For the next several months a group of writers focused on the issues of boys and men are collaborating through the writing and sharing of blog posts in order to bring greater awareness to the unique challenges boys and men face in the 21st Century. Twice a month these writers will be posting the same posts on their various media formats to spread the word and to introduce their audiences to the great work of their peers. Today’s post features Janet Allison, founder of Boys Alive! and a Gurian Certified Trainer (http://www.boysalive.com)
Hugs and Slugs – If Boys Could Speak
Recently, I watched as a 6-year-old boy and his mom greeted grandma at the airport gate. Grandma was eager to give her grandson a hug. He readily complied, however, his arms were by his side, his body held tightly erect. As soon as Grandma released her grandson, with exclamations of joy from her and a smile from him, he turned — and slugged his mom’s leg with his fist.
Translation: I’m excited beyond words!
Translation: You are my best friend!
Two 4th grade boys grab each other by the shoulders – shaking each other, fake-wrestling, and giggling.
Translation: Will you play with me at recess?
Parents and teachers generally respond to situations like these with, “Use your words.” We can be uncomfortable with these physical expressions of connection, especially in a school setting. They may include more physical doing – using hands and bodies and less direct eye-contact and words.
In his book, Boys and Girls Learn Differently, Michael Gurian explains that these interactions are typical male ways of interacting, calling them aggression-nurturance. Females, on the other hand, typically relate more with empathy-nurturance, which includes many more words.
There are two tasks at hand for us:
- Understanding and becoming comfortable with the idea of aggression-nurturance and recognizing that there is as much value in this expression of connection as there is in empathy-nurturance.
- Continuing to help boys and girls grow in their use of language – especially understanding and using words that explain feelings, thus developing empathy skills.
Empathy is developed by:
- Identifying our feelings.
- Giving them words.
- Expressing them to another – appropriately or inappropriately .
The boy at the airport had a big feeling – but didn’t know how to express it.
How do we help him Feel, Acknowledge, and Express?
FEELINGS: We think in pictures and so it is helpful to give children images to describe their feelings. This will also help them understand the many nuances of feelings that occur. Do you feel like a rumbling volcano? Do you feel like hot lava rolling down the sides of a volcano? Or do you feel like a volcano shooting fire into the air? Children are brilliant, and with some guidance, will give you images of their own. Using animals for imagery is often helpful, too.
The boy at the airport may have been “feeling all bubbly inside.”
WORDS: Boys typically develop their vocabulary later than girls and use less words than girls. It is helpful to give boys a ‘smorgasboard’ of feeling words. We can prepare them ahead, role-play, or follow-up after the emotions of a situation have calmed down. In all cases, giving them suggested words to put with emotions helps them expand their emotional vocabulary.
The boy at the airport could be given words such as, “excited, ecstatic, nervous.”
EXPRESSING: Boys and girls (and men and women) have very different styles of communicating. Many boys and men prefer to communicate shoulder-to-shoulder while doing something, rather than focusing intently with eye-to-eye contact. Allow him to play with something in his hands, move his body, or be looking away and know that he is more comfortable (and therefore the words may come more readily) and that you’re creating a safe way for him to connect with you.
The boy at the airport could be talking with mom as he is watching people in the security line, and she stands shoulder-to-shoulder beside him.
Rather than shutting down aggression-nurturance and making it wrong, we can welcome it and add some empathy-nurturance, too. As parents and teachers recognize these differences, we can bring balance to the communication styles of both boys and girls.
Recommended Further Study:
Boys Alive! Bring Out Their Best! By Janet Allison www.boysalive.com
Boys and Girls Learn Differently by Michael Gurian www.gurianinstitute.com
Boy Talk – How you can help your son express his emotions by Mary Polce-Lynch
For Professional Development on Gender-Friendly Strategies: The Gurian Institute www.gurianinstitute.com
Janet Allison is an author, educator, and Family Coach. She is the Founder of Boys Alive! and a Gurian Certified Trainer. She holds a master’s certification in Neuro-Linguistics incorporating these communication skills into her unique parenting curriculum. She has recently launched the Boys Alive! Certification Program specifically for parenting coaches and counselors. For more information, visit http://www.boysalive.com