Parents and carers, listen up:

The development of emotional literacy and intelligence is not a task we can outsource to a school system, youth group, or sports club.

This training is our task, our responsibility. It’s true home-work. An inside job.


I'm the father of two boys under 10, and someone who works professionally in the space of emotional intelligence. And even I have to admit it’s a challenge to give the gift of emotional intelligence. But it’s worth it.

Here are a few things I’m learning (and yes — I am still learning!). These are my ABCs.

Three basic things to remember:

A. Always model well.

My boys watch me, model me, and follow me. Whether it’s good, bad, or ugly, kids learn their emotional cues from their parents. My boys learn especially from me, as I'm the primary male in their life.

They watch how I treat their mum and how I welcome their friends when they come to visit. They watch how I discipline their siblings and how I handle stress. They pay attention to how I talk to others, treat others, and love others. They see me cry when I need. I’m a walking emotional classroom.

Parents, there’s no getting around this: your boys are watching.

So ...

Be self-aware. Be the change you wish to see in the world. Walk in love. Apologize quickly and sincerely. Sort your own crap out. Keep doing the heart journey. Be willing to back-track and explain your actions and reactions — right or wrong.

B. Believe your boys.

“I’m bored!” “I too tired!” “I can’t do it.” “I hate her!” “That hurts!” “It tastes yuck!” “I’m scared.”

Sound familiar? (Like, every day!).

If we respond with: “That doesn’t hurt.” “You’re not tired.” “You don’t hate her.” “Don’t be scared.” or “How can you be bored?” — how on earth can the boy learn to trust and label his own emotions?

It's no wonder we have so many shut down adult men who can’t put words to what they feel. Many were shamed for sharing feelings, and when they did share, they were told they were wrong.

So ...

Parents, we have to validate what our boys are sharing. Believe them when they share their emotions and feelings. It’s vital. Dads, we have to stop holding our sons to an impossible and destructive standard of masculinity (one that even we can't measure up to!). It’s not helping.

Respond by believing your boys. Use simple reflective listening skills by validating them in phrases like: “I can see you’re tired”, “You hate her, huh? Tell me why”, “That can be scary.”, ”I'm sorry you're feeling bored.” (Btw, it doesn’t mean you have to fix the problems. Just believe them first and see what happens).

C. Call out the gold in your boys.

I've spent years studying and teaching on the power of blessing across cultures. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve cried with, prayed for, and given counsel to whose fathers totally sucked at the blessing of simple encouragement!

In fact, many fathers did the opposite of calling out the gold by calling out the problems, faults, and failings of their children. It’s incredibly traumatizing and irresponsible. It really pisses me off.

Boys whose dads are in their lives need their dads' unconditional love, approval, and acceptance. Think for a minute: how many movies contain a theme of a boy (or adult boy) looking for his father’s approval? So many! It’s hardwired into us and essential for emotional health and literacy.

So ...

Remember, blessing is not a reward for good behavior. Blessing is our right, as humans.

Like nurture, safety, and community, we NEED the good things in us called out by others. Drop the nitpicking and criticism, instead find some things that your boy likes, has a knack for, or is interested in and encourage him with words.

It could sound as simple as, “Man, you love soccer? That’s great!” or “You’re a kind young man, kinder than me. I’m proud of you, son," or “I know it’s not the mark you wanted, but I don’t care, I can see you’ve tried. I'll cheer you on no matter the outcome.”

Finally, let me add something that may help in your journey to teach emotional literacy.

This isn't about being an amazing, perfect, or super-fun, always-happy dad.

In my 14 years of parenting, I've learned that being a "good-enough" dad is the kindest and fairest standard to hold against myself and others.

If I'm a "good enough" dad, and I at least remember my ABCs, then I’m well on my way to gifting my children with the emotional literacy they need to move forward into the world of adolescence and adulthood.

This story originally appeared on davidtensen.com and is reprinted here with permission.

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