I have always known that being a parent was a tremendous gift and responsibility and that I wanted to do it right. When I experienced the miracle of childbirth for myself, my commitment to being the best parent I could be was made even stronger. I am fortunate to have both a girl and a boy and parenting them is my greatest joy. For the most part, I find parenting them both takes the same skills but there are certain challenges more specific to raising a boy or a girl. Today, I am happy to have psychologist Dr. Michael Reichert share with us some tips for bringing up boys.
Bringing Up Boys- Parents As Counselors
Dr. Reichert is the author of the newly published, How To Raise A Boy: The Power of Connection to Build Good Men (affiliate link below). This book addresses the need to balance encouraging boys to “toughen up” and “be manly” with giving boys the space to develop, emotionally and psychologically. In How to Raise a Boy, Dr. Reichert paves the way for a reimagining of bringing up boys to become a good men while citing the latest insights from psychology and neuroscience to give readers the tools they need to help build more self-aware, caring men.
Bringing up boys to be good, strong, caring men who communicate clearly about their feelings is an important job. We neither want to raise soft, spoiled men nor men who are completely out of touch with their feelings. This thought reminds me of the famous quote by Frederick Douglas.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” -Frederick Douglass
So here is to bringing up boys in a way that creates men we can be proud of! I think you will find Dr. Reichert’s tips valuable in knowing how to parent your boys. I am pleased to be able to share with you an excerpt from Chapter 3: Boys and Their Hearts of his new book.
How To Raise A Boy Excerpt
Adapted from How to Raise a Boy by arrangement with TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2019, Michael C. Reichert, PhD
Parents as Counselors for Their Sons
Parents and caregivers are the most natural champions for boys— their “first responders” and the most natural containers for their upset. To bring your hurt and upset to your caregiver, seeking comfort and understanding, is instinctual, beginning in infancy when experiencing hunger, cold, or loneliness and then extending to other feelings as children grow. Serving as counselors for their children is part of a parent’s job description. How can we fulfill this role with our sons?
Be Patient and Stay Confident
The most important qualities boys need in their listeners are patience and confidence. For a host of reasons, many boys have had to man up, training themselves to keep uncertain or upsetting feelings to themselves, allowing only anger to leak out. Reversing course and opening up, though ultimately of great relief, will seem threatening and foreign in the beginning. Some boys may feel that they are regressing to a more dependent stage and that their very manhood is at stake. Parents cannot reassure boys through these worries; the boy himself has to put two and two together, discovering that he is stronger and more resilient when he is less alone. As he contends with the worry, insecurity, and isolation that come with having to suppress his emotional side, a boy may project his upset onto the parent reaching out to him, who seems to imply that he is doing something wrong. Hanging in, keeping calm, and even smiling with warmth and understanding as he criticizes, blames, or rejects them will let the boy know that his parents can handle the truth of what he is feeling. Hidden behind the masks they keep up, boys’ stress levels are usually higher than adults suspect. It falls to parents to offer the larger view that their sons are not alone and that they can figure out their lives (parents’ worries notwithstanding).
Build Up Relational Capital
When setting out to listen, parents may find that their timing is off. Their son is not in a place to share and puts them off. No question seems worded quite right, no tone relaxed enough. Sometimes boys’ upsets are being so tightly “managed,” and their troubles feel so far beyond any help and understanding their parents can offer, that the best they can do is withdraw to ruminate while barely concealing their irritation. Between avoiding topics they perceive that their parents are not good with, preferring to talk instead to friends or romantic partners or simply shutting down altogether, often there are many road-blocks before boys will actually take advantage of a parent’s invitation to open up. Having a foundation of easy enjoyment and fun in their relationships with their sons, built through special time and times just hanging out, is all the more important for this reason. Boys draw on this reserve when they come up against harder feelings. Sometimes boys can be explicit about needing to talk; other times they just make their way alongside their parent, hoping to be noticed or to find an opening. Under ideal circumstances, parents simply follow their son’s lead. Sometimes a son will be grateful for his parents’ persistence, but sometimes not intruding deepens trust. When the reticent boy finally opens up, he will feel even more in charge of himself and more confident of his relationship with Mom and Dad.
Manage Reactions to Anger
Perhaps even more challenging than dealing with boys’ propensity to avoid sharing is how parents manage reactions to their anger. Anger, or at least bluster, is common in boys; by adolescence it be-comes the only emotion many believe they can get away with showing. But angry males can be frightening. A boy’s anger, especially as he reaches physical maturity but lacks mature self-regulation, can explode. When parents respond to an angry boy with their own anger or fearful efforts to control him, it is like pouring gasoline on a fire. Anger is often the first wave in a boy’s emotional release— the initial burst of painful energy that precedes more difficult feelings. Usually if the parent reacts calmly and confidently, there will be enough space and safety for the son to peel through this top layer of feeling to more tender emotions of fear, shame, disappointment, and heartache. Staying connected to a boy even as his anger rises creates a space in which he can address mistakes, real or imagined, that have driven him from the relationship.
Parents are not perfect, nor do they need to be, and there must be room for the boy to say when he feels let down— or else he may go away. Asking boys to swallow what they feel and be “nice” deprives them of initiative to repair a relationship that has broken down. Where they can, when a parent picks up in a boy’s tone or attitude that he is angry, it is always a good idea to ask, as nondefensively as possible, “Have I done some-thing to upset you?” or “What’s come between us?” When there has been a real wound, of commission or omission, the parent should apologize. Sometimes it even works to apologize regardless: “I’m sorry I didn’t get it right with you.” Hopefully, parents have enough ego strength and support that they can afford to take the fall so the connection to them can be restored.
I hope you enjoyed this book excerpt and it got you thinking. The idea of what it means to raise a boy is one that is culturally defined and we get to influence that through our own family values and parenting choices.