By Nancy Jergins and Dana Hall McCain
Boys need to remember one thing most of all when it comes to their feelings, especially anger: they always have a choice for how to respond, so says author and pediatrician Meg Meeker. I hear her loud and clear on this because I have a boy on the cusp of puberty (hello, testosterone)—the entry point to manhood.
Dr. Meeker explains that, when boys are still young, as part of their emotional development, they need to learn that while their feelings can be intense, they do not need to be ruled by them. In fact, she says that moms can put it this way to their sons, “Are you going to allow your feelings to dominate your decisions, or are you going to take charge of them?” Here’s how to teach your son to handle his emotions in a constructive way.
Put a name on them. Before your son can deal with his emotions, he needs to identify them. So while it may seem like he’s angry at his father about being late to his ball game, the actual feeling underneath the surface is sadness. Teach him to look beyond the surface emotion to what lies deeper.
Green light the feeling. Try not to make your son feel guilty for his emotions. As Dr. Meeker says, “…they can feel strongly about something, but then must choose how—and how not—to respond to those feelings.” So don’t teach your son to suppress anger, jealousy, or other strong emotions. All of those are part of the human experience.
Call him to action. Once the feeling is identified and acknowledged, boys must then decide what to do with it. First, encourage your son to talk about what he is feeling. He doesn’t have to over-analyze it, but if he can verbalize it to you, that’s huge. You can then guide him—not to be confused with giving him advice—on how to sort out his feelings through a filter that takes into account his moral beliefs.
Put him in charge. Your son needs to know that, ultimately, he is the one in charge of how he reacts to his feelings. Teach him that physical force is unacceptable and that he should never use that type of force with others. If he needs to get out aggression, he can find physical release through exercise, punching a pillow, or even screaming into a pillow. My very wise uncle, who’s also a child psychologist, says we need to teach our children that they are the boss of their feelings.
5 ways to build a strong mom-son bond
Build a deep mother son relationship, especially since they will learn things from their relationships with their moms that they will someday need for their relationships with their wives. Boys learn things from watching and interacting with their moms that dads can’t teach, so be intentional about maximizing your opportunities with your sons.
1. Create Some Air Space for Him to Talk
We’ve all heard the statistics about how many more words women speak per day than men. Women are natural verbal communicators. But your son likely has a lot to say—if you can hush up long enough to listen. Carve out time to spend with your son where there aren’t distractions. Bedtime is a great moment for this with younger boys. With your older boys, it might be a walk around the neighborhood. Ask some open-ended questions, and then listen. Resist the urge to rush in to fill the awkward silence or to finish up his thoughts for him. Give him some air space, and let him fill it up.
2. Learn to Speak His Language
Boys bond through activities. If you want to bond with him, then do the things he loves with him. If your son has a passion or even an interest in something, show a little interest yourself. If it’s baseball, learn the basics of the sport so you can enjoy a game together. If it’s Legos and science fiction, engage with him enough to at least be conversant (this comes from a mom who’s been forced to learn more about Star Wars than she ever really wanted to know). Because it’s not really about base hits and battle droids, it’s about communicating what matters to him also matters to you.
3. Don’t Shut Down His “Boyness”
Boys can be loud, dirty, smelly, endlessly hungry, and lots of other things that just don’t jive with our female sensibilities. But it’s those grungy little hands and pockets full of rocks that will one day translate into strong hands and a masculine instinct that will make him a wonderful husband and father. Instead of bemoaning all the rough edges of your son’s masculinity, find ways to appreciate them for the beginnings of manhood that they are. Your son will love you even more for accepting him the way God wired him. And then you can make him take a bath.
4. Teach Him What You Know
There are a few things that you’re probably the in-home expert on that your son can benefit from—like cooking. And who knows what else? Pull your young man into the kitchen and show him the ropes. You’ll get some precious time together and teach him something he can use to survive bachelorhood and woo his future wife.
5. Talk to Him About Relating to Women
By talking with your son about what good male-female relationships look like, you can shape his thinking and strengthen your own relationship, as well. Instead of leaving all the talk about how to treat women to dad, give him your own perspective about what you looked for in a man, and what women really appreciate. And most importantly, model a healthy relationship with your husband to show him what a real-life marriage that works looks like. Whether he admits it or not, he’ll be watching and listening.
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