Fatherly Stuff: Sensitivity and Boyhood

Oct 13, 2013

Sensitivity and Boyhood



In the past, I've written about how becoming a father has gotten me more in touch with my sensitive side and how it has helped me become a better parent. This is obviously a great quality to have as an adult, what about for young boys? It is possible to be too sensitive at too early of an age? If so, at what point should a parent be concerned? These are the type of questions that I've been asking myself lately due to some behavior that my oldest son has exhibited.


The other weekend our family had a play-date with a friend who also has two children of similar age. We were in the backyard and they were playing a made up game where one of the kids would toss an over sized Frisbee as hard and they could and race to wherever it landed. Before I tell you what happens next, I should mention that earlier that morning, it rained a little, so the grass was a slippery.  

You can probably see where this is going.

After about a few rounds of Frisbee racing, my son’s face eventually found out firsthand exactly how cool and damp the grass was as he found himself losing his balance. His playmate, not being one to miss out on a good opportunity, bolted to the Frisbee, scooped it up and effectively declared herself the winner of the game.  My son, grass stains on his knee and dirt on his cheek, watched as she reveled in victory, with the Frisbee held high over her head. My wife and I instantly gave each other a "here we go" look, as we knew exactly what was about to happen . The tears welled up in my son’s eyes, his bottom lip quivered and he let out of wail so loud, you would have thought someone impaled him with an iron spike. Mind you, he wasn’t hurt at all; he was simply upset that he lost the game. 

I went to him to make sure he was okay, gave him some comforting hugs and provided a few words of encouragement, explaining to him that we all can’t win every single game and to try again. But I have to admit, I did hesitate, if only for a fraction of a split second. This is because the behavior that he exhibited in that backyard was only the tip of what seemed to be a larger iceberg.

For example, take earlier today. On a car ride home, he cried over the fact that he couldn’t decide whether or not he wanted chocolate covered pretzels or CheezeIt mix for a snack. The day prior, he cried out of frustration because he was having trouble figuring out how to ride his new bicycle. There was also that time that the cried because he kept coloring outside of the lines.

These, along with a number of other events are pretty much routine when raising a boy who is hyper-sensitive. To be clear, I want to point out that in many respects, he is a typical kid. He is very independent, is quick to to take risks and often rebuffs my attempts to help him do most tasks before trying them on his own. In addition to this, we're constantly roughhousing together. However, he is at his core very emotional and seemingly trivial  things are enough to turn on the waterworks.

So why does him being so sensitive concern me so much?

As a dad, I often think about how I interact with my boys could potentially affect their long term development. As a result of this, I guess what I was worried about is whether or not me being quick to comfort my son could be considered “coddling” because it poses the risk of making him too “soft”. The last thing I would want is for my son to face the world, unprepared for its harsh realities. It’s often said that “nice guys finish last”,and in the jungle of life, it seems as though the males who exhibit signs of hyper sensitivity are the old and sick gazelle, waiting to get torn apart by ravenous lions. With this is mind, I've wondered what, if anything, I should be doing to toughen him up. In the story when my kid caught a face full of grass, was me coming to his aid and comforting him the wrong thing to do, or should I have just stood by, let him cry and figure it out on his own? Where is the line between over-parenting and tough love?

After some thoughtful reflection on this issue, along with a conversation with my wife, I’ve come to the conclusion that instead of discouraging his sensitivity, I should wholeheartedly embrace it by continuing to be there for him whenever he needs me, especially at this early age.  It is an unavoidable fact that one day, both of my children will grow up and carve their own path in a world that can at times be unforgiving and cruel and they will have to figure out how to overcome those adversities on their own. In a world with a seemingly never-ending flow of pessimism, I am thankful to have a child who is so in tune with his feelings and is unafraid to express them. This is a quality that will serve him well as an adult. So often I have encountered men who are that are self proclaimed "tough guys". These are the types who are quick to anger, random outbursts and could probably benefit from sensitivity training. His compassion and gentle nature has the potential to change the hearts and minds of those around him, exactly the way it has done for me. Therefore, I don’t think that me being emotionally distant and tougher on my kids is the most effective method of preparing them to face that time in their lives.  I want both of my kids to be able to look back to their childhood as a time where no matter how low, or afraid or sad they were feeling, their dad was always there to pick them up, to kiss their scrapes and make things better. From those tender memories, they will be able to draw reserves of strength and hope during a time when they need it the most. 

By searching for my own answer, my son has once again taught me a valuable lesson by exposing my own false perceptions of masculinity. The love that I have for my boys gives me an ever growing desire to become a better man and as a result,  a better dad to them. That is what gives me the strength and insight to search within myself in order to thoughtfully examine those perceptions that eventually develop a greater understanding of this ever-evolving concept of fatherhood. It’s my goal to use these experiences to successfully guide them into adulthood. This is the path that I have chosen. My son is sensitive and I'm damn proud of it

Question: What are your thoughts on young boys and sensitivity?