Dads, their boys and the ABCs of emotional intelligence.

Emotional literacy is one of the most remarkable gifts we can give our developing boys [1].

Parents and carers, listen up. The development of emotional literacy and intelligence is not a task we can outsource to a school system, youth group or sports club. This training is our task. Our responsibility. It’s true home-work. An inside job.

As a father of two boys under 10, and someone who works in the space of emotional intelligence, I have to admit it’s a challenge to give this gift – even for me. But it’s worth it.

Here are a few things I’m learning (haven’t arrived). These are my ABCs. Three basic things to remember:


1. ALWAYS model well.

My boys watch me. Model me. Follow me. Whether it’s good, bad or ugly, they are learning their emotional cues from their parents – especially me as the primary male in their life.

They watch how I treat their mum. How I welcome their friends when they come to visit. They watch how I discipline their siblings. How I handle stress. Talk to others. Treat others. Love others. Cry when I need. I’m a walking emotional classroom.

There’s no getting around this. We are made to image others. Your boys are watching.


Be self-aware. Be the change. Walk in love. Apologise quickly and sincerely. Sort your own crap out. Keep doing the heart journey. Be willing to back-track and explain your actions and reactions – right or wrong.


2. BELIEVE your boys.

“I’m bored!” “I too tired!” “I can’t do it.” “I hate her!” “That hurts!” “It tastes yuck!” “I’m scared.”

Sound familiar? (Like, every day!).

If we respond with: “That doesn’t hurt.” “You’re not tired.” “You don’t hate her.” “Don’t be scared.” or “How can you be bored.” How on earth can the boy learn to trust and label his own emotions?!?

No wonder we have so many shut down adult men who can’t put words to what they feel? Many were shamed for sharing feelings, and when they did, they were told they were wrong.? What’s a man to do?

Mums, statistically, you’re present with your boys more than fathers in these developmental years, please just VALIDATE what they are sharing. BELIEVE them when they share their emotions and feelings. It’s vital. Dad’s, you too. Stop trying to hold them against an impossible and destructive ideal of masculinity (which you can’t even measure up to!)… it’s not helping.


Respond by BELIEVING your boys. Use simple reflective listening skills by validating them in phrases like: “I can see you’re tired”, “You hate her, huh? I can hear that”, “That can be scary.”,”I know you are bored.” (BTW, it doesn’t mean you have to fix the problems – just believe them first and see what happens).


3. CALL out the gold in your boys.

Dad’s, as far as I’m concerned, it’s principally our role to see the best in our kids and bless them (WITH WORDS) through encouragement.

In my years of study and teaching around the importance of ‘blessing’ [2], I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve cried with, prayed for, and given counsel to whose fathers totally sucked at simple encouragement!

In fact, many fathers did the opposite of calling out the gold by calling out the problems, faults, and failings of their children. It’s INCREDIBLY traumatising and irresponsible. It really pisses me off.

Boys need their dad’s unconditional love, approval and acceptance. We are made for it. Think for a minute, how many movies contain a theme of a boy (or adult boy) looking for his father’s approval? So many! It’s hardwired into us and essential for emotional health and literacy.

Remember, “The Blessing is not a reward for good behaviour. The Blessing is our right, as humans.”

Like nurture, safety, and community, we NEED the good things in us called out by others. Drop the nitpicking and criticism, instead find some things that your boys likes, has a knack for, or is interested in and encourage him with words.

It could sound as simple as “Man, you love soccer hey? That’s great.” or “You’re a kind young man, kinder than me. I’m proud of you son.” or “I know it’s not the mark you wanted, but I don’t care, I can see you’ve tried and I’ll love you, and cheer you on – no matter the outcome.”


Finally, let me add something that may help.

I’m not interested in being an ‘Amazing Dad’, ‘Perfect Dad’, or ‘Super Fun Always Happy Dad.’. In my 14 years of parenting, I’ve learnt that ‘Good Enough Dad’ is the kindest and fairest standard to hold against myself and others. If I’m a ‘Good Enough Dad’ and at least remember my ABCs, then I’m well on my way to gifting my boys with the emotional literacy they need to move forward into the world of adolescence and adulthood.

David Tensen

[1] Kindlon and Thompson – Raising Cain, 2000, Penguin Books
[2] Effective Blessing Course Releasing Effective Blessing, LeaderHeart



  1. Kara Zappacosta March 29, 2018 at 1:00 pm

    This is great! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Judy Barry April 7, 2018 at 12:56 am

    That’s not just good advice, it’s vital information that has the potential to change MY heart and attitude toward myself and life all round. It’s going to help me build a much better relationship with my Husband and our 3 kids, and equip me to manage our 9 Grandkids better when I babysit. Thankyou.

  3. Michaela April 7, 2018 at 3:32 am

    Thank you! This sums up the essence of good parenting and the power of parent as role model (whether they want to be or not).

  4. Cathy Vallve April 7, 2018 at 6:24 pm

    Fantastic David. Clear, concise easily remembered ABC and so true and soo necessary….Christian or not.

    Congratulations on it being picked up.

    As a sister of two brothers, mother of three sons and a daughter and grandmother of three boys (and three girls) this is essential parenting…our God -given responsibility and joy. Thank you.

    I want my father-sons to read it.

    Girls need exactly the same but boys have traditionally the girls have had more ‘permission’ to have emotions of all sorts.

    God bless you.

  5. Brooke April 7, 2018 at 6:34 pm

    Good article! Thank you! (No apostrophe in plural “dads.”)

  6. Eli April 9, 2018 at 4:13 am

    Thanks for this. We need more encouragement and support for fathers to act like this and be more aware of the impact that our own reaction has on our sons. That part about “Good Enough Dad” had me in tears because I make so many mistakes and have so much to learn about my own emotional masculinity that I can be really hard on myself and it can seem helpless at times.

  7. Cheri April 10, 2018 at 4:17 am

    Why does this have to be about ‘boys’? Why cannot this article be about ‘children in general’? This also happens to girls.

  8. David April 10, 2018 at 8:18 am

    Explains why I struggle to express my feelings and feel embarassed when I do open up.
    Men get told to just harden up, suck it up all their lives. And it does, it does make you feel like any emotion other than frustration or anger is invalid and stupid.
    Great article, thank you.

  9. CLG Farm July 1, 2018 at 7:00 am

    What’s a “good enough” dad. I am sure that many dad’s who do not even try to do anything you suggested and would consider themselves to be more than good enough. That might not be quite message you are trying to share.

  10. David Tensen July 1, 2018 at 9:12 am

    Well, I can only encourage men to consider some very basic things here. And they don’t have to be perfect at it, which is why many don’t bother change – that’s what I’ve noticed in my work, anyway.

  11. Bonnie July 1, 2018 at 6:33 pm

    Wow, well done! Reading this made me feel like I was just handed a beautiful nicely wrapped (and very much needed) gift…. grateful. thank you

  12. APRIL KEY RODE April 6, 2019 at 12:06 am

    Thanks for sharing! It’s good to know that there is a Dad like you, not all men can do this.

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