Big Boys Don’t Cry – But Should They?

ID 10067465 Big Boys Dont Cry But Should They?I was at a family gathering a few years ago and one of my friend’s sons, 10 years old, was messing about and fell off the sofa.  He landed quite badly and when he picked himself up it was obvious that he was hurt and trying to fight back the tears. A couple of people asked if he was OK, and still he was fighting it.

Then one of my male friends walked up to him and said, “It’s OK to cry you know, I would have cried if that were me.” At that point the boy burst into tears and cried out for his mother.

It’s like he needed permission to express the way he felt.

When his mother came in from the kitchen she explained to us that the boy’s father had told him that ‘big boys don’t cry’.  There was a real sadness in her voice as she spoke.

That memory has stuck with me and I have been pondering it recently because my own son, 7 years old, cries at the drop of a hat. I admit I’m guilty of getting frustrated at times and telling him to stop.

Then last weekend we were at a child’s birthday party and her grandparents had a large Alsatian dog. My son is quite scared of dogs and the adults at the party spent the afternoon trying to encourage him to approach the dog and conquer his fear. At one point he got annoyed with everyone and whispered to me, “Why does nobody care how I feel?!” He took my hand, placed it on his chest and said, “Feel my heart.” Sure enough it was pounding.  He then started to cry. I felt like crying too. It was at that moment that I realized that I, like a lot of other parents, was guilty of belittling my child’s feelings. We often do it unintentionally, but by saying things like ‘stop crying’, ‘don’t be scared’, ‘don’t be silly’, ‘you’re fine’, that is exactly what we’re doing.

We are essentially telling them that what they’re feeling is wrong, and that is just not right.

We tend to do this with our sons more than our daughters and we need to be mindful of the fact that by telling them to ‘man up’ we’re actually teaching them to bottle up. This may cause them to become emotionally unavailable in later life.

Of course, society is full of pressures for boys to ‘man up’ and we don’t want to subject our boys to bullying, but it really is OK for our sons to cry.

In fact, it’s good for them.

Experts say that teaching boys to recognize and understand their emotions, and then showing them how manage the way they feel, can actually reduce the risk of teenage depression. It can make them better communicators and can even help them to manage other emotions such as anger in a healthier way.

So now I am making more of a conscious effort to say ‘breathe’ instead of ‘stop crying’ – it helps to calm my son down and he’ll stop crying, but he will stop of his own accord and not because he feels he’s being forced to.


Photo credit: courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at


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