I have been engaged in international relief and development fundraising for many years, and I have learned a lot about humanitarian aid and sustainability. Over the years, several program interventions have touched both the emotional and logical sides of my thinking and personal giving.

Two of my favorite programs are girls’ education and livelihood development. Knowledge is a lifelong skill that brings empowerment, and education for girls results in healthier families, less early-life pregnancies and increases in household incomes. Progress in the last 20 years has been significant for girls’ enrollment rates although there are still huge barriers caused by poverty, cultural norms and practices, limited infrastructure and safety issues.

Livelihood programs help families by teaching them new ways to support themselves and generate income by earning and saving money. One breakthrough practice is group savings which has helped poor people, particularly poor women, in the developing world access safe places to keep their savings. What is amazing is that the loan repayment rate for micro-loans in some of the poorest communities around the world is over 90%.

Every important social issue is impacted by literacy ― how to read and write, how to do basic math. Ensuring that girls and women have access to education and financial tools has broken the poverty cycle for millions of people. However, the international community has recently recognized that if men’s attitudes towards women aren’t changed, then programs which focus on women will be marginally successful in generating change.

That is why I am worried about boys. They don’t seem to get as much development attention as girls. And not just boys in poor communities, but boys around the world.

Below is a short list of things for parents and caregivers to do when raising boys, recognizing that boys are developmentally different from girls. Boys tend to be more physical, boys are less communicative or verbal than girls, and boys tend to be more impulsive than girls. Helping your child understand and manage their feelings is a skill that will allow them to enjoy long-term happiness in life, regardless of their gender.   

  • Encourage displays of affection, and let your boys know that crying is a natural response. That there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, so there’s no need to “stop it right now.”
  • Encourage teachers ― at school and church ― to be more boy-friendly and allow for boys and girls to move a lot and be active. Most boys at five, and some girls, too, aren’t ready to sit still.
  • Provide words to help uncomfortable feelings become definable experiences that are a normal part of everyday life. Everyone feels anger, sadness, and fear. A parent sees tears and says, “You feel very sad, don’t you?” Now, not only is the child understood, he has a word to describe this intense feeling.
  • Based on social norms, it is harder to reach boys emotionally as they get older, so get them to talk. Don’t push the conversation. Give him a hug and let him know you’ll be around when he’s ready to talk.
  • Look for opportunities to develop positive male role models ― schedule time with dads, older brothers, uncles, and grandpas. Get them involved in a sport or music or some other activity that requires sacrifice and self-discipline.
  • Explain the importance of sharing toys with siblings and friends and being gentle with pets.
  • It is vital to teach them to never hit, hurt or be disrespectful or rude to girls or women.
  • Let boys be afraid. Instead of telling them, “There’s nothing to be afraid of!” ask them to tell you what they’re nervous about.
  • Incorporate gratitude into your everyday lives. Talk at dinner time about things you are thankful for but remember there is a big difference between forcing a “thank you” and receiving a genuine one.

As a mom, I believe that change starts at home. Please help your boys respect the females in their lives and develop the emotional intelligence needed for them to thrive.