The majority of people who have raised both boys and girls will agree there are genuine differences between sons and daughters. That’s not to say that either one is easier or more challenging to raise. It’s just that boys need to be told some things more clearly, more frequently, or in a different way than girls. For anyone about to embark on a "mom and son" talk, a number of strategies can be used to make it easier for a boy to listen, consider what is being said and respond with respect as well as consideration.
Yes, it may be a stereotype that girls are chatty and empathic, or that boys don’t like to talk, but stereotypes often evolve out of reality.
In my experience, daughters tend to be more interested in proactively sharing their thoughts and feelings compared sons.
Far greater minds than mine have spent lifetimes trying to work out why this might be. Until somebody does figure it out, here are some tried and tested tips that can help you connect to your sons. Not only will they improve your relationship and make your communication with your young man more effective, but they will give him the skills to become an empathic communicator as an adult.
20 Be Specific But General
Sticking things in bodily orifices is not an exclusively male child impulse. We once spent half a day in the ER when one of our daughters wedged a small banana candy firmly up her nose. However, it does seem to be that girls learn their lesson pretty quickly on this, whereas boys, not so much.
Case in point: Daughter with banana up nose never did it again. Son stuck a nut in his ear, then a piece of Lego, then a bit of eraser he bit off especially to see if it would fit in his ear.
The lesson? If you say, “Don’t put nuts in your ears,” your son will put other things in other holes.
Top Talk Tip: Be very specific with your son and don’t expect him to automatically take a lesson from one situation and apply it to another.
19 Feed Em Up
As your baby boys morph into tweens and teens, the discussions you have with them may take on a more serious feel. When you want to really touch base with your teenage boy, and have him participate in a constructive, two-way dialogue, there are a few things you can do to help things along.
Top Talk Tip: It might sound rather flippant but make sure your son's belly is full first. Low blood sugar will make him distracted and less likely to focus on what you are saying.
18 How Would You Feel?
Boys appear to take much longer to grow out of the phase where things like knocking down someone else's carefully-built stack of blocks is hilarious. Research by the UCLA School of Medicine has shown that male brains do actually mature more slowly than female brains.
Instead of laughing or saying, “That’s not nice," you can help your son by taking time out to discuss how his actions affect the feelings of other people.
Top Talk Tip: Give your son solid examples to think about. Don’t just say, “That’s not nice, don’t do it.” Instead, ask him to imagine how he would feel in that situation. Get him to describe how he might feel out loud and help him connect his actions with the emotional consequences for other people.
17 Try Your Words
An experiment performed by psychologists placed a toddler on one side of a perspex wall and their mother on the other. After children ran into the wall in an attempt to reach their moms, the girls would cry and put out their arms and the boys would try to climb over the wall.
Top Talk Tip:
Accept that your son might not have the spoken language skills to communicate what he is thinking and feeling and that he may only be able to take action at times of high emotion.
16 Sometimes It Just Is
As boys grow older, a frequent issue arises: they are socialized to believe that they have control over what goes on around them.
Society often teaches our sons that if a set of circumstances are not to their liking, then all they need to do is the change the situation to make it more acceptable to them.
Top Talk Tip: If your young man consistently attempts to control the circumstances of your discussions, don’t let him have all his own way in the hopes it will make the task easier. It is essential for your son's future happiness to teach him that on occasion, an unpleasant situation can't be changed or avoided. Instead, he needs to learn to work through tough times.
15 Feelings Are Complicated
Being unable to understand and process your emotions isn’t exclusive to boys, or children. Plenty of us carry that difficulty into adulthood.
Fortunately, most boys outgrow the “chase a girl around the playground and pull her hair because they like her” stage, but we could help them to outgrow it, or even sidestep it altogether.
Top Talk Tip: Make it clear you are approachable if your pigtail puller has feelings he doesn’t understand or is confused about. He needs to know it's always safe to come and talk about his feelings to Mom.
14 The Pros And Cons Of Focus
One of the great male skills is the ability to focus on one thing to the exclusion of everyone and everything around them.
This incredible capacity not to be distracted is useful in many situations and a shortcoming in others.
Top Talk Tip: If your son is engrossed in an activity don’t try to get him to stop and speak with you, unless the chat is time sensitive. He will find it difficult to switch focus, and you will be frustrated by his lack of attention.
13 Eye Contact Is A No-No
Much as we hate to admit it, we humans are still very much animals.
Yes, we are animals that walk upright, have developed complex language, and text, but we still have plenty of strong biological drives that govern how we act and react.
One of these is the way in which eye-contact can convey aggression. In the animal kingdom, to make eye contact is to create a challenge. For humans sustained eye-contact is a profoundly intimate or aggressive move.
Top Talk Tip: Don’t try to make lots of eye contact with your son while discussing difficult subjects. It will feel confrontational to him and he’ll be less receptive to what you have to say.
12 Walk With Him While You Talk
There is a rise in popularity of “active sitting” in classrooms, and a growing body of evidence to show that our sons find it easier to focus while they move. Instead of moving and fidgeting being a distraction, as was previously thought, it actually helps.
