David Thomas Teaches Parents to Raise Emotionally Healthy Boys

For those of you who enjoyed season 1 of the Rooted Parent podcast, which featured licensed professional counselor David Thomas in a ten- episode series entitled All About Boys, you’re in for a treat: Thomas has just released his third book, Raising Emotionally Strong Boys: Tools Your Son Can Build On For Life.

For those of you who aren’t yet familiar with Thomas’ work, you are in for a treat too. Thomas has been counseling boys and families at Daystar Ministries in Nashville for over twenty years while raising his own two sons (and daughter) alongside his wife. Writing with compassion and respect, Thomas offers parents the voice of experience informed by biblical truth. He manages to infuse a struggling mom or dad with confidence in Jesus while equipping us with very practical guidelines to navigate the minefield that is the emotional life of boys.

One of the most helpful things that Thomas does is uncover the emotion that often lurks unidentified under a boy’s outward behavior. For example, he suggests that before puberty, many boys channel their emotions into an outwardly expressed anger, but the actual underlying feeling could easily be grief, sadness, or loneliness. Suggesting that for boys, “presentation is often misleading, “Thomas tells that “anxious boys often look rigid, stubborn, controlling, perfectionistic, angry, or explosive” (p. 64). Unsure what to do with their intense feelings, boys often lash out or “numb out,” which can manifest itself in overachieving, underachieving, substance abuse, relational dysfunction, or simply hiding behind screens.

Thomas gives parents tools for training boys to name, accept, and process their emotions in a healthier way. For example, he suggests that every home invest in an emotions chart, because recognizing emotions is the first step. Place it somewhere visible and refer to it often, requiring your sons to develop an emotional “vocabulary,” because FINE – the standard boy answer that we’ve all heard a million times—actually stands for Feelings In Need of Expression. Thomas advocates for healthy coping skills, such as giving a boy a journal, or setting aside what he calls a “Space” for physical, artistic ,or verbal expression of emotions. These tools (among many others in the book), will help boys to regulate their emotions, so that they avoid doing or saying things that will only make them (and everyone else) feel worse. Finally, Thomas guides parents to train their sons to repair any damage from emotional outbursts (or from withdrawal) by accepting responsibility, apologizing, and learning to recognize both the emotions and the warning signs that trouble is ahead.

Thomas also spends several chapters considering boys and relationships: moms and dads, friends and allies, models and mentors. Within the parent-son relationship, he invites parents to move through developmental stages in the progression of the relationship, pointing out potential pitfalls where the relationship can get “stuck” in patterns that may have been helpful when the boy was young, but they don’t serve him well as an emerging adult. With friendships, he examines how the “upside- down kingdom of God” means that Christian friendships will look different from worldly friendships. He writes:

The last will be first.

Winning by dying.

The least are the greatest.

Power in weakness.

Blessing in suffering.

The poor become rich.

None of it makes sense in the world we live in. All of it makes sense in God’s economy. Boys need to see what it looks like to live out these realities in a world that values success, independence, and competence. (p.113)

Each chapter concludes with a list of “Intentional Practices” that moms and dads can implement with their sons at any age to work towards emotional maturity that will benefit everyone in the family. Writing with humor, warmth, and compassion, David Thomas is a trustworthy guide, and parents of boys will find Raising Emotionally Healthy Boys is a treasure trove of wise practices founded on biblical principles.

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Advancing Grace-Driven Youth Ministry

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