Creative Child

Raising Resilient and Compassionate Boys

by Rebecca Eanes

I still clearly remember the day my boys were playing superheroes. Dressed in masks and carrying toy swords and shields, they were running through the house having a wonderful time. I was not. I was overwhelmed with life that day, and I went to my bedroom, sank behind the bed out of sight, and began to cry. My oldest son caught a glimpse of me. He didn’t say a word. He simply put down his shield, sat beside me, and put his arms around me. He held me while I got the last of my tears out. My son’s compassion was like a healing salve for my heart that day.

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I’m a boy mom raising two sons in an often violent boy culture. I don’t want to toughen them up because I think the world needs tender, compassionate men. I do want them, however, to be strong and resilient. This is a balancing act I’m still figuring out how to perform. When they were younger, it was fairly easy to control what they were exposed to. Now they are tweens, and I can’t control what they learn from friends at school and, in fact, the school itself. One thing is certain – we still live in a culture that expects boys to be tough and aggressive and shames them for expressing tender emotions. “Boys will be boys.” “Boys don’t cry.” “Man up.” How can we grow boys who are resilient and compassionate? This is a question I ask myself often, and one which I’ll try to answer here.

  1. Show empathy. Children do, after all, learn from our actions. When we are empathetic to our children’s upsets, no matter silly or insignificant they may seem, we convey the message “you matter.” By validating my son’s emotions, he learned to validate others. However, when we send the culturally normal messages of “man up” or “boys don’t cry,” boys learn to stuff their emotions and harden their hearts. True strength isn’t in feeling no vulnerable emotions but in being able to feel them fully and work through them efficiently.

  1. Tell him you believe in him. Often. Having at least one (hopefully several) adults who see a boy’s worth and become his light reflectors will make him more resilient. They draw strength from our unconditional love and acceptance. The researchers at Harvard say “The single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult.”

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  1. Build emotional intelligence. Children who understand their wide range of emotions and have the skills for regulating them are both more resilient and more compassionate. For articles on how to build emotional intelligence, read these:

How to Build Emotional Intelligence in Your Child by Anna Partridge

5 Steps to Nurture Emotional Intelligence in Your Child by Dr. Laura Markham

5 Ways to Bolster Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence by Rebecca Eanes

In short, talk about feelings, accept and validate them, and teach problem-solving skills.

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