Dr. Anna Cohen: ‘Raising Good Boys Into Great Men’

Dr. Anna Cohen: ‘Raising Good Boys Into Great Men’
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Jun 25, 2015

Being a parent is a challenge. It challenges your competence, your energy and your emotion as all children will be hard work, or difficult at some stage. They will notoriously test how elastic our boundaries are and how far they can be pushed. Our kids aren’t perfect; none of us are perfect; and I am certainly not perfect – I have my off days too.

Most of us have trained for our chosen career, yet we assume the job of a parent requires no training. But there’s always new things to learn and tools we can use to help be mindful parents, and navigate this challenging territory with assertiveness, decisiveness, confidence, empathy and compassion to help our children – our boys – turn into safe, healthy life-loving men.

Boys are different to girls….

Boys are different to girls in their emotional expression and those differences are amplified by a culture that supports the emotional development of girls, too often discouraging it for boys. Boys long for connection but at the same time they need to pull away, and this opens up an emotional divide. This struggle between their need for connection and their desire for autonomy finds different expressions as they mature. Many boys fall into the trap of embracing the image of stoic masculinity. They are driven by the need for psychological self-protection so their masculine persona is often protected at all costs, and their vulnerability is often masked with anger. We need to help our boys develop deep masculinity and nurture it to its fullest so they better understand their feelings. Who better to aid this process than a great man.

We often speak from the female perspective on raising our boys, however statistics show that there is a great deal of importance, particularly in the early years of a child’s life where the father plays a huge role. For mother’s parenting sons alone you can’t be a father but you can still provide an environment to help your gorgeous boy grow into a wonderful man, so when I refer to “father” this extends to a “father figure’ as well.

Boys need their fathers or a father figure…

It is between the ages of 6-14 when father figures count the most. It is during this period of development in a boy’s life when his primary source of identification switches from his mother to his father, or closest male figure.

During this time boys actively want to be “just like their father ” – something that is only possible if they are around, available and interested in sharing time with him. His father needs to be doing things with him, challenging and testing him, but never wounding or belittling him. Fathers have a critical role in teaching their boys emotional literacy and it takes the help of many men to turn a boy into a man. Boys need exposure to healthy men, and this need continues into their adult life.

Masculinity has to be learned from men who have learned it from other men. Mums, no matter how hard they try, can’t do it on their own. A boy needs male modelling of a rich emotional life. He needs to learn as much emotional literacy from his father and other men, as from his mother and other women, because he must create a life and language for himself to speak with male identity. A boy must see and believe that emotions belong in the life of a man.

There are some essential components of what we do as parents that will help your gorgeous boy develop into a great man…

The in-charge parent

Boys need their parents to be in charge, respectfully in charge. An in-charge parent is aware of their child’s needs and is able to set fair limits and listen to requests and questions. When we are clear, calm and consistent, our children feel safe and secure.

Emotional Coaching

Boys need an emotional vocabulary that expands their ability to express themselves in ways other than anger and aggression. They need to experience empathy at home and at school and be encouraged to use it if they are to develop a conscience. Boys, no less than girls, need to feel emotional connection throughout their lives but especially during the bridge to, and throughout adolescence. Boys need close, supportive relationships that can protect them from becoming victims of turbulent, disowned emotions

Being Mindful

We are looking to teach our children the skills to recognise and use their thoughts and feelings (being mindful) to act wisely. This will build their emotional literacy. Give a child a fish and he eats for a day, but teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime. 

Pay attention

It’s important to pay attention to your own reactions to your child’s emotions. If you feel overwhelmed – take a break and come back to work things out when you feel calm. We all make mistakes and being able to say sorry when you’ve made a mistake is powerful role modelling for your son. At the same time it is important to consider your son’s emotions and not dismiss them, helping him feel safe and understood.


Consideration for others is key to developing our own moral compass. Compliance requires rewards and punishment but we are striving for considerate behaviour. Considerate behaviour is about helping our boys want to do the right thing regardless of external factors or pressures. Ultimately we want our boys to behave considerately because it’s the right thing to do, not because they’re worried about getting into trouble.

Constructive feedback

Conflict is inevitable. Constructive feedback and helpful communication helps children to be clear and positive. Encourage your boys to be direct about what they want so you can help them.

 Some basic things to remember:

  • Recognise boys’ desire to live in the moment, their inability and/or unwillingness to plan their lives;
  • Never underestimate the power of peer pressure for boys as they bridge to adolescents (9 and on);
  • Its important to get mothers off the bridge of adolescents and father/father figures onto it; and
  • Boys like clear boundaries. They have to be able to see and/or feel the consequences of doing, or not doing something, before it becomes real enough to matter and to motivate them.

Written by Dr. Anna Cohen from Kids & Co

How have you made sure your boy has grown into a great man? Tell us below…


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