Nurturing Compassion in Boys



March 2015
While girls are often applauded for pursuing math and science, playing traditional male sports and dressing in typical boy attire, boys who deviate from the historically "masculine" conventions often face a much different reaction. 

Although all gender stereotypes are becoming less rigid, girls are given more flexibility than boys. That concerns me, especially when it comes to developing the typically "feminine" traits of compassion and kindness. These qualities are critical to the healthy development of all our children. Below are ways to assure that your boys receive those essential lessons in empathy as they grow toward being caring, compassionate, charitable men. 

Jenny Friedman, Executive Director
Make a Difference.....

  1. Feelings 101 Label and talk about feelings. Acknowledging your son's feelings will enable him to better recognize and deal with his own strong emotions, and have a deeper understanding of others. To find "emotion coaching" tools, visit our Feelings 101 project page.
  2. Redefine courage. Remind your son that it can take courage to be vulnerable, kind and compassionate. In fact, research suggests that when adolescents are more empathetic, they are more likely to act bravely - like protecting others in the face of bullying. Isn't this the kind of courage we want our children to have?
  3. Find giving projects that fit your boy's interests. If volunteer projects like decorating cards or friendly visiting don't appeal to your son, rethink your approach. HaBrickDreams volunteersve a sports fan? How about collecting sports equipment for low-income communities or getting involved in a kid's charity fun run? If your son loves to build, create nest boxes to donate to a local bird-rescue facility. Or turn your son's love of Legos into a creative, meaningful giving project.
  4. Emphasize empathy. Do "180s" with your son -- often. Talk about how it might feel to be the child who is being bullied, the person on the corner with a sign asking for money, or a substitute teacher who is being harassed by students. The more he can practice putting himself in someone else's position and see the world from different points of view, the more his compassion and empathy will grow.
  5. Expose your son to the right kind of heroes. Introduce him to philanthropists, sports figures that give back to the community, and political and religious leaders that stand for peace and justice. These might be men you know personally or those you meet through reading and storytelling.


Talk About It.....

We know that reading fiction breeds empathy, yet we read more often to our girls than to our boys. So make time for reading, then enhance the empathy-developing Dad reading to son component by asking these questions.

  • How did the character feel? Have you ever felt that way? How would you feel if [the situation] happened to you?
  • What do you think of how the character reacted? Do you think you would have reacted that way? Why or why not?
  • What would have made the character feel better.

Tough Boris

Learn About It....

Tough Boris - This delightful book by Mem Fox offers a simple but wonderfully engaging story that illustrates how toughness and tenderness can coexist.


"I want my boys to have an understanding of people's emotions, their insecurities, people's distress, and their hopes and dreams."

Diana, Princess of Wales

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