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Teaching Boys How to be Sensitive

Sensitivity is defined by Merriam Webster's dictionary, as "the awareness of the needs and emotions of others". In other words, it is the feeling of empathy that you feel for other people. You are sensitive when you are able to feel what the other person is feeling; therefore, it belongs to the affective domain which is a behavioral branch of science.

How can you raise your boys to be sensitive?

You have to be aware that since it is an affective behavior that you want to cultivate, then you should devise the most effective method.

For teenage girls this is easier but for teenage boys, it could be more difficult as society expects them to be tough. Like when a boy cries, you can hear the mother say: “Stop crying, you're strong. You're a big boy now," implying to the child that crying is only for the weak.

It is in these cultural norms that teenage boys grow nowadays. Before you could effectively teach them how to be sensitive to people around them, you have first to change their perception of what and how boys/men should behave. You can only do this if you start "teaching" them at the earliest time possible.

To raise your boys to be sensitive then is a great challenge for parents.

Below are suggested methods of doing this:

1. Teach by example

A lesson can only be taught effectively if you, as the "teacher", demonstrate how it is done. You instruct them: "Be sensitive to other people's needs." But they observe you ignoring their grandmother or being insensitive to the feelings of other family members. Do you think your sons would believe you? Genuine learning would not occur because what you say are not in congruence with your actions.

On the other hand, if you show concern and take time to attend to their grandmother and other family members who need you, then they would learn about one specific way to show sensitivity.

Inculcating in them the Golden Rule could help a lot in this endeavor. Sometimes when boys are not “taught” how to be sensitive, they grow into men, who are also callous, self centered and selfish.

You should also teach them the value of being considerate. This story by Holly Jahangiri "Promises, Promises" is an appropriate example of how the teacher -who is supposed to be a responsible adult - demonstrated an insensitive behavior.

2. Let them read a book that touches on sensitivity

There are interesting teen books on line and in bookstores that talk about how to care for the welfare of others and how to be concerned about other people's feelings. "Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Growing Up" (, The Little Prince are two of the many books that you could allow them to read.
If you have more suggestions, feel free to contribute them in the comment section.

3. Bring them to a community outreach program

When they see other people serving others without expecting anything in return, they would learn the value of noble, generous service. You could allow them to participate in the distribution of gifts to poor children. This would be an actual exposure and immersion for them and would leave an imprint in their young minds. The joy of being able to help and make other people happy would be a unique "high" for them. They would be more aware of being “sensitive” to other people’s needs.

4. Instruct them on the importance of body language

Body language would be a good way of knowing the emotions of other people. Being sensitive to other people's feelings would promote a more peaceful atmosphere. Teach them how to "sense" a brewing problem through gestures and actions. "Actions speak louder than words," so they say. They should learn - through observation - the negative gestures that could warn them of impending trouble.

5. Teach them the skill of effective communication

Oral communication should be utilized to "sense" what someone is feeling. They should know how to utilize spoken language to convey and determine what the other person is feeling. Some pointers include: listening carefully to what the other person is feeling, facing the person one is talking to, having an eye to eye contact with the person, not interrupting when one is speaking, and several others, don't use sarcasm on children. Here is a helpful article from Patricia Rockwell on doing this effectively.

All in all, sensitivity can only be taught through demonstrative action. This is because it is a behavioral output. To be able to effectively teach your young boys to be sensitive, you must have this trait within you. Persist in showing them how to be sensitive through your own actions. You could never give what you don't have!

What about you? Do you have any suggestions about this topic? Your ideas would be highly appreciated.

Photo by mikebaird


Holly Jahangiri said...

Excellent post, Jena! And a good reminder that "sensitive" doesn't mean "wimp," but rather someone who is empathetic and considerate of others. Something we should all try harder to demonstrate and emulate.

Jena Isle said...

Hi Holly,

I'm glad you think that way and thanks for validating the post.Cheers.

JeD Chan said...

Thanks for the post Jena.

