Excerpt – Teaching Boys About Feelings – Tips from a child therapist

The following is an excerpt from the section on teaching boys about emotions and focuses on helping him use his body to track his emotions.

Excerpt: Helping Mothers be Closer to Their Sons, page 90

“The other thing you can do to help is to get him to connect his bodily experience with the emotion. Boys are usually very aware of their bodies and this can be a great way to help them understand their emotions. Show him that when he is angry he will likely hold his breath a bit, will likely clinch his fists and have tension in his upper body and jaw. When he is anxious show him that his breath will be quick and shallow, and he may feel a little shaky and timid. When he is glad show him that everything is pointing up! Literally. Watch football players after a touchdown and you will see that they are pointing up, bouncing up in the air etc. Everything is up, high fives and all. Note also that the opposing team is looking downward, feeling the weight and burden of gravity. When we are sad the pull of gravity is heavy, we don’t want to move, and we can feel stuck. By learning the body correlates of emotions, he will be in a much better place to understand his emotions and identify them through his body experience. I have used this in my practice with adolescent males many times. They come in with a great deal of emotion but are having are hard time becoming conscious of what they are feeling. I just ask them what they are feeling in their body and they start explaining in detail. My arms are tight, my jaw is tight, or my upper body is tight. I’m just tight. Then a simple question like, when someone is feeling tight like that, what might they be feeling? Then bingo! Often times the realization is so sudden he will shout, “I’m Pissed”, with great satisfaction. He realizes he is angry and starts making connections.

It will be much easier to ask your young son about what he is feeling in his body. Asking about emotions directly will usually end in frustration. He will likely respond positively to the body question but not so positively to the feeling oriented question. Not because he doesn’t want to tell you the answer but because he doesn’t understand. This is at least in part the case since the emotions are confusing for him and admitting that will drop him in the hierarchy. Talking about his body is a much safer place. Just ask him, “What are you feeling in your body right now?” This is a non-threatening question for boys and may help to get the conversation going. Keep in mind that some boys will have a very easy time in naming and discussing emotions while others will be stumped. Know where your son falls in this area and adjust your interactions based on his strengths.”

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