For Women, By Women

Posted on Monday, June 22, 2020

Raising Caring Sons

Girls have traditionally been raised to be caring and nurturing, attributes not considered required life skills for boys. On the contrary, in some homes, they’d be considered negatively as ‘soft’. Generations of boys were encouraged to hone so-called manly attributes, to fit the stereotypical male profile.

Seems we were quite wrong.

Parents are key contributors to a child’s understanding of, and reaction to, the world. For a boy to become that caring, kind person, he not only needs to witness and experience his parents walking that talk…he needs to know they really value those attributes.

HAPPINESS OVER CARING?

Today’s parents are a far cry from the hands-off ‘seen-and-not-heard’ version of yesteryear. They’re far more involved in their children’s lives, and concerned about their self-esteem, happiness and fulfilment.  What’s interesting is that, in a number of studies like makingcaringcommon.org, “about 80 percent of youth questioned said their parents were more concerned with their achievements or happiness, than whether they cared for others.’ In addition, ‘were also three times more likely to agree that “My parents are prouder if I get good grades than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”

The Making Caring Common programme is run by Harvard psychologist, Richard Weissbourd, at the Graduate School of Education.  He says, “The challenge is not to convince parents and teachers that caring is important – they already believe it is – it’s about closing the gap between what adults say, and what they prioritise.”

If you recognise yourself in there, what can you do to shift that balance?

WHAT CAN I DO TO PRIORITISE CARING?

At the heart of it is empathy.Your son needs to hear from you, as parent, that caring for others is a priority, and, importantly, see your words in action. You need to encourage him to balance his needs with those of others, so…sharing lunch with somebody who doesn’t have any, or standing up for a friend who’s being bullied. How do you, as parent, do it? Instead of saying : “The most important thing is that you’re happy,” rather say “The most important thing is you’re kind.”

ALL EMOTIONS ARE OK, SOME REACTIONS ARE NOT

Simone Taylor is an Educational Psychologist in Durban, KZN. She believes as parents, we don’t want our children to feel pain: “We unintentionally dismiss their uncomfortable emotions hoping that will help the pain go away:  ‘It’s not scary’; ‘It’s ok, don’t worry’; ‘Smile, big kids don’t cry”.” Problem is, this doesn’t remove the emotion – it teaches him to either feel it but not show it, go into denial about his feeling and say ‘I’m Fine’, or become numb to the experience, and dismiss the emotion altogether.

A child may find it difficult to feel empathy for others, if they haven’t gained emotional insight into, or understanding of, how they themselves feel. When it comes to boys, this negating of emotion is often exacerbated by parenting models linked to stereotypical norms of boys needing to be strong. As Simone says, “The less tolerance and validation of emotion - “toughen up man” – the less emotional insight they’ll have, and the less likely they’ll be able to display compassion toward others.” If you haven’t been empathised with, how can you recognise and respond empathetically to others? It’s not a weakness to acknowledge the emotion present – on the contrary, it takes strength, courage and grit to acknowledge the pain and work through it. Ironically, allowing the recognition of emotion makes one stronger, not ‘softer’.”

Teach your sons that all feelings are okay, but some ways of dealing with them are not helpful.

“Empathy can be taught,” says Taylor. “Assist your child to learn their own emotions by acting as their mirror – put words to what you see they’re feeling. If they show sadness, mirror that with your words, thereby giving them understanding of their emotion. For example, “Ah no, you are sad because you lost your ball. It is so sad to lose something.” “Ah no, you are scared. It’s horrible to feel scared and feel like you are not safe. I am here with you. “Ah I can see you are angry. It feels so unfair you can’t watch TV and that makes you feel so cross”. Being a mirror to how your child feels allows them to gain insight into, and understanding of their emotions. That equips them to have the same for others, thus being kind, compassionate and empathetic in their interactions.”

Pressure to perform in specific ways comes from numerous sources. Having empathy for others is a wonderful tool for life.

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