Challenging 'boys don't cry'

As parents, we expect there is a difference between raising boys and raising girls. The perceived differences affect how we think we should be with them. For example, we are raised to think it is normal for boys and girls to be brought up differently because that is how we were raised. Boys were told to ‘toughen up’ and ‘don’t be a cry baby.’

Yet, the sensitivity and tenderness of a baby is something we all love; we nurture this and take care of this precious bundle in our arms. Yet step by step, do we make choices that impact on these qualities?

Could we then say that the environment most boys grow up in is somewhat harsher than our girls, with little attention paid to their innate sensitivity and tenderness? Do we expect or have an expectation boys are to be tougher and then create an environment that supports the view that boys are different to girls? When we see our children as their gender first, rather children first, this influences our choices when buying clothing, toys, the kind of games we think they should play, what fun and games they have and even going as far as accepting different behaviours and language from boys that would not be accepted from girls.

​Fast forward to our baby as a toddler.

In one family, their toddler’s favourite toys were a pushchair and a doll. He pushed this everywhere and did not want to share his pushchair and doll with his friends when they visited, even though they all wanted to have a go pushing the doll around the house. The little boys who went to play loved this game more than any other toys or games in the house. The family loved watching their children at play. The toddler was very careful, tender and gentle with the doll. This is not an activity that is traditional for boys and yet their toddler loved it.

Society does not allow for boys showing their sensitivity in this way, even as a young toddler, so what kind of impact does this have on a growing boy as he starts to relate with the world and sees the unspoken ‘rules’ imposed from such a young age?

We may not tell boys explicitly, but with all our actions they learn what is acceptable and what is not from what we model. Fast forward again and our baby is now a teen who, like most teens is trying to find his feet in relationships. He thinks he has to ‘man up’, to be the ‘tough guy,’ and to show he knows what he’s doing, that nothing upsets him. He can become overwhelmed from the bravado he puts on, potentially leading him to crack under this pressure in his safe space at home, where everything is dumped on those he loves the most. There is little to no sign of the sensitive, tender toddler. Instead, we experience a cross, angry and reactive young man who is struggling to express himself - struggling to express his true sensitive self; the toddler he was encouraged to leave behind years before.


Further reading

Saying NO to bullying

Boys fitting in and pack energy

Being sensitive and being bullied

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