Boys Need Connection
Boys of all ages, like girls, cannot be spoiled by too much healthy love and support from their parents. Instead, boys who share a close connection to their caregivers will likely become more confident, do better in school, sports, music, and later have a stronger likelihood of avoiding substance misuse, than boys who have distant relationships with their parent(s) and caregiver(s). When boys come from families where they are nurtured and their needs are met they develop healthy attachments. No amount of appropriate bonding, attachment, or nurturance from a mother or father is harmful or leads boys to become weaklings or sissies. Boys do not need to be rushed into independence.

However, they should not be unduly restrained from it either. With all the recent constructive emphasis on attachment theory, well-intentioned parents can mistake their boy’s misbehaviour as a problem with attachment when it is actually over-parenting. I especially hear about this occurrence after concerned parents initially learn about the importance of keeping close to their kids – throughout all stages of development. Parents need to tune into the sensitivities of a particular boy while also being careful not to do things for him that he can do for himself. Over-parenting, over-teaching, and over-protection in general can smother a boy’s emerging independence.

To arrange for a Boy Smarts parent event please contact

Nikki & Boys "Thank you for inspiring me as I raise 3 caring and confident boys.
Tonight at your presentation I learned:
To accept and embrace their differences;
to shout less;
to talk more;
and to overcome my fear of the Play Station!
I eagerly look forward to reading your books."

Fidgeting is frequently another way that boys speak with their body to let you know that they are feeling anxious and may need help to process the discussion – remember the corpus callosum and the need for bilateral stimulation! Avoid insisting that they stand or sit still and you most likely will observe that the fidgeting helps them to relax as you maintain connection while getting information about what has occurred.

Male Silence

Because of gender differences in communication styles, females are often frustrated with male silence.

Male silence does not usually mean indifference or lack of desire for contact but it can be hard for many to know how to read it. Is the boy who clams up in class afraid of making mistakes? Is he distracted by personal problems? Is he stoned? It can be hard for caring adults to stay with boys’ silence, to move with it, to reflect on it, to accept it for a time, and to try to understand its purpose and significance. Male silence occasionally signals unhappiness and inward struggle, but more often it means that a boy is feeling comfortable and does not feel obliged to fill the air with words.

Most women reluctantly accept that a boy’s silence does not usually stem from a problem, but is a product of male culture and perhaps to some extent the hard wiring of the male brain.

Don’t take boys’ silence personally, but see it as a gender difference. Allow yourself to move into silence with the boy. You can still spend time together, saying little, but listening to the subtle cues behaviour can provide.

The Struggle With Emotions
Boys can think feeling talk is unmanly and they’re scared that if they allow themselves to feel and really talk about their experiences, emotions may flood them. Feeling overwhelmed can mean tears and crying. Boys – and most men for that matter – assume that crying implies weakness. “If I said what I really feel they would call me a wimp,” or “If I told my dad he’d just tell me to stand up for myself,” are typical responses boys have about discussing their emotional world.

Contend With The Boy-Code
Starting at a very young age our society can channel boys into a sort of cultural straitjacket that molds mind and enforces behaviour by confining emotional expressiveness. “Don’t cry or you’ll be a sissy,” I remember hearing adults tell boys in my neighbourhood. The boy-code requires boys to appear brave, show little emotion, not to tattletale, and never to cry. The boy-code can be summed up with three phrases: 1) Be tough and strong; 2) Don’t show your emotions; and 3) Don’t be a girl. Often, if they are to avoid humiliation and rejection, boys must embrace the boy-code for themselves and enforce it in others.

Boys Are Tender
Despite the culturally confining male straitjacket, in reality boys are emotionally tender and feel life experiences very deeply - while running, jumping, and yelling of course. In fact, boys are much more fragile than we ever thought. The XY chromosomal pattern makes males much more vulnerable to speech defects, autism and numerous other medical complications.

When boys get stuck in their emotional development and compensate with a show of hyper-masculinity they need parents and significant adults to mentor them on the road to a healthy and socially constructive manhood.

Boys and Counselling…
Boys have a need to be in the driver’s seat to maintain their sense of self-reliance, psychological integrity, and personal agency.

Counsellors are much more effective when they are perceived by boys as coaches and mentors who assist them to consider alternatives as they respond to life challenges. While in the driver's seat boys learn that they can accept support while participating in and deciding their own course of action.

Boys also need strong male mentors to teach them that expression of masculinity is varied and that being male is not limited to being athletic – being male also means being caring, courageous, ethical and healthy!

Counsellors who get results with boys know that talking about feelings is often over-rated and can initially be counterproductive. Male and female counsellors need therapeutic skills to help boys manage emotions and teach them to respect their feelings as they surface.

It’s important not stereotype males who seek counselling. Many boys are in touch with their emotions and are eager to explore their feelings, hopes and desires. They know that paying attention to their feelings can provide a rich gold mine of information assisting them to become clear about where they are stuck, moving them toward more positive action.

It is critical that counsellors help boys to reframe their thinking around emotions so they view emotions as opportunities to reach for healthier inner dialogue and more positive outlooks. Counsellors can teach boys how to turn their emotions into positive action-thoughts.

Unfortunately, the masculinity code is very influential and even boys who are expressive can be ashamed of revealing their inner world. Self-medicating with alcohol and drugs is additionally a common male response to inner turmoil. A skilled counsellor will also have a variety of practical tools to assist boys and men to process their emotions - especially emotions such as hurt, sadness and despair.

