Talking to your Son
Notwithstanding today’s embracing of unisex and transgender roles, the majority of youngsters still tend toward many characteristics traditionally associated with their birth genders—and face peer pressure in areas where they don’t naturally match up. Here are some ways to help a boy appreciate his masculinity without compromising his unique identity.
Encourage Him to Explore His Emotions
Boys were traditionally expected to keep up perpetual stoic expressions; starting in toddlerhood, any tears provoked the ultimate insult: “Stop acting like a girl.” Even since the demise of that expression, crying or otherwise showing hurt is looked down on as a sign of being too weak to handle things.
Try to eliminate the phrase “Don’t cry” from your vocabulary. Treat obvious injury, offer your shoulder, let tantrums blow by without comment—but don’t demand your son turn off the tears. After they run their course, you can ask about what triggered them and encourage him to explore ways of dealing with the problem. But remember—and make sure he understands—that tears sometimes are natural and healthy.
Encourage him to talk about other feelings, too—insecurity, anger, romantic attraction—and let him know you will never reprimand him for saying how he feels. If he learns to express himself verbally, strong emotions will be less likely to come out via antisocial aggression.
Teach Him to Be a Gentleman
Whether or not you’re particularly fond of the classic lady–gentleman traditions (a gentleman walks on the outside, holds the door, gets off the bus first to help a lady down), everyone should follow the basic principle: if you see anyone in a weaker position than you, be considerate and offer a hand. Even small boys can put this principle into action:
- If someone is struggling with a load and you can take part of it, offer to do so. (Even if the other person is bigger than you, taking one item may make all the difference.)
- If you’re with someone else and reach a door first, hold it open and follow your companion through. If you have a door open and see someone coming through behind you, hold the door until the other person has a grip on it.
- Let others go first whenever possible (without making a big show of it).
- Never push past anyone; if you must pass, say “Excuse me” and wait for them to step aside.
- If someone is being treated unfairly, speak up on their behalf.
Encourage Him to Be Himself
In these days when accusations of male chauvinism are dreaded, boys can find it as socially risky to lean toward traditional “macho” interests as toward “sissy” pursuits. But expecting anyone to stifle any natural attraction to any good-in-itself activity is damaging to the individual who never reaches his full potential—and to the society which deprives itself of the best contribution he could make.
Whether he’s naturally tough or tender, athletic or artistic, your son is one of a kind. Talk with him regularly about his interests and dreams, and about ideas for making the most of them. Only by faithfully pursuing his own passions will he become the best man he can be.