There’s this great scene in the first Avengers film in which Captain America tells David Banner (the Hulk) that “now might be a good time to get angry.” Banner replies, “That’s my secret—I’m always angry.” I remember having lunch with a friend of mine who said that’s why he loved the movie. He is the Hulk. He’s always angry underneath. Many men can relate to my friend. It’s why the Hulk is so popular.
Men aren’t taught how to understand and express their emotions properly, so we often default to anger or just suppress them altogether. This is bad for us, but it’s worse for our children. Not only does it make relating to us difficult, but it teaches them that boys expressing emotions is somehow weak or wrong. We need to do better for our sons by helping them engage with their emotions in healthy ways. Here are 5 keys to developing emotionally healthy sons.
1. Deal with your own wounds.
If you want a son who has a healthy relationship with his emotions, he needs to see that modeled in his dad. Perhaps you’re the type who never lets your emotions show. You just shove it down deep and keep pressing on. Or maybe you’re prone to lose your cool and have even been known to punch a wall or two. Or you might take everything personally and find yourself hurt often. If any of that sounds like you, it’s time to get serious about your emotional health. This might involve therapy, honest conversations with friends, and some intentional self-care. Whatever it is, remember, your son will be impacted far more by who you are than by what you say.
2. Don’t default to “tough guy.”
We’re trained to play with our sons in such a way that promotes their being “tough guys.” This includes teaching them to brush off pain or hurt and to “be tough.” It might mean pushing through an injury or illness. This isn’t all bad. We want our sons to develop perseverance and inner strength. But that can’t come at the expense of their emotions. We need to teach our sons that boys expressing emotions is not the same as weakness. In fact, it can be a sign of real strength.
3. Teach him to be.Our sons need to learn that being is more important than doing.
Often our default mode is doing. Whether it’s work or a hobby or projects around the house, many men are only comfortable when they’re busy. We often put this on our sons as well. They need to be playing sports and going to youth group and taking advanced classes and on and on. Far too often, our preoccupation with doing serves as a barrier to our sons’ learning to be. Emotional health requires us to have times of reflection, times of rest, and yes, times of boredom. Our sons need to learn that being is more important than doing.
4. Listen and learn.
It’s easy to feel like your job is to talk to your son, but it’s just as important, if not more so, to listen to him. Create space for your child to talk about how he’s feeling. Ask questions and leave space for real heartache and struggle. If your son knows it’s safe to talk about how he’s doing, then he’s more likely to do so without being ashamed of or embarrassed by how he’s feeling.
5. Be present.
One of the keys to developing emotional health in your son is to develop a consistent presence in his life. Spend time with your son. Do things together. If you don’t have interests in common, then become curious about the things your son loves. Spending time together, even when there’s no explicit conversation, can strengthen your son’s sense of connectedness and belonging to you. It’s far more likely to find boys expressing emotions when they feel connected to Dad.
Sound off: What is another way you can help your son become an emotionally healthy adult?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your son and ask, “How comfortable are you talking with me about your feelings?”