Creative Child

Raising Emotionally Healthy Boys

by Rebecca Eanes

“Emotional disconnection is a poor life strategy.” This is a quote by Michael C. Reichert, PhD in his book How to Raise a Boy. Yet, emotional disconnection is still what we so often require of boys. He says, “With masculine conventions still policed vigorously, most boys learn to keep their feelings private and to suppress and override them. With the exception of anger, boys often lose touch with how they feel. Cold showers, hazing rituals, bullying, and tests of courage have historically reinforced emotional disconnection.” Suppressing emotions has a devastating effect on mental and physical health. A 2013 study by the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Rochester concluded that people who suppressed their emotions have a higher risk for developing cancer and a number of other chronic diseases and ultimately an earlier death. It’s also been linked to depression and anxiety, poorer academic outcomes, aggression, substance abuse, and recklessness. The bottom line is that forcing boys to repress their emotions is quite literally killing them, and it’s up to us to change the tide.

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To learn more about how we can help our boys process their emotions in a healthy way, I reached out to my friend and colleague, Bridgett Miller. Bridgett is a facilitator at the Neufeld Institute, a leading voice in child development, and the author of What Young Children Need You to Know. I asked her, “People are still afraid that a boy who cries will be too ‘soft’ or ‘girly.’ What’s the emotional consequence in plugging up those tears?”

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She said, “Parents who are hoping to toughen up their sons to fit into a society that venerates men exhibiting toughness are neither ill-intentioned nor malicious. They have been misled by a false but prevailing belief that boys shouldn’t cry. Some beliefs are hard to change, and this is certainly one of them. When we consider that boys and girls have the very same emotional systems, it’s mind-boggling to think they would need to be treated differently. Being able to feel their sadness is what moves young children to have their tears. Tears are meant to signal to us they’re upset and in need of our comfort. By the time a child cries tears of sadness, loss, or disappointment, they have already experienced the emotional hurt of things not going their way. When they burst into tears upon hearing they may not have another cookie, it’s an indication they’ve felt the pang of futility associated with not getting what they so desperately want. Their tears are an external sign of their brain’s acceptance of this very sad fact and shows they have entered the emotional process of adapting to circumstances they can’t change or control.”

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