boys are supposed to be tough, strong, and stoic, as opposed to weak, emotional, or vulnerable.
But in reality, assigning these attributes to a gender is random and dangerous. Ignoring emotions and disavowing vulnerability is extremely problematic.
With that said, here are five suggestions for raising healthy and confident boys.
1. Nurture feelings.
Allow your children to experience their feelings—whatever they may be. Validate and acknowledge them while focusing on effective behavioral strategies. Use language like, "Billy, I understand that you are upset that Bobby took your toy. It’s normal to feel sad when something you love is taken away. Let's try to figure out a way to ask for it back."
This will allow and encourage boys to feel good about having different types of emotions and see emotions as a guidance rather than a nuisance.
2) Allow failure.
Failing at something is a great way to learn how to overcome challenges. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could sanitize our children’s environments so that they would never experience adversity or struggle and be successful in everything they do? Unfortunately, as most well-adjusted adults know, this is not the reality of the world, and if you did so, your child would probably end up with some issues. In fact, never allowing your children to do poorly at something prevents them from developing the adequate skills to navigate difficult situations—which are inevitably going to happen again and again.
3) Encourage asking for help when necessary.
Help boys accept that sometimes they need help and that it's okay, and even admirable, to ask for help. Emphasize that asking for assistance is normal, and can even help you to learn new things. Asking for help in the appropriate situations can help to resolve an issue—it’s okay not to know how to do everything.
4) Channel feelings of aggression in healthy ways.
Anger is inevitable. Everyone experiences anger. But how we handle anger, and how we regulate this emotion can make a huge difference. Help your kids learn emotion regulation strategies that are effective, and even fun. Encourage kids to participate in things like karate or yoga, physical activity, or even just deep breathing. Set an example for your kids: “Today I got super angry that a car cut me off. I felt like honking at them for 60 seconds, but instead I took a few deep breaths and put on a song that I like.”
5) Teach appropriate intimacy.
Intimacy, in all its forms, is an important part of life, and an important aspect of loving relationships. Teach adolescent boys about the appropriate use of intimacy with appropriate people, as well as the role of sex in self-expression, when they’re ready. Adolescents and young adults who learn about these things from their parents are more likely to treat intimacy and sex in a healthy way, incorporating it effectively into relationships.
No one ever said that parenting is easy. And, if they did, they don’t have kids. Gender roles and how boys and girls are “supposed to be” can be toxic to a young person’s character development. Helping your kids, regardless of their gender, to accept, manage, and express emotions, and effectively navigate difficult situations will help set them up for success in every realm of life.
Konstantin Lukin, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in Ridgewood and Hoboken, NJ. He has extensive clinical and research experience spanning individuals of all ages, in both inpatient and outpatient settings. He specializes in men’s issues, couple’s counseling, and relationship problems. His therapeutic approach focuses on providing support and practical feedback to help patients effectively address personal challenges. He integrates complementary modalities and techniques to offer a personalized approach tailored to each patient. He has been trained in cognitive-behavioral, dialectical behavior, schema-focused, and emotionally focused therapy, and has also been involved with research projects throughout his career, including two National Institute of Mental Health-funded studies. He is a member of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, New Jersey Psychological Association, Northeast Counties Association of Psychologists, New York State Psychological Association, The International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy, The New York Center for Emotionally Focused Therapy, the International OCD Foundation, the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACSB) and a regular contributor to Psychology Today.