Top Talk Tip: Make the most of your growing boy's natural ability to listen and process what you are saying more effectively when he is moving. Don’t invite him to sit down and talk. Instead, ask him if he’d like to go for a walk and chat while you are in motion.
11 Make It Clear What You Mean
Once your young and innocent son accidentally discovers what's going on downstairs, he may or may not become one of those boys who has his hand down his pants at every opportunity. There’s nothing wrong about this, but that doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable when you realize your son is sitting next to you in the park with an ice-cream in one hand and his other is incognito.
Top Talk Tip: Don’t speak to your child in a way that might induce guilt or shame. A simple “STOP IT” implies you are doing wrong. Explain when the action is OK, but the situation is not.
10 It’s Not Your Job
Again, in our society, boys tend to grow up not only thinking that they can solve everything but that it actually their responsibility to fix things for those around them. These feelings of responsibility start at a very young age, and the danger is that they can develop into self-esteem issues if, when your son grows older, he feels that he has “failed” to make things right.
Top Talk Tip: When you are speaking together, offer solutions and leave space for your son to find his own. Ensure that over time he learns that sometimes he should make things right but that on other occasions it is OK for someone else to take the reigns.
9 Hearing Is Not The Same As Listening
Teach your son the difference between being in the same room as someone who is speaking while hearing the sounds coming out of their mouth, and actually listening to what the other person is saying and paying attention.
This isn’t always easy, so a great tool is knowing how to say, “Sorry, I want to give what you are saying my full attention. Can we talk about this when I can focus?”
Top Talk Tip: Give your son appropriate language to use in order to extract himself from a situation where he cannot communicate and respect his honesty if he tells you, “I can’t talk about this right now.”
8 Make It Comfortable To Be Honest
It can be difficult to tell somebody you love the truth when it could hurt, upset, disappoint or anger them.
If you react emotionally to your son when he shares with you, it could impede his willingness to tell the truth. Knowing how to make another person comfortable with being honest is a critical skill for all adults.
Top Talk Tip: If you want honesty, learn to control your own emotional response or else know when to put things off until you are in a position to do so.
7 Listen And Digest
I have found that it is often better to have shorter chats with our boys, a strategy that research supports. It can be difficult for boys, especially tweens and teens, to sustain attention for too long. It can also take time for them to digest and process information.
Top Talk Tip: Give your son time and space to think about the things you speak about if you want your young man to give proper consideration to what you have said. It can take days or even months for him to wrap his head around your discussion.
Just because you and your son have a constructive discussion and end up in agreement on Monday afternoon, doesn’t mean he will still be on the same page Tuesday morning.
This isn’t intentional. He is not deliberately saying yes to get you off his back and then ignoring you. Your son needs plenty of reinforcement to help new ideas stick.
Top Talk Tip: Don’t adopt a “one and done” approach. Once you have had a specific discussion with your son, check-in with him afterward. Follow-up to ensure you are both in the same place you were when you finished your chat.
5 Read Body Language
When we talk with each other, we communicate with much more than just words. The tone, volume, and rhythm of our speech clearly convey our emotions, even when the words themselves do not. But there are other elements of communication to consider.
Top Talk Tip: Think about your body language when you are speaking with your son. Don’t cross your arms or legs, don’t stand over him or invade his personal space. This will send negative signals and undermine your words.
4 Be An In-Betweener
The primary objective should be to develop comfortable, relaxed, and open communication with your son.
When you achieve this, you will be less likely to have to sit him down, or go for a walk, to have “A BIG IMPORTANT TALK” and more like to have an on-going dialogue.
Top Talk Tip: Work toward having plenty of discussions during the in-between times such as while your preparing dinner or when you are driving somewhere together. To your son, it will feel less intimidating and less like a lecture.
3 Be The Model
Your children will subconsciously build a model for how relationships work, along with how their own relationships and those around them work, based on you and your relationships. If you want your son to grow up into a kind and considerate person who can communicate effectively by listening as much as he speaks, you have to be his role model.
Top Talk Tip: Don’t sit your son down and talk at him. Speak with him, make sure you are having a conversation that flows both ways.
2 Never Underestimate Praise
As a parent, it can be easy to fall into the habit of finding fault, correcting the things your kids do wrong and punishing intentional wrongdoing.
This can turn you into a negative nagger and turn your son into that child who puts up with you telling everything he does wrong.
Top Talk Tip: Before you speak with your son, consider whether or not the bulk of what you want to say is negative. If you have to have a difficult discussion about something that is negative at its core, take the time beforehand to think of a few positives you can inject.
1 Talk About Nothing
Parenting is a delicate balance of being the responsible adult who provides rules and structure in a friendly and approachable framework without crossing over into, “I’m your friend, not your parent, so there are no boundaries” territory.
Top Talk Tip: Remember to just talk about nothing with your son sometimes. Not everything has to be a teaching moment or an opportunity to correct.
If you can be fun and chatty when they are younger, it will make it easier to maintain an open relationship during the teen years.
References: psychologytoday.com, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, brainy-child.com