Boys often need time to be silent before they are ready to share their feelings, especially after an emotionally charged experience.
Boys often need time to be silent before they are ready to share their feelings, especially after an emotionally charged experience. Every boy has his own, individual clock that will determine how much time he needs to be silent before opening up to share his feelings. When, as parents, we recognize and are sensitive to each boy’s unique timing, we show our respect and understanding. We set the stage for honest conversations.
When your boy has experienced a situation that has been upsetting, humiliating or embarrassing, give him the time alone he needs to recover. Wait for him to give you some signal that he is ready to talk. He will let you know! You simply need to be in tune enough to notice the signal and then give him the undivided attention he needs.
A few communication strategies:
- Talk to your sons in a way that they don’t feel afraid or ashamed to share their true feelings. For example, if your boy comes home in tears from a playdate, rather than saying “What happened to you?” you could rephrase it in less intimidating language, such as “What’s going on – can you tell me?” Most probably he will stomp off into his room, maybe with a few gruff grunts to say he wants to be alone. This is his need for Timed Silence. When he is ready he will come back into your world and your job then is to tune in to his needs. He may need time to just move on, seemingly as if nothing happened. Follow his lead. It might be that night at bedtime, or the next day driving home in the car, but something will signal you that he is ready to open up. That is the time that you can gently prod with something like, “I’ve been noticing things seem a bit different for you and Tommy lately – I can see something is wrong. Can we talk about it?” Sometimes it won’t be until you are doing something physical together, when you might even think the episode is in the past, and seemingly out of the blue, he brings up something connected with that day he came home upset from Tommy’s house. Of course, depending on the age of the child and the severity of the problem we can’t always wait it out. But knowing, and respecting, about his need for some timed silence before attempting a conversation will increase the possibility for honest, open communication.
- Use books to help the discussion move forward. This is a great way to increase emotional vocabulary and to show your son that this particular problem happens to others too. In the above example, you might pull out an age appropriate story on bullying. Sometimes it is easier for a boy to talk about the character in the story than talk about themselves. By asking questions about the characters in the story, you are apt to learn a lot about your son’s situation.
- Tell your son stories about your own experiences, about life’s ups and downs or challenges you have had or are having now. When a dad tells his son about times he was afraid, or embarrassed, or disappointed the boy begins to feel less ashamed of his own vulnerable feelings. He feels our empathy and discover that we understand, love, and respect the boy that he is.