CHILDREN | 15 JUL 2020
Talking to boys
Recent research highlights the necessity to teach our boys an emotional language. Encouraging and helping boys develop emotional literacy and development has been a focus of education and health initiatives the past 5 years. This is because an emotional language builds empathy and connection to others. It helps form meaning around experiences, our inner world and perception. When we can communicate this to others, we can experience the most important of human experiences- being seen. That is, someone understands our internal world, how we see the world.
I have put together a few ways you can do this without being intrusive, critical or demanding. Developing emotional literacy in everyday family routines, conversations and attitudes requires the leadership, capacity and commitment of parents. It is a way to deeply connect with your children (including through teenage years). There are two main points to consider when reading the following and implementing- first you must be calm, and secondly you must connect before you can be heard or listen well (teenagers will especially be less likely to be vulnerable with you without this).
- Walking and talking- if you haven’t read my article on walking and talking do so now. This was written when my boys were in primary school. They are now in high school and the last few years have been different. We have spent many hours in the car travelling up to 8 hrs a week. Driving to soccer mostly. Now my eldest is driving me. I love it! He is a beautiful young man and we enjoy the talks. I admire both my boys can be confident and relaxed conversing, letting me in to their worlds. They want to share when I can listen well; other times the silence can be as comfortable, you can see when they are tired or have things on their minds.
- Naming it- In our house we don’t shame. We accept emotions and show an understanding of each other’s experience by listening. Listening with empathy, we search for a memory of a time we felt the emotion our boys are immersed in. We try to recall how old we were, where it was, who we were with and other times we have felt that way. But here we need to not fix it; all we need to do is hold it all. Acknowledge their experience. After holding for some time and letting them talk, if they are calm enough and wanting, you might share one of your own story’s or offer a different perspective that could be plausible without being challenging or critical. It is ok to say what you think would have been a better way to manage difficult situations but only after have done the work to connect with non-judgemental listening.
- Sharing parts of us- children want to hear our story’s. This is why it is our responsibility to share honestly parts of ourselves. Why some of our friendships lasted and why some didn’t, what it was like for us at school, why you think people behave in certain ways. Our sharing of stories grows over a practice through their life, we make sense of why emotions arise and the number of different perceptions each as important as the other. Narratives and stories help develop moral and ethical compasses; how we understand our choices and behaviours with a means to negotiate greater complexities through life.
- Acceptance- Central to the growth of stories is the willingness to see yourselves. As a family you learn to find words and have the courage to be vulnerable. Encouraging finding words to explain what you are thinking and feeling develops a vocabulary as cognitions (thoughts) develop too. Taking the risk to say these out loud and be vulnerable is difficult and a practice in itself. Talking about emotions in the house can be framed with acceptance. Use words that recognise the emotion, empathising, hold, and discuss other meanings and reactions that might be possible. Pose as a question of curiosity (wanting to know more) not an expert. Be prepared to get it wrong. Ask open ended questions. Share what you know about each other and your patterns. Be interested in the way your children see the world differently to you.
- First is the connection- This leads to one of the most important things you can do to support your boys continuing to share their inner worlds with you. To stay connected you must know how to Repair. You must be willing to hear how your boys experience you. You need to stop and consider this from their perspective. Tell them you are sorry when you are wrong, or your reaction was not appropriate to the situation (you could have acted differently). Only then, once you are connected, try to talk again. Do not avoid the hard conversations, just be prepared to have them again. Practice is the key- don’t expect to be a champion at it.
- Learning mode- Don’t forget to be curious. There is always more you can learn about each other. There is always a way to create change in your relationships. Look at something like you’ve never seen it before. Be open to learning about yourself from your boys, be open to being humble and grateful they are a part of your heart.
- Celebrate each other- It is essential to spend time celebrating each other and the wonderful spark and joy we bring living our lives together. Let your boys influence you so they can see how to let others influence them. They will recognise relationships that support them to be their potential and have the courage to make choices without doubt. Building an internal narrative of value and love gives our boys the instinctive awareness of emotional experiences in others. The more compassion we use in our everyday conversations about other people the greater tolerance and generosity they can grow in themselves. Practicing gratitude and setting daily intentions creates an internal dialogue of regulation. Meaning we rely less on, and worry less about, other people’s perceptions of us.
We spend a lot of time together doing road trips, having dinners with grandparents, physical activities, sports and hobbies that require you to get out of your comfort zone. Family, friends and community are the lifeforce for our children, nothing is separate, everything is integrated. With self-esteem, awareness and language to share their inner worlds, because of this, boys will let us see them more, valuing the connection and safety.
If you would like to see us in person in the Shoalhaven and Wollongong areas or have an online appointment from anywhere to discuss your boys then contact us today.