What does a kitten and a dinosaur have to do with gender roles and the health of our children? Please, read on….
What message are we sending our children when we say kittens are gentle and are a “girl animal” and dinosaurs are fierce and are a “boy animal?” (This is of course one of countless examples, we assign everything to either boys or girls or male/ female). Furthermore, I find that girls are encouraged to stray from liking the animals traditionally assigned to their gender role, but there is much more resistance to supporting boys in doing this straying.
The rigid male gender role hurts of boys, period. Our boys need to know that all of their interests, emotions, and feelings are valid, important, and should be celebrated.
In a recent Psychology Today article Dr. John D. Rich Jr says, “girls are given license to express their emotions and be vulnerable with their friends in a way that may be ridiculed for a boy. A boy who is upset and cries may be told to ‘suck it up,’ or ‘be a man.’ A man who expresses anxieties or depression may be ridiculed.” He goes on to explain that boys and men being driven to repress feelings and emotions this causes a host of negative outcomes, from depression to aggression & hostility.
How can we support our boys? There are lots of ways, below are two — I’ll be researching and collecting avenues to add to the blog.
First, talk about and explore constructed gender roles. Talk about it as a family, in schools, with boys and girls,* men and women, moms and dads, Dr. Rich notes “the approach that many counselors take with men is to help them reflect on the norms of masculinity which are behind their concerns, and to take a hard look at how a rigid adherence to those norms can damage men.”
Second, help boys heighten their emotional intelligence. Of the many things I want my son to learn, emotional intelligence is fundamental.
Emotional intelligence is our ability to identify, evaluate, and express emotions. Being emotionally intelligent helps us to use our feelings to identify and solve problems, and communicate and connect with others. Empathy is the ability to understand and care about others’ feelings and it is central to all relationships.
Here is some suggested resources to use in nuturing kids’ (and our own) emotional intelligence:
As Sesame Street says, “Feelings come in all shapes and sizes. When you help children express and understand their emotions, you’re helping them to overcome challenges, understand others, and communicate. In simple everyday ways, you can give them important tools that will help them handle big feelings, little ones, and every feeling in between.” Sesame Street in Communities website is brimming with resources.
The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld can teach both kids and the bigger people reading to them a lot about empathy. When Taylor’s block masterpiece is knocked down by an unexpected flock of birds he doesn’t want to take any of the visiting animals suggestions (get mad about it, remember how it was and quickly rebuild, knock down someone else’s masterpiece, pretend it didn’t happen) but when the rabbit hops over he just sits beside. He seeks to understand Taylor and in doing so gives Taylor the ability to cope with his loss and get excited to rebuild.
I am Human A Book of Empathy by Susan Verde and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds is a beautifully illustrated journey helping little ones understand that “we can make good choices by acting with compassion and having empathy for others and ourselves.”
I follow Visible Child on Facebook and am always excited to see an article hit my newsfeed. The articles cover a host of topics all with the same mission: how do we best support our children — and their adults.
Thanks for reading, please be in touch with your questions and thoughts.
*I will soon be posted about the important topic of gender beyond the binary.