Ways to Develop Your Son’s Emotional Health
Snips and snails and puppy dog tails might have been how I once envisioned boys as I ran from them on the playground and dreaded standing next to one particularly rude young man in Super Choir. That was when I was 9 years old. Perhaps it was a combination of those experiences and the unknowns (me – a girl) I faced that as soon as my first son was born I began making fervent promises to him, to me, and to the world. I vowed to raise a kind, loving, caring, respectful, forgiving, empathetic young man. But how was I going to actually do that?
Then as I rocked my son early in his weeks of life I read John Gottman’s Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting, and I found a parenting approach I felt drawn to specifically for my son. Gottman writes in this book about emotion coaching and why he feels this parenting approach is the most effective when it comes to raising children with healthy emotions who are more confident, able to handle changes, and better equipped to maneuver in the social world.
Let’s be real – boys are different from girls. When my first son was born I already had a 2-year old daughter. I felt I knew how to connect with her, teach her, and nurture her, and all biases aside, she was an amazingly adaptive and emotionally intelligent toddler. I just didn’t have the confidence that I would be able to raise a son, a boy, to be less like snips and snails and more like a human. Gottman’s book in a way taught me that the same techniques I was already intuitively using with my daughter would work with my son. More importantly, it showed me that not only could I use this approach with my son, but that it was imperative for me to do so in order to raise an emotionally intelligent son.
What is the Emotion Coaching Parenting Style?
Put into very basic terms, the emotion coaching parenting style is an approach to raising children that is founded on the ideas that in order to raise children who can live to their fullest, most positive selves, we need to teach them how to recognize and react to their own emotions and the emotions of others.
How Can Emotion Coaching Help Me Raise Amazing Sons?
I have now been blessed with 3 sons and have seen the results of using the emotion coaching parenting style in our own family, and feel that it is especially valuable for parents of boys, who like me, made promises to the world about raising amazing sons. Gottman’s observations of parents who used emotion coaching developed into 5 steps for the parenting approach. For each of the 5 steps there are ways that are especially helpful or useful to incorporate when raising sons.
- Awareness of the emotions. This means seeing your son as an emotional human being, and recognizing his feelings, even those that aren’t always viewed as masculine in society.
- Respect for the emotions. Kids learn quickly and will tell in less than a heartbeat if crying is not considered acceptable. We also need to be open to our son’s anger and not either dismiss it as “a guy thing” or push it aside and ignore it. We can’t help them learn to deal with emotions like anger if we don’t respectfully acknowledge how it impacts their lives.
- Listen to and validate emotions. Ask your son how he is feeling, and truly listen to the answer. He might not be able to fully describe his emotions, but you can also pay attention to his body language and actions. If your son just pinched his sister and took away her toy, you might ask him if he was feeling jealous of the attention she sometimes gets as the youngest.
- Help identify emotions. If you see your son trying to turn away and hide emotions, you could gently go to him and say “It looks like you might be feeling sad and frustrated because Dad missed your game. Do you think that might be what you are feeling?” Label different emotions and let them know that often we feel more than one emotion at a time.
- Help find resolutions. Boys are often taught in society to hide their emotions or use aggression to work out their feelings. It is SO important that we teach them other ways to work through their feelings. This is perhaps the most important step when it comes to raising emotionally healthy sons. It is extremely important to be clear about the difference between accepting and acknowledging emotions and setting limits on their behaviors. Just because your son feels very mad at his brother doesn’t mean he gets to work that out through slugging him.
- Be clear that all emotions are acceptable and everyone experiences different emotions in different situations. Read books together and talk about the emotions the characters are feeling – it takes the pressure off of your son for being responsible for all of the emotions.
- Be clear about which reactions to emotions are acceptable. It is OK to feel sad. It is OK to cry. It is not OK to go wailing through WalMart lamenting the toy that wasn’t purchased.
- Help your son find healthy ways to find solutions. If his anger got the best of him and he hit his sister, help him develop empathy by finding a solution that acknowledges her pain and helps him learn to do better next time.
- Encourage your son to come up with solutions to problems that arise from emotions not handled well. He will learn to take ownership of his actions and find better ways to react.
- Share with your son how you have felt in similar situations and what you did to help improve them.
Sons are amazing humans to have the privilege to raise and lead. Sometimes there are moments when the testosterone levels in the house almost send me right out the windows, but emotion coaching for parenting has been my saving grace. Yes – boys will be boys. However, raising boys who are empathetic, respectful, and nurturing toward others is a gift that we give them as well as others in their lives.