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Anyone Who Says 'Boys Don't Cry' Should Be Made to Walk on Lego Barefoot

06/10/2015 17:39 BST | Updated 06/10/2016 10:12 BST

In the face of drama, sorrow, pain or anger, my children - little human animals that they are - will often respond with tears.

While I may not place as much importance on a missing LEGO Chima Tiger Tank mini figure, I accept that my sons are three and seven, and crying about (relatively) trivial things is absolutely par for the course.

But as my children get older, particularly because they are boys, I find other people - their father included - respond with little or no patience to the damp emotion. In fact, anything non-life-threatening that provokes tears is usually met with a flippant, "What are you crying about now? Big boys don't cry!"

Let's face it. Us rational, emotionally intelligent modern parents were programmed during our own childhoods to subscribe to the belief that boys don't cry. It was the culture of our fathers. Even though that makes no sense at all, it's surprising how ingrained it is, and how carelessly we peddle the message to, and in front of, our own children.

When you think about it, it's just about the most ridiculous message you can give to a child. You might as well say: "Please don't express yourself darling, get a grip. Emotions are for girls."

Crying - god forbid publicly - has so many more negative associations for a boy. From derogatory terms like baby, sissy and wimp which are bandied about in the playground, to the disapproval of other men and boys whose own upbringing by distant, Victorian parents has conditioned them to believe that a pat on the back, rather than a cuddle, constitutes comfort.

Here's the thing: telling a boy that he shouldn't cry or shaming him when he does won't teach him to manage his emotions, only to suppress and ignore them.

Noel Janis-Norton, parenting guru, behaviour specialist and author of Calmer, Easier, Happier Boys, says:

"We need to teach and train boys to express their feelings and thoughts, their worries and their dreams. It is important that boys become comfortable with describing their inner life. When feelings come out in words, they are much less likely to come out in misbehaviour. Also, when adults understand what a boy is going through, there is more of a chance that the adults can help, either with action or with empathy.

"Studies have shown that the ability and the willingness to express what one feels leads to a greater sense of optimism, positivity and confidence, a can-do attitude towards life."

Sage advice indeed.

My seven-year-old errs on the side of drama. He's an extremely good performer, whether he's playing air guitar or trying to convince me (in a sea of tears) that he didn't actually pinch his brother's arm. The volume of the crying escalates with some urgency as painful red welts rise disproving his story, until he silently adopts a dramatic tragedy pose (rounded shoulders, hanging head, hands turned outwards like a limp gorilla).

But let's say my son is crying about something other than pain he has inflicted on his sibling. Maybe he doesn't want to wear long sleeves and resents not having a choice; it could be that he wants to finish his marble run before bath time but is told no. Sometimes he point-blank Does. Not. Want. To. Go. To. School. But often, he's just having an off day and feeling tearful.

When I am faced with these tears, which are invariably over something fleeting, petty or irrational, I remind myself that I cry too. Not watching crappy movies or over spilt milk. But I cry when I hear Joni Mitchell on the radio, or when I haven't had enough sleep. And the last time I shed silent tears while peeling potatoes to the musical tapestry of 60s California, my son noticed and gave me a long, tight, wordless hug. He didn't try to understand, find a solution or even empathise. He simply offered comfort.

Since then, I've stopped trying to offer solutions to him. I've realised that I don't have to understand why something triggers his tears, only that, when it does, it's my job to comfort him and provide a safe space in which he can express himself, without fear of mocking or judgment. My husband snorted when I explained this to him. He believes that we need to toughen him up.

So to prove my point as scientifically as I am able, I spread LEGO around the bed yesterday evening and let him cross the room barefoot. When a square brick struck the tendon of his inner arch (a failsafe inevitability), he cried. Like a great big sissy. And I said: "I can't see any blood. Come on, big boys don't cry."

I think I made my point.

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