Raising Emotionally Intelligent Boys
We were really excited about episode 7 of “One Day You’ll Thank Me” with our guest expert Rob Allison( LPC). Rob owns a solo practice in Denver, CO and works primarily with men who are feeling stuck, are self critical and experience anxiety, depression, and anger. We talked with Rob about how to be a healthy balanced man, father, and role model for our sons.
We started off talking with Rob about what drove him down this particular path working with men. He shared that among a number of things, he heard some startling statistics. He found that men are 3 times more likely to die by suicide, and are half as likely to be diagnosed with depression. At first, he thought (as many others do) that men are less likely to be depressed, but he found that was not the case, they are just less likely to be diagnosed. There are many that do suffer and this is where Rob had found a calling.
In society today, you hear that women are more emotional and depressive than men. It really is a real detriment to men for us to not recognize these symptoms in them. There are things that we can be doing as parents to support not only our daughters, but our sons in emotional intelligence.
Many of us have heard the term toxic masculinity (the cultural pressures for men to behave in a certain way, rigid adherence to old gender roles), but what does that mean for men these days? Rob says that it can be looked at in two ways:
Your role as a man ---what type of role do you find yourself in? is this a role that you chose for yourself or one that was thrust upon you? how well do you perform in that role? how would you describe success?
Older traditional (rigid) stereotypes of men being emotionally disconnected, suppressing emotions, chasing status, wealth, and achievement.
That brings up the non-traditional role of a man, being a stay at home dad, and the conflict that creates. Is this a role you are comfortable in? There still is some struggle among men that would like to forgo their job and stay home with the kids while mom works, but there is a lot of guilt, that is not what I “should” do as a man and as a father. The same goes for paternity leave. There are many guys that would like to take an active role and be there for support and doctor appointments, etc, but feel anxiety or guilt and shame even if they have the time off.
Men have been taught or role modeled that when they are upset, it is more appropriate and masculine to show it as anger and frustration. How this relates to boys is that there is this idea that when boys are experiencing emotion, it is more acceptable to display it as anger or frustration, as opposed to girls, where showing sadness or even crying is more acceptable.
So when it comes to boys and crying when they are upset, this brings up a dichotomy. In my clients, I hear many of them say that I don’t mind if my boy cries, just not in front of his friends because he will be made fun of. This makes this a difficult situation because fitting in and being acceptable is a huge part of growing up and the possibility that the boy will get made fun of if he cried is high. On the other hand, being able to cry and show emotion is overwhelmingly healthy and from an emotional standpoint a good thing. Rob shared that if a parent is thinking that, he would challenge them to consider if their boy is discouraged from crying in front of friends, what else are they not going to show in front of their friends? Are they learning that it is not acceptable to be vulnerable in front of them or other people and to start withholding in relationships?
Rob believes that there is a time and place for both masculinity, but also being able to be vulnerable when appropriate, and not worrying if it is going to be acceptable around certain circles.
What are some tips that dads can use for role modeling healthy emotional intelligence?
The first thing would be doing a little self reflection and consider what you learned about managing your emotions? What messages did you learn about showing different emotions? This will give you some clues as to how you may be showing up.
Showing all parts of yourself with your children. Many men often speak of their dads and how they didn’t really know him fully, they didn't know certain parts about him.
Showing a whole range of emotions with our kids; happy, depressed, angry, etc. Making sure that we share with our kids if we are angry with them or if we are just hurt by something they did, letting them know how you really feel, so they do not misinterpret and they can learn how to convey specific emotions.
When it comes to emotions, the boys that I work with tend to just say that they are one of three things, sad, happy, or angry. I challenge men and boys to be specific about what you are actually feeling, being more specific.
What can the wives/moms do to best support the men in their lives to be more emotionally more intelligent?
During pregnancy and especially right after birth, make sure the dad is included in the whole process. Many men want to be a part of it and feel left out and not sure how or where to ask questions. They often will not speak up about it, but they want to take part.
Encourage your man to get professional help if you see that it might be needed, they are much less likely to look into counseling/therapy on their own. They tend to not ask for help and your encouragement may be what they need.
Your man wants to come home and be an active member of the house and family, but just needs 20 minute or so to switch gears and then get into the groove.
Allowing the space for your man to talk about things that are going on with him, whether with you or again suggesting professional help.
For women and men, at times both of you may be feeling unappreciated. For the women out there, most men want to be included (even if they don’t express that in the best way). And men, let the women in your life know how you are feeling and if you are feeling left out. It is really about communication and expressing ourselves so that the other person can hear you.
We find that it is extremely important to take a look at yourself and learn how you have been taught to handle emotions and feelings and how you are expressing them with your boys. Being a good role model doesn’t mean being perfect by any means, it is being open and showing as much of ourselves that is appropriate and seeking help if you may be struggling with feelings of anxiety, anger or frustration.
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