I would say that I'm quite sensitive enough as a boy. :)

I owe it from my parents especially from my dad. He was an example for me, whenever I'm holding something inside me..he'll say "it's ok, just let it out." He never prevents me to express myself. :)

My dad also cares for others more than himself. I learned so much from him. I will be forever thankful and proud of my parents. :)

Jena Isle said...

Hi Jed,

That's good to know. We need more men like you in this who are not ashamed to cry, because crying is NOT a weakness , but a strength. All the best.

TrinaMb said...

Oh such a valuable message for parents to extend to their boys. It can be such a loooooooooooong process for some, as I am experiencing here :-) Thanks for the reminder to stay the course.

Jena Isle said...

Hi TrinaMb,

Yes, it would be a long process for many. The norms set by society is difficult to negate.

All the best.

theLastJedi said...

wow.. what an interesting insight on how to effectively deal with teaching boys how to grow up in full awareness that their strength and masculinity is also dependent on how sensitive we are to our fellows.. im proud to have a mom who raised three boys in this way.. i grew up believing that boys don't cry, only real men do.. =)

Jena Isle said...

Hi Alexys,

It's good you learned it as early as that. It is often difficult to "teach" grown men how to empathize. You're lucky you grew amidst supportive family members who are not afraid to express how they feel.

All the best.

ASWANI said...

Hello Jena, thanks for dropping by my blog and leaving your comment. really appreciated.

About this post, It really is an excellent one. Really appreciate they way you put it into those points. Sensitivity is really required in today's boys. Thanks for sharing such insightful post.

jan geronimo said...

@Jed: You've one great father there. You're very lucky. Insensitive fathers - a dime a dozen, sad to say.

@jen: Yeah, the critical element here is empathy. Bulls eye. And the parents role in turning out empathetic boys into well-rounded adults that's great responsibility indeed.

What will make it more a success is to set good examples for kids. Practicing what the parents preach. There must be disconnect there. Like what Jed's father did.

darbs said...

Hello Jena. Thank you for your visit at my haws.

So here we go, not long ago I visited this part of your page. I read this wonderful entry but did not leave a message after the tone.

Sometimes I wonder if sensitivity is innate or environmental?

Innate to have that attribute when the boy was born plus giving the environment of sensitivity are perfect combination...(not included love/affection/care set by example ehem... by loving parents.

looking at the different angle, what if your son is so sensitive in line with being empathetic/considerate of others and now used against him? - here comes the bullies in school.

There are bullies in school you know because not all kids are taught the same way or shall i say, not all kids are created equal.

The way I looked at it, this sensitive/loving/caring kid is now in disadvantage against the bullies. guess what? to the point of protecting the bullies because they might get in trouble.

Again, in the real world, I repeat not everyone is taught of being sensitive of others.

My guess is, that is why we have wars...we have greedy people...we have corrupt officials and we have policies...rules...laws like for example against racial discrimination.

In addition, because of insensitivity of others we have posters like NO SMOKING HERE! NO SMOKING THERE! DON'T THROW GARBAGE HERE! THERE! No Hunting here, No Tresspassing there...No Fishing Here...and some school we also have big letters saying: DISRESPECT is ZERO TOLERANCE.

What can i say...

Jena Isle said...

Hello Darbs,

Wow, you've contributed significantly to the topic. I agree that parents and family are a major factor to raisin a child to be sensitive. As he grows older, environment also takes part in molding his personality.

Bullies will always be a part of schooling. Some even are not aware they're doing this. A positive approach based on the existing facts should be utilized.

I also wonder at times why people should be given rules even in very simple things: like don't throw garbage, etc. when it is just common sense that one should be responsible for your own litter.

If we only be more considerate and sensitive to the needs of others and be totally aware of the rule of karma, then perhaps we could be more selfless and loving of other people.

Thanks Darbs for dropping by.

Jena Isle said...

That should read:

"...when it is just common sense that one should be responsible for ONE'S own litter."