Dads, It’s Up to Us to Break the “Boys Don’t Cry” Mentality

“It Is Time for Dads to Be Known for Their Mastery of Emotional Intelligence” originally appeared on The Good Men Project and was reprinted with permission.

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

Most of us fathers come from the “boys don’t cry” generations. I am really not sure who thought it was a good idea to condition the males of our species to stuff their emotions, but the world needs men who know how to tap into their own emotional intelligence (EQ).

As fathers we need to let ourselves and our sons know it is not only OK for boys to cry, but sometimes they might need or want to. We all have emotions, and they can either serve or confound us, depending on how we deal with them.

Thirty years ago, Howard Gardner introduced the world to multiple intelligence theory. It is now largely proven and accepted that humans have certain cognitive strengths.

They include:

  • linguistic
  • logical-mathematical
  • musical
  • bodily-kinesthetic
  • spatial
  • interpersonal
  • intrapersonal

More recently he added naturalist, and indicated there may be even more definable strengths (and weaknesses). Intrapersonal intelligence encompasses our understanding of our emotions and of the way we think about not only our emotions but our emotional place in the world.

For whatever reason, there is a near universal male culture that demands we keep our emotional intelligence as underdeveloped as possible.

I don’t know a single boy or man of any age who doesn’t have a story to tell about a time when their emotions started running all over their face and they were emotionally shamed for their tears. It can be as dangerous as body-shaming girls and women. And, it is time for us to stand up and say no more.

The truth is that name-calling, teasing, and full-on bullying is extremely detrimental to teenage boys. Many of these young and emotional men have no culturally accepted coping mechanism except substance abuse. What sort of world are we creating for half the planet if it’s more socially acceptable to abuse drugs, alcohol, and/or nicotine than it is to let their emotions show?

Moreover, emotional intelligence is more complex than recognizing one’s emotions. It also involves having a keen understanding of other people’s emotions. Having empathy is part of emotional intelligence, as is being able to manage moods and practice emotional self-control. Some researchers argue emotional intelligence is something you are born with, but others believe it can be learned — and I agree. Everyone can work to improve emotional intelligence. In our newly digital world, we need a greater focus on helping our sons cultivate their ability to communicate using it.

In order to help your sons with this, you have to improve your own EQ. Whether you believe it or not, they’re modeling their own behavior based on what you do more than what you say. As you become a better example of strong EQ, your sons will realize having emotions and being emotional is OK.

Again being emotional is not acting dramatic. Being emotional is allowing yourself to feel — happy, sad, scared, worried, proud, scared, whatever. When your boys see you demonstrating appropriate emotions, they will learn to deal well with their emotions.

Here are some tips to help you set the example:

1. Become more aware

It’s not as easy as it sounds, but let yourself notice your emotions.

2. Put a name on how you feel

There is a lot of power in saying, “I feel worried.” As you name the emotion, then you can process it.

3. Listen without judgment

As you’re talking with your teen or others, really work on hearing what the other person is saying and learn to react without judgment.

4. Find a teaching moment

Use emotions to teach your son how to identify, name, and process them. If someone is mean to your son, ask how it made him feel. When he says, “angry,” let him know it is normal to feel that way but not normal to retaliate in an emotional way.

Think of yourself more as a coach — and no, not the sort of coach that says “rub some dirt in it.” Good coaches model the behavior they expect.

As you coach your son through his emotions, you are creating a strong man and are helping him acquire real-life skills to process all the emotional curve balls life can throw at him.

Fathers have the responsibility to change the male culture within their own homes. Young men who feel supported by their fathers will grow up to be men who will be supportive in their own relationships.

The cycle of “boys don’t cry” needs to be broken, and it is going to take strong fathers to break it. Your sons need you to help them.

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