It’s O.K. to Show Emotions
Boys, especially, feel a lot of societal pressure to appear strong, stoic and unconcerned. In her new book “Boys & Sex,” Peggy Orenstein writes that boys often use the word “hilarious” as “a safe haven; a default position when something is inappropriate, confusing, upsetting, depressing, unnerving, or horrifying … ‘hilarious’ offers distance, allowing them to subvert a more compassionate response that could be read as weak, overly sensitive, or otherwise unmasculine.”
A response like Ms. Brown’s tearful outburst after her son’s insensitive comments can be a way to “break through that mask of bravado,” Dr. Manly said. In fact, Ms. Brown said that she and her son then talked at length about war and why some people might find his comments hurtful.
Of course, children should never feel responsible for an adult’s behavior. As a parent, it’s important that you take time to process your feelings of grief, confusion, anger and being overwhelmed, so that you’re not “oozing unprocessed, undigested personal material out to your children,” Dr. Manly said.
But don’t be scared to express emotion, even (or maybe especially) if your child seems stone-faced. Dr. Manly frequently works with veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder; some have suffered traumatic brain injury. At first, many convey horrific stories with a flat affect because absolute control of emotions is essential for survival on the battlefield.
“There are times they’re not able to cry, and I feel my eyes watering,” Dr. Manly said. “I’ll say something like, ‘Excuse me, that’s really hard to hear. Wow. Let me grab a tissue.’ By modeling, I teach them. They see an appropriate emotional response without being preached at.” Eventually that may help them begin to express their suppressed emotions.
If your teenager says something like, “Maybe we should just get it over with now, before we develop even deadlier weapons” or “I want to get the coronavirus” — both things my 16-year-old has said to me — try saying something like, “That is really scary for me. Can I give you a hug?” Dr. Manly said. Verbalizing your fear gives kids permission to do the same.
This content was originally published here.