BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour

I’ve just come home from being interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour with the wonderful Jenni Murray about the differences in emotional eloquence between boys and girl.

Getting older children to open up and talk to you can become a little harder as your children mature, and scientists still aren’t sure whether the differences are due to nature or nurture, but the differences do seem to exist between boys and girls and I know first hand as I have one of each!

One difference that’s especially noticeable to parents of boys is that it can be harder to get them to open up in communications with you about their emotions and feelings.

My son happily talked sport, school or cricket, but was less open about how he was feeling compared to my daughter.

If you’re the parent of a son whose door to chatting seems more closed than it is open, don’t despair.

By understanding why your son doesn’t feel comfortable discussing his emotions with you can help you relax and feel more confident around this whole area. I have found by being more flexible myself and putting the book down that I’m reading, or just being available to talk when my son is ready, means that we do get those “magic moments” where we chat, connect, and where I can support him when he needs me to.

It’s not about forcing by relaxing and making sure your son knows that when he’s ready to talk, you’ll be there to listen (regardless of the time)!

Often, I found engaging in a physical activity such as playing football in the garden or having an evening of Monopoly, or something that my son enjoyed made him open up to easily and more naturally without a feeling of pressure. So find a simple activity where you are both relaxed so the conversation can just flow naturally.

Why Boys Don’t Express Themselves Easily

Boys have lives that are just as full and complex as those of girls. They may seem more distant or aloof sometimes which may make it hard for you to engage in heart-to-heart conversations but many parents that I coach make a mistake when they assume that their sons either aren’t having any troubles or aren’t interested in discussing what’s on their minds.

In reality, many sons would relish a closer relationship, but are held back for the following reasons:

  • A desire for independence, the fierce desire to become independent can seem more pronounced in boys. They may not feel comfortable talking about their personal lives because they want to try to work out their problems and celebrate in their successes on their own, to feel more independent. Sons may also feel embarrassed about letting their parents in on details about their private lives.
  • A lack of communication skills and confidence. Males of all ages are typically more left-brained than females, and therefore have more trouble communicating effectively. Pre-adolescent boys often feel like they don’t know what to say, and so are hesitant to talk to authority figures, including their parents. Even when older boys do know the answer to a problem, they may be reluctant to talk about it for fear of saying the wrong thing.

Encouraging Communication

What’s important is that you develop an atmosphere of trust and respect that encourages a feeling of safety, and that once your children do open up, you don’t judge, talk over them or presume!

When you talk to your son, remember to let him lead the conversation. Listen to him without interrupting, and don’t give your advice until he asks for it. Refrain from asking him questions that start with “Why did you…” because those types of questions seem like attacks.

Here are some classic ways to switch off your children.

  • Asking too many questions. e.g. – “Why did you say that?”
  • Being bossy. e.g. – “Do your homework right now and don’t argue”
  • Lecturing. e.g.-”You should know better at your age”
  • Criticizing/Shaming. e.g.-”How could you be so stupid?”
  • Pitying. e.g.-”I’m so sorry for you, you poor thing”
  • Rescuing.e.g.-doing it for them “Alright, I’ll take care of it for you”
  • Jumping to conclusions. e.g.-”Late again! I suppose you’ve been up to no good!”
  • Threatening and shouting.e.g.-If you don’t change your attitude, you’re grounded for a week”
  • Always knowing best. e.g.-”I told you that would happen, didn’t I?”

Most of us find ourselves lecturing, ordering, and jumping to conclusions or even threatening our child but if we always presume the worst and speak to our kids like this we block communication.

And, effective communication is the oil that lubricates a good family and builds a lasting relationship between you and your kids.

Here are some of my Positive Tips for good communication:

  • Remain silent most of the time!
  • Be aware and sensitive to your child’s body language, e.g. whether they look disappointed, worried, angry, excited, pleased, etc…
  • Show you are really listening by saying “I see…/uh-huh…” occasionally, and looking into their eyes without just staring to maintain good eye contact.
  • Reflect back the gist of what they have said to you to check that you have understood them clearly.
  • Avoid giving advice or offering suggestions. (Tough, I know, but believe me this one REALLY works).
  • Show your child by the tone of your voice and body language that you really respect and care are genuinely trying to understand where they are coming from.

It’s worth remembering that most kids don’t like face to face chats. So it’s easier if you are doing something else at the time like emptying the dishwasher, driving them to a football practice or peeling the potatoes.

Often they like to talk when you’ve just settled down with a cup of coffee to watch your favorite TV programme or just climbed into bed exhausted or just run a lovely bath, but these can be the “Golden Moments” – the deep and meaningful chats – the ones that connect you to your kids and help bridge the gap of empathy.

Go with the flow and keep remembering the bigger picture to your parenting – bringing up the happy, confident, well-balanced children; tomorrow’s adult – tomorrow’s parent.

So just for this week what can you do to open up, not close down effective communications in your house?