Sunday, February 17, 2008

Teaching Our Boys To Recognize Their Emotions

I was just reading Dr. Dan Kindlon and Dr. Michael Thompson's excellent book "Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys". When they talk about emotional literacy, they say that "learning involves recognizing the look and feeling of our emotions, then using this skill to better understand ourselves and others. We learn to appreciate life's emotional complexity and this enhances all our professional and personal relationships, helping us to strengthen the connections that enriches our lives."

Usually moms worry about cliques and social competition among their girls and are more relaxed about young boys that seem to be alright, but the truth is that boys also do struggle with the same painful feelings of failure, rejection and not belonging. When they can't hold the pain any longer, they act on it. Their inner turmoil is expressed in academic failure, depression, drug addiction, alcoholism, troubled relationships and worse.

It is usually very hard, even for most adults, to understand, for example, the difference between frustration and anger, deception and hate. We have to help our children, specially our boys, to be reflective: stop, think, understand, measure the different alternatives and their consequence and then act.

We also have to teach our children to: "first, identify and name our emotions; second, recognize the emotional content of voice and facial expression or body language and third understand the situation or reactions that produce emotional states".

Just imagine how many hours of painful and pointless arguments between future husbands and wives can be avoided if we can help them now - when they are still children - to become emotionally literate and to master their communication skills with their parents, friends and siblings.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Raising Boys and Protecting Their Feelings

Our first daughter is a girl, then comes a boy, then a girl and then two younger boys. For me it is kind of natural to raise a girl: the gossiping, the clothes, the phone calls, boys... I went through all that and learned a lot from my experience.

But what about boys, how much do we know about them? We love them, but do we understand how they think? How can we know what they are feeling?

Michael Thompson points out in his books "The Pressured Child", boys do have feelings, they do care, they do go through a lot of emotional rollercoasters and the difficult part is that sometimes they can't comunicate with words what it is that bothers or worries them.

They can express anger by slamming doors or showing no interest in inviting friends over, trying to be alone, but how can us moms go inside their minds and hearts and help them translate those feelings into words?

I have found that it really helps improve communication if you ask them very specific questions like for example: With whom did you sit at lunch today? Tell me the names of your teammates at the dodgeball (football, basketball, baseball) game today? Who picked the teams? or ask them to draw a floorplan of their classsroom and write the names of their classmates in each table; listen to what they say about each one and ask questions about them.

After these very specific questions, I make up the moment to get into a great conversation and guide them with future examples on "what to do in case of... " like a peer pressure event, not beeing picked up first by the captain of the team, how they are going to handle the rejection of the love of their dreams, and so on. You are not being pessimistic, you are being realistic and giving them tools to work in the future on a particular situation "if" they have to go through it.

I have found that helping my boys understand and talk about feelings is very important, crying with them if it is necesary. Find out if it is a situation that goes on every day and makes their life at school or after school very difficult, stressful.

Changing kids from classrooms or moving to a different school doesn't fix the problem it only delays it, showing them the way to ask for help, giving them guidance on "what to do in case of..." , in my opinion, is the best way to raise them.