Talking About Feelings With Boys

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As a mother of boys, I’m always listening for data or studies regarding boys and how they learn.  In a system largely geared towards educating girls, I want to make sure my boys have the best change for success in life.

A few months ago, a friend introduced me to an article discussing the differences in the development of memory in boys and girls.

The basic idea of the article is  that girls tend to remember more and with a higher level of detail than boys too.  This applies to childhood memories as well.  For example, a sister might remember a lot more about the same event in childhood than her brother does, even if both were present for this event.

Researchers hypothesize that the reason for this difference may have to do with the way parents talk to their sons versus the way they talk to their daughters.  Parent’s conversations with girls tend to include a much broader discussion of the emotions involved with an event.  Girls are learning that describing the way an event made you feel is part of the process of telling a story.  Boys are not receiving this same message, and parents are less likely to ask their sons how an event makes them feel.

Sure, I want my sons to be able to remember their childhoods well, however, more importantly, I want them to be able to recognize their feelings and learn how to process them in a healthy manner.  Therefore, I made a conscious effort to begin discussing feelings more with my sons.

This can be so much more than just asking about the feelings your child experienced during the course of the day.

Below is a list of ways I’ve found to incorporate discussions about feelings into our daily lives.

  1. While your son is telling you about his day, ask about how specific events made him feel.  I allow Ender to say as much as he wants about his feelings.  Sometimes he elaborates, sometimes he doesn’t.  I don’t pressure him to say more or cut him off if he goes on for a while.  I want him to know his feelings are important to me and they’re good to talk about.
  2. Ask your son to describe how a character in a book might be feeling.  Sometimes, while we’re reading, we stop and talk about how the character is feeling.  This is great, because sometimes this allows us to introduce the words for new feelings Ender is not yet familiar with.  For example, frustration, guilt, uncertainty, etc.
  3. Validate and help to name your son’s feelings.  Sometimes, all it takes is knowing that someone understands.  Often, if Ender is upset about something, it does wonders to validate his feelings.  For example, if he is upset because he can’t zip his coat, I might say, “You’re feeling sad because you can’t zip your coat up!”.  This is an amazingly effective tool and often is enough to allow him to stop crying so we can talk about a solution.
  4. Look through magazines and talk about how the people in the pictures feel.  We get a few magazines and we’ll flip through the pages and talk about the faces we see and the emotions they’re portraying.
  5. Allow your son to cry.  There’s nothing wrong with having strong emotions.  Having a good cry can be healing.  Allow your boys to take the time they need to release powerful emotions and do not judge them for it.

These skills may have positive effects into the school years.  For example, remembering what you were feeling on the day you were studying for that chemistry exam may help you recall more details about that event.  Psychologists refer to these small pieces of data as “retrieval cues”.  The more retrieval cues you have, the more likely you are to remember details about an event.

Talking about feelings means so much more than we think, and it’s fascinating to learn more about how our brains process events in our lives!  Hopefully these tips will allow others to easily begin discussing feelings with their sons!

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