Help Boys Express Feelings
It's okay for our sons to feel anger, sadness and fear.
A 10-year-old boy, who has just buried his beloved dog, cries in front of his new art-journaling group. There is dead silence in the room of six boys. I ask, “Is it okay for boys to cry?” “Yes”, they say, as all admit reluctantly to crying secretly in the privacy of their bedrooms. One boy asks, “Why is it okay for girls to cry at school and not for us?” I tell them that when they become parents, maybe they can change that.
These six boys came together for art-journaling, the process of getting in touch with the deeper self through art-making and reflective journaling. The group is open to all kids, including those who are facing special challenges at school, at home, or in themselves.
Although they didn’t know one another before they came to the group, by the end of eight weeks, the boys knew and supported one another, and felt a sense of belonging and hope. They had started to name and express uncomfortable emotions, such as sadness, anger, and disappointment.
The boys had learned:
- that the full range of feelings is normal and to listen to what their bodies were telling them;
- how to recognize feelings in others and to empathize,
- that no matter how monumental their issues seemed, they always had a repertoire of strategies to release their feelings constructively, and
- that it was up to them to choose how they deal with their feelings.
At present, boys are lagging behind girls in academics. One of the main reasons is this: when we experience anger or fear, we don’t have access to the thinking part of our brains. In our culture, many boys are not allowed to express fear and they are not always encouraged to express anger in constructive ways. As a result, their studies can be impacted.
Today, many men confide only in their significant other and if that relationship breaks down, they are bereft of emotional support. Wouldn’t it be great if boys could have emotional support from other boys? And if they learned to nurture their inner selves?
How parents can help
Be role models. When you name and express your feelings constructively, you give your kids permission to express their own. For example, tell your family when you’ve had a hard day at work and are feeling cranky. Explain that it’s not their fault and you plan to centre yourself by taking a few minutes to do deep breathing, and then walking around the block with the dog. It is especially important for dads, or significant men in your child’s life, to do this, and to show that expressing feelings such as sadness is okay.
Encourage your son to name and express his emotions. If your child looks sad, you might say, “I am wondering how you are feeling. Would you like to tell me about it?” Or, try naming the feeling for him: “Are you disappointed that you weren’t picked for the soccer team?”
Suggest strategies for releasing feelings. Practise the activity with your child.
Take time to regularly do something with your son. Delight in his uniqueness and get to know him better.
Activities For Expressing Feelings
- art-making, drawing, painting, mask-making, (working with clay or play dough, or ripping paper, are great ways to release anger)
- stretching, or practising yoga or free movement
- visualizing or meditating
- acting out feelings in a game like charades
- role-playing with puppets
- participating in sports, such as tae-kwondo
- engaging in music or journaling
- enjoying activities in nature, or just being still by a pond
- discovering other ways of expressing feelings safely at home and at school