Dad’s, Their Sons, and the ABC’s of Emotional Intelligence

In today’s society, the concept of the all-encompassing “nuclear” family has shifted.

We see children living with one parent, extended relatives, blended families, and adoptive families.

That said, even with the expression of family expanding, we still see the remains of a few unhelpful stereotypes when it comes to the roles parents play in their children’s upbringing.

Fathers, in particular, feel the pain of these stereotypes. Especially in how they relate to their sons.

Men are given the impression, or just blatantly told, that they should be strong.

They are told that they are a warrior—made to conquer their enemies.

They are told that how much money they make defines them.

And, as we are painfully aware of in the recent news, they are told that women are something they are entitled to.

All of these stereotypes get in the way when you realize that happiness isn’t tied to how many people you can beat up, or the amount of money in your bank account.

Happiness is tied to your ability to have strong, meaningful relationships.

It is tied to your ability to be a friend and the strength of your family bonds.

Happiness is critically linked to the way you relate to other people and the impact that you have on this world.

In other words, happiness is directly related to emotional intelligence.

So what does this mean for dads?

As fathers, we want to see our sons happy and successful. In order to get them to that place—we have to work against the stereotypes we ourselves may have been influenced by.

Because women are so often seen as the nurturers, men can feel awkward when approaching their sons about their emotional and social processes.

We have to push past that.

Ultimately, it is the father that sons are emulating. It is the father that they are modeling their way of relating after.

Dads, your sons are watching you. They are watching the way you navigate through relationships, the way you prioritize your career, and the way that you run after goals.

With that in mind, how can you feel confident train your son in emotional intelligence?

Start by making sure you understand it yourself.

As I said earlier, your son is paying much more attention to your behavior than he is your words.

Strengthen your own EQ, and model it.

Here are four foundational truths that will help you, as a dad, model to and raise emotionally intelligent sons.

1. Encouragement can be partnered with a challenge.

Challenging your son, at times, can seem like it is at odds with encouragement.

It is important to find the balance between affirming and correcting.

If you only spend time affirming and never correcting—your son will not be equipped to handle the reality of the world he is entering.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, if you only challenge and never affirm—you will most certainly break the relationship

How do you find the balance? You should always be looking to make constant investments in your son. Affirm him for the things he is doing well, and seek to praise who he is as well as what he is doing.

Then, when the time comes when you have to correct or challenge your son—don’t shy away from it. When your son feels safe and secure in his relationship with you, he is not thrown off during the times that you have to challenge him.

It is important to note that when you affirm your son, make sure you are doing it in a way that he receives it. Every child is different. Keep in mind that what is meaningful to you, may not be meaningful to him. Learn how your son is wired and meet him where he is at.

2. Self-awareness is key to success.

Self-awareness is understanding who you are, what you do well, and what you do not do well. It is also understanding how you impact others in order to manage that impact.

This is such an important life skill to develop in your son.

Many believe it is one of the most important factors to success in careers and relationships.

To help your son grow in awareness, they need feedback.

Help him realize that other people have perspectives and thoughts that are helpful. Perspectives that they want to seek out.

Talk to them about the value in listening to what their peers, teachers, coaches, and other significant relationships have to say about them.

You can emphasize that at times, feedback can be taken with a grain of salt, but it should always be considered and weighed before throwing it out altogether.

It takes maturity to be open to feedback, and it can take a while to get there.

Learning to value feedback is a process—one that takes guidance along the way.

Help your sons develop an appreciation for feedback, and model that appreciation in your own professional and personal relationships.

3. You can process and problem solve difficulties.

Life is not always fair and it is certainly not always easy.

Help your son learn how to lean into and process those challenges.

Often, as parents, we want to protect our children from problems. And although it is understandable, protecting your son from everything is not helping him in the long run.

You don’t want the challenge to overwhelm your son, or induce fear and anxiety—but you do want to provide them with an opportunity to see a problem through to the other side.

Help them process their emotions and failures. Help them to get to the root of the problem and talk about it.

Often, kids see failure as a fatal thing. It isn’t.

Failure is an opportunity to learn from our mistakes or circumstances and rise above to greater success.

If you do not take the time to dialogue about these things with your son, they may give up too early and not build the perseverance they need to be successful in future challenges.

4. Empathy is important, and listening is how you accomplish it.

Help your son understand that other people have different perspectives, different beliefs, and different histories.

Listening to other perspectives, even when we don’t agree, helps us to grow in empathy.

It is so important that we relate well to others—when it is easy, and when it is difficult.

To emphasize the importance of listening, we have to go no further than our own mirror.

We were given two ears, but only one mouth. Listening is twice as important.

Our school system trains the mouth and the mind, much more than they train the ears.

You, as a father, can model empathy by listening to your loved ones at home.

Show your son active listening by asking reflective questions and making room for the answers you hear.

After reading through this list, you may feel less than qualified. If your household wasn’t one that taught emotional intelligence—you can still learn how.

Don’t get stuck in the past. Get coaching, read books, seek counsel, and pursue growth in emotional intelligence.

We, as parents, want our highest point to be the platform our children stand on.

It is a joy, a privilege, and an incredibly big responsibility to be a father.

Let go of past failures and move forward.

Make a commitment to the journey your son is on. Show up and lead by example.

Seeing your boys turn into men, and watching them succeed in life, is worth pursuing with everything you have.


Emotional intelligence, the ability to make emotions work for you instead of against you, is an essential quality of effective leaders, employees, and people.

But, how do you practically go about increasing awareness of both yourself and your surroundings?  

We’ve created our free guide entitled, “10 Things You Can Do Today To Increase Emotional Intelligence” to help you begin to learn how to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and leverage this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships. Download it here.