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

Dads, Their Sons, and the ABCs of Emotional Intelligence

by John Chisholm
6/22/21 Artists and Authors

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, or 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 always be strong. They are told that they are warriors—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 can get in the way of living a happy life, because happiness isn’t tied to how many people you can beat up or the amount of money in your bank account.

Jesus, who had more joy than anyone who has ever lived on the earth, said the great commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Psalm 45:7Matthew 22:37–39). We can conclude, therefore, that happiness is tied to our ability to have strong, meaningful relationships. It is tied to our ability to be a friend and have strong family bonds. Happiness is critically linked to the way we relate to other people and the impact that we have on this world. Jesus, the most manly man who has ever lived, “having loved His own, . . . He loved them to the end (or he showed them the full extent of his love per NLT footnotesJohn 13:1). 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. But we have to push past that, using Jesus as our model. Scripture is full of examples of Him dealing with people’s emotions.

Christ cared about His disciples’ fears, asking them why they were troubled and doubtful (Luke 24:38). He also confronted Peter’s misplaced zeal, telling him, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times” (John 13:38). Jesus said these things because He loved people. And we are called to loved them too.

Ultimately, it is the father that sons are emulating. It is the father that serves as their model for their way of relating to people. 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 to train your son in emotional intelligence, which pairs well with spiritual maturity? You can 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 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, but the Bible says otherwise: 

And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.”
(Hebrews 12:5–6)

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 for you 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 going to get thrown off during the times that you have to challenge him. “The Lord . . . chastens everyone he accepts as his son” (Hebrews 12:6, NIV).

It is important to note that when you affirm your son, you need to make sure you are doing it in a way that he can receive it. Every child is different. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, emphasis added). 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, try to give him feedback. This is another form of the discipline referenced above.

Help your son realize that other people have perspectives and thoughts that are helpful, both of which they should want to seek out. Philippians 2:4 tells us to “let each of [us] look out not only for [our] own interests, but also for the interests of others.” Talk to them about the value in listening to what their peers, teachers, coaches, or people in other significant relationships in their lives 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. “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19–20).

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 life’s 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 a challenge to overwhelm your son or induce fear and anxiety—but you do want to provide him with an opportunity to see a problem through to the other side. Help your son process his emotions and failures. Help him to get to the root of the problem and talk about it.

Oftentimes 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, he may give up too early and not build the perseverance he needs to be successful in future challenges.

4. Empathy is important, and listening is how we 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—both 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. “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19).

Our school system trains the mouth and the mind much more than it trains 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. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matthew 11:15).

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 to do it now. It isn’t too late. Don’t get stuck in the past. Get coaching, read books, seek counsel, and pursue growth in emotional intelligence, which also relates to spiritual maturity and effectiveness.

As parents we 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 boy turn into a man and watching him succeed in life are worth pursuing with everything you have.

What’s one behavior you can adopt to strengthen your relationships?

For more from John Chisholm, we recommend Working Relationships: Managing Successful Relationships in Business and in Life Using EQ and the Art of Difficult Conversation. This book addresses the dynamics of healthy relationships by explaining the important components of emotional intelligence and offering a practical guide for effectively navigating the difficult conversations that can strengthen any relationship. Learn more >>

John Chisholm


  • Senior Leader, IHOPKC

Originally from central Illinois, John moved to Kansas City with his family in June 2013 to join IHOPKC. He pastored a Vineyard church from 1988 to 1996, and then worked as a management consultant for 18 years, mainly in accounting. At IHOPKC and Forerunner Church, John serves as executive director of Community Life, overseeing the friendship groups and pastoral support ministry. John and his wife, Fran, have six adult children.

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