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Six Things A Child Psychologist And Family Therapist Want Parents To Stop Saying To Their Sons

Raising the boy child in the modern era can feel like a major challenge. Evidence suggests that this is actually true. Young men are struggling behaviorally, academically and emotionally.This can largely be traced back to the “traditional” way boys have been raised. They’ve been taught to bottle up their feelings, to “act like a man,” never to show weakness.This antiquated way of thinking only creates problems down the line. Parents can — and must — do better. The modern challenges of boyhood require parents to be more thoughtful and present than ever before.One place to start? What we say — and don’t say — to them.

Here, per couples and family therapist Laura Froyen, Ph.D. and a developmental psychologist and cofounder of the Mt. Sinai Parenting Center Dr. Aliza Pressman , list six phrases that parents should do away with when speaking to boys.

”Boys Don’t Cry”

Telling boys that boys don’t cry — or aggressively telling a boy not to be “a cry baby” — sets a very bad precedent. Why? Simple. It makes them believe that they’re not allowed to have softer emotions and trains them to bury their true feelings. When parents reinforce this thinking, they’re robbing sons of a full emotional life, says Froyen.

“I work with a lot of men who come to my practice trying to be emotionally present with their kids or with their partner,” Froyen added.

“They literally don’t know the word for the emotion that they are feeling. I have to do a lot of remedial emotional-intelligence education with adult men.”

SEE ALSO: Nigerian Writer, Nate Nwajei Speaks On The Ripple Effect Of Setting The Bar Low When Raising Boys Compared To Girls

“Boys Will Be Boys.”

This is one of the more toxic phrases in the cultural lexicon that needs to be thrown out of the conversation entirely. “This phrase encourages boys to no longer take responsibility for their actions,” says Froyen.

“Of course, we hear ‘boys will be boys’ within the context of the #MeToo movement, but it starts much earlier than that. It really encourages boys to start seeing themselves as beings who don’t have to take responsibility for their actions or their impact on others.”

“You’re Just Like Your Father.”

In a positive light, this phrase can make boys struggle with their sense of self. In a negative light, it’s much worse. When a young boy is told this with negative emphasis, says Froyen, it not only makes them feel badly about themselves and their parent, it also makes those traits seem like a fixed quality.

Think about it: Calling a boy stubborn, just like his father, makes him feel that being stubborn is bad — and that it’s a quality he’ll always have. This can harm a boy’s self-image and prevent him from flourishing emotionally.

READ ALSO: Sonia Ogbonna Admonishes Mom To Break The Tradition On How Boys Are Raised In Genuine Post

‘You’re going to be such a heartbreaker!’

Why it’s problematic: Sure, you may be saying it privately or in front of others to fill a gap, but these words actually impose adult, romantic stereotypes on infants and toddlers or young kids, according to Dr. Pressman.

“There’s this weird, heteronormative ideal you’re imposing on a little kid when you say these words,” she explains. “You’re setting up a world that works in a particular way because you don’t usually say this about two boys or two girls.”

Instead, you’re naming something as normal or showing what to expect in relationships when it’s really just kids getting to know each other, she adds.

“Down the road, all these subtle messages that you give little kids become how they interpret who they’re supposed to be, so the silent message becomes that there’s something wrong with who they are.”

(Dr. Pressman says a variation on this is also when parents say, ‘Oh, is that your girlfriend? She’s so cute!’)

‘Boys don’t have dolls.’

Why it’s problematic: Research shows that children—girls and boys—who play with dolls reap the rewards. It expands their imagination, helps with empathy, language and more. But the idea of a boy having a doll is still something that causes discomfort. Per Pressman, it’s a scenario that’s easy to spot on the playground.

“Toddlers would have those mini strollers where they could shuttle their dolls and more girls would have them than boys,” she says.

“As a result, the boys would want to take them because they had no other way of playing with them.”

You have to ask yourself about your parenting intentions with this one.

“I don’t want to assume that parents are interested in creating more gender equality—maybe they’re not and that’s not for me to judge,” she says.

“But you have to at least be conscious of it if you are putting a message like this out there to your kid.”

READ ALSO: Ayodele Olofintuade’s Narrative On Raising Boys Outside the Norm Is a Breath of Fresh Air

‘You’re so tough.’

Why it’s problematic: This expression comes with plenty of nuance, of course. If you’re using it to teach your sons not to show emotion when they are hurt or upset, that’s a no-no, says Dr. Pressman. But if you’re saying it to teach perspective, that’s less of an issue.

“Sometimes, a phrase like this can be something parents say to help kids—boys or girls—be brave.”

Still, you want to be sure you’re not creating an environment that’s anti-tears.

“If something hurts—physically or emotionally—you never want a child to feel like they can’t express how they really feel,” she says.

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