Give Them Words: Helping Boys Name and Navigate Their Emotions | CBE International

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Give Them Words: Helping Boys Name and Navigate Their Emotions

Boys need to learn to recognize and communicate their feelings

I’ll never forget the moment I found out that I was having a boy. This was my first child, and, I must admit, I had been looking longingly at the lovely, frilly dresses for girls in the baby section.

During my ultrasound, though, when I heard the words, “It’s a boy!” I was just filled with gratitude that he was healthy and doing well. Little did I know that as powerful as those three little words were that day, parenting my son would teach me even more about how words change lives.

My son is now thirteen years old, making me an unwilling parent of a teenager. My family likes to joke that my son is my mini-me—he loves to read, is inquisitive by nature, enjoys my “punny” humor, and delves into impromptu philosophical discussions with me. He also likes to stack the bowls in the cupboards in even numbers or else it bothers him. I totally understand.

Growing up, he was always especially aware of routine. If any part of the routine went awry, he was a mess. He would fall apart emotionally. This was especially evident in transitions from one task to another (particularly if the next task was not as enjoyable). As he transitioned from nonverbal to verbal, the most powerful moments for him were when I could verbalize his frustration.

I remember one time he was angry about dirt on his shoe (yes, he was that child). He was crying vehemently, and it took me awhile to figure out what his problem was. When I said, “Are you sad because you got dirty?” He yelled, “Yes!” and hugged me so tightly. This was a learning moment for me. He needed me, at his point in his life, to give him words.

The topics have now changed, but I still see myself providing a vital role in helping my son find his words. With hormones raging, he struggles to identify the cause of all the anguish and to find his way out of it. My daughter, on the other hand, has many words. She doesn’t need my help, only my patience. My son though still needs me to help him uncover what is hidden to him. My hope is that as I model how to find the hurt and fear behind the rage that my son will learn how to stop and listen to his heart. And, once he can hear it, I am praying that he will learn the power of speaking truth to his woundedness—without me.

This I cannot control, but I can patiently lead him again and again along the timeworn path, trusting that God is also walking with us, teaching my son to hear God’s voice. “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (Psalm 51:6, ESV).

This is my gift to my son, a gift many men do not grow up with. Instead, they are taught that emotions are silly or effeminate and should therefore be ignored (or at least restrained). These men now struggle with anger and health issues that don’t seem to have any clear causes. They struggle to connect with spouses or significant others, not understanding the value of conversation to solve problems. Simply put, they struggle without their words.

Scripturally, we know that words are powerful. God spoke the world into creation (Genesis 1). Jesus is called the Word (John 1). Saving faith comes by the hearing of the Word (Romans 10:17). In Isaiah 55:11 (ESV), God testifies to this when he says, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

Our words do not transform the fabric of the universe, but they can transform the fabrics of our hearts, particularly when the words spoken are truth. For those of us who are parents of sons, start now to teach them the value of the spoken word. We can start with God’s transcendent Word, then their own inner voice, and, finally, we can show them how words are a means of building connections with those around them. For me, giving my son love means giving him words to express it.

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