My son can be timid with expressing his emotions. At 5-years-old, he’s already picked up from his uncles and dad that sharing his feelings puts him at risk for ridicule. I can’t change how those guys act, but when I’m around I can act as my son’s ‘safe place’ and fierce advocate.
Observing timid boys is like observing wildlife. You have to watch them closely and from a distance, waiting for clues that they need help. That is how my ‘little guy’ is, anyway. If he’s having some big feelings he’s afraid to express, he’ll start squirming and quietly grunting or squealing in dismay. My husband and his brothers just ignore him (“C’mon, Mom, don’t coddle him or micromanage! The kid’s fine!) I know from experience, however, that this nervous fussing is my son’s cry for help. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let him suffer it out!
Usually, I interrupt the conversation around him and ask, “Hey, buddy, what’s going on? What do you need?” That simple phrase uncorks his emotions so he can talk it out with me. He feels safe opening up to me with his feelings. If the guys ridicule him, he knows I’ll stand right up and sass back until they keep their misogynistic bullshit to themselves.
My son’s feelings are valid. So, if he can talk about them, he can better make sense of them for himself. Someday, my words will be his internal script and he’ll be able to advocate for himself. He will feel comfortable expressing the big feelings that he needs to get out. Even better, he’ll be able to help his son get his big feelings out in the open, doing their part to make our world a better place for everyone!
The funny thing in watching my husband’s reaction to my son actually sharing his feelings is that my husband is genuinely surprised. He really did think that I was overreacting and that our kid was happy and fine. When he finds out there was a seething turmoil of fear or shame behind our son’s quiet ways, he jumps into action to help him feel better, unless there’s crying involved. For some reason, crying is the ‘cardinal sin’ of manhood for my husband, which is ridiculous. I also shut down any calls from my husband for our son to stop his tears.
Basically, my “Mom’s Guide to Helping Her Son Feel Safe With Feelings” is not to let anyone else tell you that you’re wrong about what you know in your gut that your child needs. It’s very tempting to believe them when they say that you’re “overreacting” or “babying” your son. You are not. You are being there for him when he needs you. Well done!
Photo credit: By laflor @ iStock by Getty Images