We all know that all children, regardless of gender, do cry to express their sadness, fear, anger, or just to get attention from their parents. However, I noticed that boys are more frequently reprimanded for crying and showing sadness compared to girls. Boys are expected to be stronger and tougher physically and emotionally. And if they cry, it means that they are weak. That’s maybe the reason why I often hear phrases like “Stop crying. Boys do not cry.” or “Shame on you. You cry like a baby.”
But my question is this, “Are the boys really get stronger and healthier emotionally as they grow by not crying and express how they feel inside?” I really doubt so. We all know that emotions don’t evaporate, they have to be expressed somehow. And as a parent, we need to help the boys to understand their feelings and teach them how to manage their emotions effectively, not to repress them.
Helping children manage their emotions is important for children’s developing self-regulation skills, resilience, and sense of self, nurturing their mental health and well being. Recent studies actually indicating that boys who are emotionally more in touch with their feelings are better in handling depression and anger later on in their adulthood.
“Young children, especially boys, may need their parents’ help working through angry or fearful emotions. If you punish toddlers for their anger and frustration or act as if their fears are silly or shameful, they may internalize those negative emotions, and that may lead to behaviour problems as they get older,” said Nancy McElwain, a U of I associate professor of human development.
Alex, who is now 4 years old, is a very sensitive and emotional boy. The good thing about it is that he is sympathetic, not aggressive, and softhearted. But on the other side, he gets affected quite deeply whenever someone make him sad, angry, or fearful. He cries when someone snatches his toys, he cries when Ella destroys his priceless creation, and there was one day, he burst out in tears in the middle of his class because he couldn’t understand what his mandarin teacher was teaching.
Honestly, sometimes I am very tempted to say “Alex, be strong! You are a boy. Stop crying!” It is much easier for me to ask him to just repress his sadness, hide it and stop crying. But I know that I am not helping him by saying that.
As I am learning to respond to Alex’s emotional cries, I’ll share some strategies that works for him with hope that it’ll help other kids, regardless of gender, too. In this whole process, I want him to know that it is perfectly fine to feel sad or angry, but it is not OK if he lingers in it for too long, becomes self pity, and hurts other people.
- Introduce many kinds of emotions and facial expression.
We read children books about feelings and we discussed with him about the situations/scenarios that usually make him feels happy, sad or angry.
There are also many feeling charts available online that you can print out and go through with the child.
- Take a break and drink.
It helps Alex to calm down when I bring him out from the room, and let him have a sip of water.
- Acknowledge his/her feeling and ask him/her to tell you what’s wrong.
Usually I’ll hold him (without saying any words) until he is calmer, then say something like, “Alex, what makes you so sad? Tell mommy.” But in Ella’s case, who is only 2 years old, I’ll prompt her by saying “Ella, talk. Say, ‘Mommy, I want…”
- Use the moment to teach him/her on how to develop skill to manage emotions.
We always remind him that hurting others and being rude is not acceptable no matter how angry he is. And sometimes we suggest something that he can do to help him cool down, eg. drawing, reading, or play with his toys.
- Encourage problem solving.
In our case, we realized that Alex tend to feel really sad whenever someone snatches his toy. So we take this opportunity to discuss with him on how to prevent this thing to happen again, and how he can protect his toy, eg, hide the toys behind him when someone tries to snatch and say “No. Don’t snatch.” He is still struggling for the moment, but we can see some improvement.
Having said all that, if you know that the child’s crying is manipulative (for example, you said no more ice cream and your child is crying or whining), simply ignore it.