6 ways to help your son connect to his emotions
All too often (and all too early) our sons learn that men should be strong and silent.That ‘real men’ don’t cry.
Kids’ ability to feel, identify and express emotions is essential not only to their mental health and wellbeing, but also to their ability to connect with others.
A positive masculinity approach can help your son make space for his feelings and value his inner life.
Here are 6 tips to help your son connect to his emotions in a healthy way.
1. Tune into his physical cues
Sometimes feelings, particularly big, uncomfortable and complex ones, can be hard for kids to identify.
Help your son recognise his feelings by observing his body language, verbal cues and behaviours. Be curious and ask questions such as, “Your shoulders look tense. Are you worried about something?” or, “You’re raising your voice and you sound frustrated. Do you want to talk about it?”
By observing physical signs and connecting them to a named feeling, your son develops an emotional vocabulary, which can help him better identify, talk about and manage his emotions in future.
2. Teach your son that emotions need to be felt
Emotions are meant to be experienced. Explain to your son that ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ emotions – such as rage, grief or anxiety – are not to be feared, avoided or pushed down. Validate your son’s feelings by telling him that it’s OK to feel upset/angry/worried. And praise him when he talks about his feelings or expresses them in appropriate ways. This will help him understand that connecting to and sharing his emotions is ‘safe’.
3. Help him identify feelings in others
Identifying others’ emotions can give your son a frame of reference for his own emotional experiences. If your son’s friend or sibling behaves or responds in a way that’s driven by an emotion, ask your son to reflect on what he thinks they might be feeling.
Books, TV shows and movies can give lots of opportunities to identify feelings in others too, and can be a fun in-road into discussing emotions.
4. Resist the urge to fix your child’s ‘negative’ feelings
When your son is experiencing ‘negative’ emotions such as sadness, disappointment or shame, your first instinct will be to protect him by trying to make his feelings ‘go away’. Instead, stay present, listen without judgement and support your son to identify and express his emotions. Avoid telling him what he should and shouldn’t feel – when feelings are minimised or dismissed, they can often be expressed in unhealthy ways.
5. Set clear boundaries around behaviour
When your son is learning how to recognise and process his emotions, he will need clear guidance on how to express them appropriately. Phrases like “You look angry. It’s OK to feel angry but it’s not OK to hit,” tell your son that it’s not the emotion itself that needs to change, but rather how he is expressing it. Give him a healthy alternative response such as deep breathing or taking a walk together.
6. Be an emotionally intelligent role model
Even if you’re saying all the right things, remember that your son learns the most about emotions from your actions and behaviours. It can be uncomfortable, but in helping your son, you may need to examine your own beliefs and behaviours. Do you share your emotions with your family, friends and encourage other to do so in return? Or do you suppress compassion or sadness because you’re afraid you’ll seem weak? Do you seek help and support when you’re struggling with your emotions? When you lose your temper, are you able to explain the feeling behind your outburst, take responsibility for it and try to make amends?
This isn’t about beating yourself up for your own shortcomings; it’s simply about awareness. Emotional literacy is a lifelong learning journey. By taking responsibility for improving your connection to your own emotional life, you’re teaching your son that self-improvement, growth and increased insight are not only possible, but are worth striving for.
Following from a successful +M webinar in 2021, our friends at the Foundation for Positive Masculinity are hosting an International Conference on 1 September 2023 for educators, men’s health practitioners, teachers and leaders who are ready to help boys improve their life outcomes. Learn more about the upcoming conference.
Bec Cavalôt is a Melbourne-based writer, and mum of two beautiful, boisterous boys. You can find her at www.cavalotcopy.com. This article is about Positive Masculinity
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