As with all parenting books I’ve read, “Raising Cain” contained some parts with which I disagreed, some with which I agreed, and some from which I learned. Below is an application of how I learned to encourage emotional literacy in Red, from last week when I was still reading the book.
As we were walking home from the park I noticed that Red still had in his possession a plastic wheel, something from a Happy Meal toy that he had found at the park. I was in the middle of “Raising Cain” at the time and was really taking to heart the idea that we need to teach our boys emotional literacy.
I began by casually telling him that I noticed he still had that toy. What did he plan to do with it? When he told me he was taking it home I engaged him in a dialogue about the child who owns the toy and how he probably felt. (Nevermind that no child is going back for that toy.) Red finally concluded that the toy should be returned to the park and that he would do so the next time we went to the park.
But what if we aren’t back at the park for a week? What if by then the child has given up hope and stopped looking? He decided that a week was too long, he didn’t want to cause anyone that much pain. He considered waiting until tomorrow because he was eager to get home and didn’t want to take the five minutes required to return to the park.
We walked further, letting Red think about the situation. Still I remained casual and emotionally unmoved. Still I kept things in a reflective tone instead of lecturing him. Finally I asked him how he felt. He didn’t have an answer so I began to describe feelings for him. He’s only seven, after all, and may not have the words to describe how he was feeling.
“Do you feel kind of wierd inside? Like a sick feeling but you’re not sick?” Yes! That was it. He seemed a little relieved that I was able to identify what he couldn’t. “That’s guilt, sweetie. That’s the Holy Ghost telling you that something in your life is wrong. What do you think you can do to help this yucky feeling go away?”
He concluded that he should return the toy to the park. We caught up with Paul and Blue and informed them that we would be turning around to return to the park but that we would be home in just a few minutes. Paul could see Red visibly unhappy and uncomfortable, and not knowing what had been said between us, said nothing.
We returned to the park and Red dropped the toy on the grass. After we crossed the street, again returning home, I asked him how he felt. “I feel great! I feel all better!” We talked the rest of the walk home about recognizing feelings and recognizing the promptings of the Holy Ghost. I told him that while the Holy Ghost is described as a still small voice, in my life the Holy Ghost speaks to me with feelings instead of words.
When Paul met us at the door, he later told me, Red was visibly happy and untethered by his earlier darkness.
Upon reflection on the event and the lessons for me, I came to better understand the Lord’s direction that children should be baptized when they are eight years or older, the whole age of accountability thing. As parents we need to teach our children how to read their feelings and act appropriately on them. We have eight years to give them a good foundation in emotional (and spiritual) literacy. It isn’t something that, like growing physically, happens automatically, it is something, like academic and social growth, that happens with consciencious instruction. We need to give them examples from our own lives, we need to talk them through the steps of doing it themselves, we need to be there to encourage them when they stumble, we need to teach them and guide them and prepare them.
(Also from the book I received greater clarity on why scouting is so valuable to adolescent boys, but I have no groundbreaking story to share as an example.)