4 Tips to Raise Boys to Be Better Men

An expert talks about raising boys to be healthy and empathetic men who embrace gender equality.

As one mom to another, Dr. Shelly Vaziri Flais is on a mission to help parents raise their boys to be healthy and empathetic and to grow up to be men who embrace gender equality.

In her new book, “Nurturing Boys To Be Better Men: Gender Equality Begins at Home”, this pediatrician and mom of three boys and one girl guides parents on busting the generational stereotype that boys are easy and need only rough-and-tumble play, not focus on their emotional, creative sides. When it comes to gender equality, it means both boys and girls should be free to pursue their potential without being constrained by traditional gender roles, stereotypes or biases. According to Flais, that starts at birth.

“It’s not just better for our society, it’s better for boys and men if they can be whole people and talk about their feelings. We’ve done it the old way and now we’ve got middle-aged men hurting themselves, having a mental health crisis,” she says.

The idea of raising her boys to embrace gender equality has been part of her parenting since day one.

She thought: “I can’t change the world out there, I can’t create systemic change. …Yet here are these young boys in my home and what choices can we make on a daily basis that helps them be part of the solution and not part of the problem?”

She offers four common-sense parenting tips layered for the #HeForShe movement. 

Connect with your son. 

It’s never too early; birth to age 5 sets the groundwork for how boys view the world while at the same time building a base for their self-esteem, she says. “When a 7-month-old babbles, respond and listen,” she says. “You are setting the stage for future bigger conversations. Listen to everything your child says when they are small, then later they will tell you the big stuff because all along to your child, it’s been the big stuff.”

It’s also the time to send a message to your sons that what you do inside the home matters as much as what you do outside the home.

Take a whole child approach. 

It’s a common refrain among moms: Boys are so easy. It’s time to re-evaluate “male” characteristics. “I feel that does our sons a disservice because it implies they aren’t ready to communicate and have feelings and share whether they’ve had a good or bad day,” she says, adding at the same time we lament that men don’t talk or share their feelings. 

“Let’s nurture in the young ones what we want to see when they are older,” she says. 

Role modeling. 

If we want to see sons growing up to share equally in household labor or being an ally in the workforce, we need to model that, she says. Not just the physical work of doing the dishes or making the beds, but also the mental load of parenthood. Of course, she says, promoting gender equality in your 3-year-old will look different than for a 13-year-old. But in developmentally appropriate ways, consider what tasks Dad or the father figure in a child’s life can do to normalize the teamwork it takes to run a household. She offers age-based suggestions and tips in her book to help.

Give yourself a pat on the back. 

If you are already thinking about gender equality, “You are already doing a better job than you think. Between generations, extended family, neighbors, community, school, coaches, the media, your sons are going to get messaging from the rest of the world, so be conscious as a parent to counteract that and have discussions about it.” 

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