While being listened to can be comfortable for many, it can leave some males afraid of what's around the corner, emotionally. Males often perceive this sense of emotional vulnerability as the opposite of being in the driver’s seat and they require help to maintain their personal integrity while taking charge of their emotional world as they cope with its unpredictability.

Does My Son Need Counselling?
When boys are struggling with life circumstances and appear uncommunicative, parents often assume that it is their son who needs individual counselling. Oftentimes it is the parent who will benefit most.

Ultimately, parents are in the best position to respond to their child's emotional world and influence his or her sense of wellbeing. Consultation for parents is often more advantageous than counselling children.

Enhancing and strengthening the skills in your parenting toolbox through consultation or by attending a parenting course may help you to be more effective in responding to your boy’s needs.

To determine whether or not your son may benefit from individual counselling meet with an experienced counsellor or parent-coach who understands children and gender issues. Discuss your circumstances and together decide whether your son's situation warrants individual counselling or consultation for yourself, the parent.

If your son requests to see a counsellor however, be prepared to honour his request, but remember that boys often communicate indirectly and a request for a counsellor may be an attempt to say: "I want to talk with you but I don't know how to get started."

Also consider that your child's school counsellor is a skilled educator and mental health professional who can meet with you to provide insight as well as suggestions. They are also knowledgeable about community resources you may not have considered.

Click here to read more about Barry and Therese's consultation services.

To consult with Barry or Therese MacDonald contact

To arrange for a Boy Smarts parent event contact


12 Tips For

1. Love the son you've got

When you enjoy time and space together, the invisible bond between you gets stronger and stronger.

2. Let him see multiple versions of masculinity
Offer a balance of activities for boys to participate in so that they can see reflected back to them a broad range of possibilities about what it means to be male.

3. Acknowledge your son's feelings
Once your son feels heard, you and he may be able to collaborate in thinking of ways he can avoid similar problems in the future.

4. Listen to what is not being said
Given that about seventy-five percent of communication is non-verbal, how we respond to non-verbal messages - silence in particular - is critical.

5. Action-Talk
Many boys can talk more easily when they are moving and engaging in activity.

6. Talk about verbal and physical violence
Use every opportunity to reinforce that verbal and physical violence has absolutely no place in a relationship.

7. Open up conversations about motivation

Parents who use external rewards to inspire goals on the playing field or grades at school might be surprised to learn they may be impeding their son's potential for real learning.

8. Teach stress management
Take time to explore with your son the options he has to express his own frustration and anger—and what is out of bounds.

9. Lead by example
We all learn to live fully not by ourselves, but through relationships with others.

10. Encourage autonomy and independence

Knowing we are capable is the true source of self-esteem.

11. Use respectful and positive methods of discipline

Lectures and punishments rarely work, at least not over the long haul, and they don't teach self-discipline.

12. Promote safety inside and outside the home

Showing interest in his electronic world will help you connect with your son, and will also place you in a better position to discuss limits and other sensitive issues about the ideas and cultures presented within games.

Parenting Power

"My business partner and I really enjoyed Barry MacDonald's talk at the Calgary Science School.

The next morning, as I was driving my 7 year old son to school, I mentioned to him that a man who knows a lot about boys told me that boys often feel very smart playing video games. His reply, (in absolute seriousness):

'Yes, your right about that mom and if the earth is ever invaded by space aliens, I will be able to protect you'.

So there you go, not only does he feel smart but also able to protect those he loves. Thanks for an informative and entertaining talk."

Julie Freedman Smith

"As busy parents who also run a company, finding the time to attend a weekend parenting workshop was a stretch. BOYS WAS IT WORTH IT! Barry MacDonald was informative AND reassuring. We gained a new lens to view and understand our son, and left with a renewed feeling of parental confidence and enthusiasm. We now also feel stronger to advocate for our son at school. Thank you!"

Heidi and Warren Nyline

"Barry is a very engaging and dynamic speaker - so much so, the four hour workshop seemed to just fly by. He offered practical strategies to interact and communicate with boys. As a very new practictioner of Nonviolent Communication, I especially appreciated his insistence on examining boys' needs, offering boys' empathy, and not 'grabbing the conflict rope'."

Jonanne Gage

“Barry MacDonald’s ability to facilitate laughter opens doors to learning. I gained knowledge of many constructive ideas that have strengthened my parenting. Thank you for making a parent education your priority and also for making our community evening highly informative and refreshingly enjoyable.”

Leslie Scragg
St. George¹s School, Vancouver

"Barry MacDonald skillfully navigates the myriad of messy and multi-faceted quandaries educators and parents face.

He offers captivating and thought-provoking guidance that fosters reflection and deep consideration for youth who surf today's fast and furious popular culture.

His keynote address to ALL the employees of our school district challenged status quo gender stereotypes and inspired us to respond courageously to the needs of all students - boys AND girls."

Brian Fox
Superintendent of Schools, School District #62 - Sooke

" Barry has the knowledge and the charisma necessary to influence the most disillusioned teachers and parents. His honest and practical approach is highlighted by amusing anecdotes and genuine love of young people . He has touched so many parents by sharing his wisdom and practical strategies not only with those lucky enough to participate in his workshops but through people like me who carry on his teaching."

Wendy Goddard - Founder of The Listening Ear, Counselling for Young People and their Families. England

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