Emotional intelligence is rapidly gaining recognition as a vital skill required for one to empathize with others, communicate effectively, manage stress, overcome challenges and conflict as well as successfully navigate a plethora of social situations.
Unfortunately, we still insist on bringing up our sons under the same stereotypes that we men have struggled with for so long. As a society, our expectations of masculinity don’t allow for intimacy, vulnerability or open emotional expression. We encourage men to suppress feelings like fear, loneliness or sadness and instead teach them that only expressions of anger and aggression are acceptable.
The Danger of Suppressing Emotions
Yet, men have feelings that are just as complex and varied as women’s. They just express them differently. Research has shown that boys in their infancy and toddler years are just as –and in some cases even more- emotionally expressive as girls their age. Then as they grow older, we teach them to ignore and tamp down on certain emotions, ignorant to the damage we’re causing.
The thing is, suppressing feelings doesn’t make them go away. They just get buried in our subconscious and leak out in other ways. Boys and teens who regularly suppress their emotions are prone to issues such as teen depression, mood swings, increased anxiety, and poor sleeping patterns. Those emotions they suppress often find a way out as angry outbursts, behavioral issues, and even dreams or nightmares.
Encouraging Healthy Emotional Expression In Our Sons
As fathers, we owe it to our sons to break away from the harmful stereotype that men have to be stoic, cold and unfeeling. We can and should teach them that emotions are normal. We should also help them learn how to feel and express their full range of emotions and then how to cope with them in healthy ways.
Here are some tips on how to go about doing just that:
- Set a great example.
Our sons look to us for cues on how to act and behave. If we want them to be more emotionally expressive, we should start by expressing more emotions ourselves. We need to show our human side and become good role models by getting comfortable with our own feelings. Let our sons see that there’s nothing weak about men who talk about how they feel. Seeing you expressing yourself will encourage them to do the same.
- Give them the freedom to express themselves.
Don’t be the father who teaches his sons that feelings are a show of weakness and vulnerability. Be the kind of dad who encourages his sons to embrace all their feelings. While society looks down on men who display emotions, let your house be a safe space where your sons can share their feelings without fear of being ridiculed, judged or shamed.
- Listen to them.
One of the best ways to encourage emotional expression in our sons is by simply listening without judgment. Give your son your complete attention when they talk about their feelings and experiences. Don’t butt in with your solutions, suggestions, advice or opinions unless they specifically ask for them. Once your son realizes that you’re actually interested and that his feelings are also important to you, he’ll be comfortable opening up and sharing more.
- Teach them how to deal with negative emotions.
Our sons also need to learn how to cope with negative emotions like grief, disappointment or anger. If ignored, these feelings can eventually lead to a lot of problems. To avoid this, fathers should teach their sons healthy coping mechanisms such as taking a walk to cool off during an argument, talking about their difficulties with a trusted friend or adult or even using sports and physical activity to let off steam. Emphasize that no one should shoulder all their burdens alone and that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness.
Without emotional intelligence, our sons are doomed to a life of emotional turmoil where they neither understand their emotions nor know how to express them. If we want our sons to grow up healthy with the ability to accept and manage their emotions in positive ways, we have to set examples that are worth emulating and be willing to challenge the prevailing stereotypes.