Getting Boys to Open Up
The latest 'Daddy Derek' column
Disclaimer: Daddy Derek is not a doctor. Opinions expressed here are educational, informational and mildly entertaining. In other words, it’s possible I’m full of it.
Getting boys to talk isn’t easy. I know because not only am I a parent to two boys, I once was a boy. It’s important to realize that boys want to connect with others on a deep level, but they don’t always know how. That means that as parents, we have to practice patience — lots and lots of patience. There will be times, regardless of our best efforts, that we won’t get much out of boys, but in my experience, patience pays off. Stay calm and show them that they can trust you, and eventually they open up.
It’s also important to know that every boy — every child for that matter — has different styles of communication. One of my sons wears his emotions on his sleeve and immediately tells you how he feels or what he needs. My other son is far more fluid in his communication style. He sometimes prefers to write something out if he’s sad rather than tell me what’s bothering him. It seems to calm him down, and gives me time to process those emotions with him. It also keeps me from asking a million questions, which to a kid often seems more like an interrogation than heartfelt concern. Some days, it’s hard enough for my guys to remember what they did at school when they get off the bus. I’ve learned that asking a bunch of questions right after they get home yields mixed results.
I get the most conversation out of both of my boys when we are doing something together, whether it’s tossing the football or baseball, playing “Mario Kart,” building something or getting ice cream. Scenarios where there’s no forcing an issue are often the ones where you’re best able to learn more about things that are going at school, their fears are and what they need from you. My oldest son and I always have our best conversations when we are out for a run on the greenway. During these moments, it’s easier for me to give them advice in a non-threatening way and help with problem solving.
As much as we want to help guide our children, our primary job is to listen. Don’t respond before hearing and understanding what your son is saying. Parents often have predetermined thoughts on a topic that may need to be augmented or reconsidered based on what our children tell us. When you actively listen and aren’t pushing, boys share some pretty incredible stuff about life.
It’s also important to recognize body language. Sometimes, by careful observation, you can tell when he’s not willing or ready to talk about something. Stay calm. Let him know that that’s OK and that it’s something you can come back to later.
Showing interest in what they are interested in also helps build trust and assurance that you care about what they care about. It can be tough to get excited about Pokémon or the latest stunt the “Dude Perfect” guys did on Nickelodeon, but you need to acknowledge what they are telling you and keep the eye rolls to a minimum. Plus, if they see you do the eye roll, you are more than likely going to get 10 times as many eye rolls from them when discussing something they aren’t interested in. They are just better at it than we are. Trust me, I know this from vast experience.
Being there for your kids isn’t always about doing something. Sometimes, it’s simply about letting them know you care by hearing what they have to say. It’s a process, but one well worth the time and effort.
Derek James is a host of WCCB News Rising. He and his wife live in Charlotte with their sons who are ages 8 and 10.