Raising Emotionally Intelligent Sons
"Mommy, I fell down," said the 5-year-old to his mother during a
recent soccer practice. "Were you tough?" asked his mom.
he said and walked away with his head down.
I was at this soccer practice with my daughter, and feeling just
a bit out of place as the only dad there. When I heard this
exchange, it reminded me of the ways we can blindly follow the
"old school" concerning how we raise boys. The old school says
that boys should be tough, independent and reject feelings of
being weak or fearful. When I heard this mother ask her son if he
was tough, I wanted to say, " All he wants is for you to ask if
What does raising "tough and independent" boys create?
Men generally haven't received the training in "emotional
intelligence" that women have. They have a harder time
identifying their own feelings, as well as the feelings of
others. They have been trained from an early age to learn that
being tough is more important than showing feelings.
When you employ the old school of raising tough and independent
boys, you damage boys' ability to feel closely connected to
others and their ability to have awareness of their own feelings.
Boys learn to "swallow" feelings of inadequacy or weakness.
The problem with swallowing these feelings is that it impacts
ones' ability to access other feelings as well. Emotionally
intelligent people have access to all of their feelings, not just
the ones that are pleasant for them.
The result of swallowing these feelings may be fathers and men
who are "successful" (they make a lot of money), but who are not
in touch with their own feelings and have difficulty in nurturing
themselves or their children. They tend to have tremendous
difficulty in developing successful relationships with their
Most of the men walking around today report they either don't
remember being hugged by their fathers and/or they have never
heard their father say "I love you" to them. It's easy to see why
men often struggle in this area. Falling into the trap of the old
school for boys is easy because it's been the standard for
fathers for a very long time.
It is entirely normal and natural for fathers to have conflicting
thoughts about this subject. There will probably be a part of you
that wants your son to be tough enough to handle a tough,
There may be another part of you that doesn't want your son to
divorce three wives -- each of whom he blames for the failed
marriage - and who buys a red sports car and hangs out at singles
bars when he reaches age 50.
Remember that the world is not only moving towards more
technological sophistication but emotional sophistication as
well. Those who fully succeed in their lives in this generation
will be the people who are able to identify their own feelings as
well as the feelings of others. Here are some ideas on how you
can help your own son with this:
What fathers can do to raise emotionally intelligent sons:
Examine your own ideas and practices concerning how you raise
your son. Do you allow him to express his full range of feelings,
or do you push him away emotionally if he's showing sadness,
weakness, vulnerability, etc?
Practice, practice, practice. Catch yourself when you're in the
old patterns; try saying more things like, "that must have been
hard for you" or "boy, I understand how foolish you must have
felt." (These work on wives, too).
Occasionally share feelings with your son in an age-appropriate
way; this will encourage him to feel safe enough to share his
feelings with you. Don't be afraid to tell your son that you were
afraid at times as a child and that you still get scared today.
Be involved in your son's life enough to know who else might be
enforcing the "old school." That could include teachers, coaches,
day-care providers, other family members, etc. Since the old
school is all around us, have the courage to step in and make
change happen even though you'll be judged by others ("You're
gonna end up with a wimpy mama's boy").
Show physical affection to your son. Hugs, kisses, wrestling,
whatever you can muster. There is a great deal of research which
shows that boys who receive this from their fathers are happier,
healthier, smarter, etc. Show your son that you can hug or put
your arm around other men as well to demonstrate your affection.
Are you squirming? You're a good candidate for this one.
Help him to identify and name his own emotions as well as the
emotions of others.
You can do this by asking him questions like," Were you
feeling angry when you
struck out?" Try to judge people less and empathize
more - he'll learn these skills from you.
Let's help to create a world in which boys are able to be both
sensitive and strong. Let's teach them to be both fierce and
gentle and to be aware of their own feelings as well as the
feelings of others.
This is only possible if we give up the notion of the tough and
independent boy, which has done so much damage to the development
of strong, sensitive, and nurturing men.
We owe this one to our sons and to the world.
Mark Brandenburg is the author of "25 Secrets of Emotionally Intelligent
The eBook provides fathers with the information and action plans to enable you to
improve your relationship with your family. It is filled with specific techniques
that can be used to start feeling closer to your kids. The book targets the issues
and challenges that fathers face in their families and provides the tools and
information necessary to tackle these issues.