Raising boys to be men isn’t about “manning up”. As parents of sons, we should be teaching our children skills to nurture their strength and friendships in healthy ways.
Dr Michael Reichert, the author of How To Raise A Boy, offers these important ways to break the mould and help your son be the best little man he can be.
Stop gender stereotypes
The first step in advocating for boys is understanding the threats they face from social gender pressures. There are many things that boys have to deal with right from the start. When a little boy cries, he is told to be a “big boy”. Later, if the boy plays with dolls or other toys that are thought to be for girls, he is likely to be told he’s acting like a girl.
On sports fields and school playgrounds, boys face more pressure to meet stereotyped expectations, such as love competition, playing through pain, seeking to be the best, etc.
Sometimes, parents get mixed up when choosing between setting limits and being kind to their son. For our sons to be able to stand up to pressures and get help when they need it, we need to stop the labels. Being a good parent to a boy means accepting and understanding that he is his own person, with his own interests and strengths.
Cultivate a strong connection with your son
Because boys are under so much pressure from their peers, they need to have a strong sense of themselves. As parents, we need to remember that our relationship with our sons is their primary source of strength, so we shouldn’t make them compromise on who they are. Because the cultural norm for boys is not to rely on their parents, it is essential for parents to be available to their sons and keep an eye on their lives so that their sons can trust them.
Allow your son to show emotions
Relationships help people become more aware and expressive of their emotions. Boys can only be expected to talk about their feelings in places where they won’t be shamed or judged. If a young boy feels sad, then it’s okay for them to express their feelings by crying. This is normal. Validating a child’s feelings is important, and crying is a way for them to be in touch with their emotions. And parents should always validate their child’s feelings.
Being overly hard on your son
Some parents are extra strict on their sons as a way of “toughening them up”, often saying, “this will turn you into a man”. The only thing that turns boys into men is the natural process of growing up. No prescribed behaviour makes a boy into a man. Saying this phrase will only make kids feel bad about themselves if they don’t live up to what a “man” should be.
- The above was adapted from How to Raise a Boy by Michael Reichert, PhD.