Raising Strong, Compassionate Boys

older boy carrying small one on shoulders

If you have been blessed with a boy (or two or four) then you have seen the many surprising and heartwarming things that boys are innately capable of. You have also undoubtedly seen the energy, unruliness, defiance, and aggression that have given boys such a bad reputation among new parents.

What is often overlooked, however, is the insecurity that almost all boys experience about their own masculinity, an anxiety not alleviated at all by popular portrayals of men on television, where archetypal men are strong, silent, stoic, and often violent.

Part of the challenge of raising boys is helping them mature into emotionally strong men, not just physically capable alpha males who are incapable of expressing themselves. Here are a few strategies to help raise your boys into intelligent, kind, compassionate, and strong men:

  • 1. Assume your boy’s inner life into existence. That’s an enigmatic way to phrase it, but essentially if you take your boy’s inner life for granted — assume it’s already there — question about it, talk about it, even if only indirectly, the idea will eventually catch on, and he will acknowledge his own thoughts, ideas, and feelings, and begin to give credence to them.
  • 2. Don’t force feelings into your boys. Boys, especially while they are young, want to play. They are energetic, physical, and not always particularly thoughtful or considerate of emotions. This is natural. If you try to constrict your boy(s) by being intolerant of physicality or by limiting their play, choosing instead a kind of “couch time” to talk about feelings, it will almost invariably backfire, and the boys will take your intolerance as a challenge, burying their feelings even deeper.
  • 3. Talk boy talk. Show your boys that there is room for emotional language, even within a stereotypical masculine vocabulary. Boys are natural problem-solvers; appeal to that sensibility when discussing things with them, especially emotional things. They will begin to accept emotional responses into the normal framework of problem-solving and will be better able to address their feelings vocally in words that make sense to them.
  • 4. Expose them to new definitions of masculinity and courage. Movies rely on stereotypes and archetypes to move narratives forward, and are usually simplistic in their depiction of masculinity and courage — strong, muscular men facing numerous or impossible enemies. While entertaining, this representation of masculinity is not holistic, and often teaches boys that the only way to be masculine is to be like the men they see on TV. It is critical to introduce to them the idea that apologizing to someone you’ve hurt, being compassionate when someone is suffering, and trying to understand the viewpoints of others are all examples of courage and masculinity, examples that are more real and constructive.
  • 5. Teach them that being a man doesn’t mean just one thing. Men don’t have to be policemen, athletes, or politicians — they can be artists, stay-at-home-dads, nurses, missionaries, musicians or anything that they want to be. Encourage your boys to reflect on their interests and to pursue them, because in the end, nothing makes a man, or a person, more successful than to chase the thing he wants in life no matter what it is.

Jemima Lopez is a freelance blogger and writer who writes for Zen College Life, the directory of higher education, distance learning, and online degrees. She welcomes your comments at her email: lopezjemima562 @ gmail.com.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who want strong boys.

Image courtesy of PhylB via Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.

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  • Simone Woods March 20, 2012, 8:01 am

    A great post Jemima. As a mother of two young boys, I am constantly surprised and amazed at the wonderfulness of them. Yes, they are almost always unruly and energetic and dismissive of any emotional ‘requests’ I may make of them, but they are still, very obviously, tentative and unsure and looking to Mummy and Daddy to help them navigate the big amazing world. Your parental help tips outlined here, will give us tools and techniques to raise a strong boy with compassion and good heart!

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