We asked our Instagram followers for their parenting questions, a few of which centered on helping kids navigate and talk about big feelings. Here is one of those questions, followed by insight from Uplift team members Amanda Suarez, school psychologist and certified conscious parenting coach, and Jon Ogden, curriculum designer and writer.
How do I help my tween boys talk about their feelings?
Unfortunately, contemporary society has developed patterns that make it difficult for boys to express emotions. Common sayings like, “don’t cry” or “man up” have a subtle influence even if you’ve personally never said them. What this means is that boys often need lots of extra encouragement to open up.
To start, model healthy emotional expression yourself by talking about when you feel big emotions like anger, sadness, or excitement. Say, “Someone treated me unfairly at work today, and I felt a big surge of anger inside” or “I felt a wave of sadness inside today when I thought about our pet that died last year” or “I feel excited when I see you after school because I enjoy being with you.” The more you talk about what you feel, the more comfortable this topic will be for them.
Note that kids often haven’t had any formal training in naming emotions. They might know the basics — happy, sad, angry, and calm — but they might not have ever had anyone teach them the names of complex emotions or where these emotions are felt in the body. As such, they might not even know what they are feeling and therefore can’t articulate it.
To remedy this, consider pulling out an emotions chart or playing emotions games. See the Uplift emotions chart and Uplift emotions card deck. We also offer in-home lessons to make the experience fun. (There are also many other sources that offer help here, including the Mood Meter from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.) If you play emotions charades several weeks in a row with a full range of emotions, your kids will start to understand what each emotion looks like and feels like.
As you read books or watch movies together, talk about what certain characters are feeling (while taking care not to overdo it.) Say, “How do you think that character felt when ______?” or “How would you feel if that happened to you?” or “Why do you think that character hid how they were really feeling?” Stories with male characters who express their emotions will help them see how to do it.
One final thought: Avoid coercing kids to talk about how they are feeling. If they sense that they’re pressured into saying something, they might say what they think you want to hear rather than what they actually feel. This trains them to ignore what they’re feeling and give a performance.
Instead, create a setting at home that welcomes all feelings, including (sometimes) feeling closed off.
It might take practice (thanks to unhelpful gender norms that have developed over time), but emotional health is something that will serve kids over their entire life.