It’s bewildering how anyone could shame a boy (or any child for that matter) for crying. So often, shaming others comes back to the need to heal wounds we carry in ourselves so we can stop projecting our own pain, and break destructive cycles that get passed down through generations. When we work on becoming aware of, and healing our own past traumas, it creates space to not just accept and approve of ourselves – just the way we are, but also accept and approve of others for who they are, and where they're at right now.
“There’s a bit of a ‘harden up’ approach to Kiwi culture; but research tells us that people who have to just ‘harden up’ are actually less resilient than those who are allowed to properly feel and process their emotions.”
– Nathan Wallis, Neuroscience Educator, dad, grandad, foster parent and expert consultant for My Big Moments.
When we can hold space for our boys to express their tears, we show them that their experience of their emotions is valid – they are seen, heard and accepted just as they are. We show them that we understand having emotions and needing to express them is a normal part of being human.
Kids that feel safe to express their feelings are better equipped to process that experience, recover, and see a way to move forward. Emotions that are rejected, resisted, bottled up and unprocessed are the basis of trauma; manifesting later as anger and resentment. Crying is more than okay, healthy emotional expression is a signature of resilience. It's as simple as remembering that it takes a good rain to make the grass grow!
Crying boys get shamed ...
- When someone is carrying their own childhood wounds of shame and rejection around emotional expression. A crying child can trigger a painful resurgence of historical trauma causing them to react by shutting down or invalidating that child's emotions to escape their own discomfort.
- When someone has been subject to the 'man up' or 'harden up' approach themselves, rather than being role-modelled healthy emotional processing and expression, they may not be capable of passing on these traits to their children and revert to what they know from their own experiences in childhood.
- When someone is already struggling to cope mentally with anxiety, depression, overwhelm, or other life stresses, and can unconsciously react impulsively when confronted by the emotional, mental and physical demands of an emotional child.
- When someone is worried about what other people might think of their parenting, or how the behaviour of their children reflects on them.
- When someone has fixed ideas about what a boy should be, do, and how he should behave, rather than unconditionally accepting that child just as he is.
“‘Man up’ is the most meaningless phrase. Crying doesn’t have a gender. Feeling doesn’t have an identity. Pain doesn’t indicate your personality. Never let stigma stop you sharing your own truth.”
— Matt Haig, author of the international bestseller, The Midnight Library.
What makes a resilient kid?
Resilience does not mean ‘hardening up’, it does not mean ‘toughing it out’, it does not mean ‘pushing on through’, it does not mean ‘sweeping it under the rug’, it does not mean bypassing the full depth and variety of emotions brought up by different experiences. To teach our children resilience, we need to allow our kids to fully experience, process, and then recover from their emotional responses. We need to make time and space for their expression, accepting and allowing them to show their natural human response.
Although we may not agree with certain behaviours, the emotions that our children feel is an experience that is very real for them. One of our roles is to empathise with, and validate, the experience of that emotion, so they know they are seen and heard by us. When they can fully express and release their emotions, they are better able to recover and move on. Repeating the process of allowing a response, a release, and a recovery is what fosters resilient kids.
“Maybe if tearful little boys were comforted instead of shamed, there wouldn’t be so many angry men struggling to express and empathise with emotions.”
– Leila Schott, parenting coach and counsellor.