Earlier this year I shared fantastic advice from Dr. Anthony Rao (author of The Way of Boys) about how to help boys build better relationships. Rao will return to the Fessenden School in West Newton on November 4 for a new conversation and Q&A on the topic: Are you doing right by your son? Admission is free and open to the public, but seating is limited so reserve a spot today! In anticipation of the event, I invited Dr. Rao to answer a few pressing questions about boys and communication. He shares 3 truths:
1. Boys love to give one-word answers. Is this normal?
The answer may surprise you. As boys get older, and approach mid-elementary school years, most will pull back and express less emotion. It's normal. They retreat from uncomfortable feelings. They talk less about problems. This seems a sudden shift for parents who recall their young son once telling them everything and displaying sadness and worries openly. This change isn't abnormal, and in fact, their retreat from expressing strong emotion or worry directly is part of the developmental path most boys will take. Not all boys, but most. They are shoring up their new found sense of power, masculinity, and belief that they are capable and independent. This is both a true gender difference, some of it likely is wired in some way, and much of it is based on how we socialize young teenage men. Don't be concerned that your son isn't as verbal and emotional as he once was, and adjust your expectations for how he communicates with you.
2. How do I keep dialogue and conversation open with my boys as they get older?
Most important, get his hands busy. Don't plan on a lengthy verbal exchange, but do something playful together. Don't pose direct questions, especially about serious subjects like school work, problems with social issues, or disappointments and failures in sports, etc. Those issues will come up on their own when your son is ready. Establish a fun, enjoyable, and often physical type relationship first. So many times in my office I get boys talking once I start tossing a squishy ball between us or walking with them over to a shelf filled with collections of rocks and fossils. Don't sit opposite your son to try to get him talking. Direct eye contact can be threatening. Play side by side. Another great trick is to wait until night. Right before bed, ask him to share anything he wants with you - only if he wants - and assure him that this is a good time to let thoughts float out of his head so he can start the next day fresh. Tell him you do this too. You release any negative thoughts just before your head hits the pillow and it feels great.
3. How do I keep my son anchored and close to family as he grows?
I see this challenge everyday in my office. Parents view their growing sons as changing and losing touch with their family. But interestingly, their sons see it quite differently. They talk about their parents drifting from them - not the other way around. They talk about their parents becoming more and more serious about homework and grades. They tell me their parents are busy and stressed and worried about jobs. They tell me that the only times their moms and dads interact with them, is when something is going wrong. They tend to only recall the critical and unhappy side of their parents. One boy recently broke down in the office telling me his parents don't engage with him on the things they used to enjoy and talk about, like getting outside to play one-on-one basketball in the driveway or talk about a cool new video game. Many parents admit to me that they are revved up, are more serious, as their boys grow older. Mainly because teachers and coaches and other parents seem to be on a tread mill of pushing for higher results. So, remember... lower the stress. Also, remember that boys connect with us not through words or tasks, but typically though physical activities. One mom told me how she'd had an epiphany. One day she heard herself nagging and complaining about chores and homework, and told me she didn't like being that kind of mom. Instead, she decided to take a walk with her son around the block. Get out of the house and leave the tension behind that was causing a rift between them. This grew into taking hikes with her son on free afternoons and weekends (without his young sibling tagging along) to explore cool wooded areas and trails near their home. They bonded without words, but with each step they took, each interesting rock they collected, the relationship solidified. Boys share experiences - often without words - and mainly when outdoors. They also don't like to share our attention. They deserve this one-on-one time no matter how old they get.
Such great stuff, right? To learn more from Dr. Anthony Rao, register for and attend Are You Doing Right By Your Son? on November 4 at the Fessenden School!