Boys need to remember one thing most of all when it comes to their feelings (especially anger): they always have a choice for how to respond. So says author and pediatrician Meg Meeker. I hear her loud and clear on this because I have a boy on the cusp of puberty (hello, testosterone)—the entry point to manhood.
Dr. Meeker explains that, when boys are still young, as part of their emotional development, they need to learn that while their feelings can be intense, they do not need to be ruled by them. In fact, she says that moms can put it this way to their sons, “Are you going to allow your feelings to dominate your decisions, or are you going to take charge of them?” Here’s how to teach your son to handle his emotions in a constructive way.
Put a name on them.
Before your son can deal with his emotions, he needs to identify them. So while it may seem like he’s angry at his father about being late to his ball game, the actual feeling underneath the surface is sadness. Teach him to look beyond the surface emotion to what lies deeper.
Green light the feeling.
Try not to make your son feel guilty for his emotions. As Dr. Meeker says, “…they can feel strongly about something, but then must choose how—and how not—to respond to those feelings.” So don’t teach your son to suppress anger, jealousy, or other strong emotions. All of those are part of the human experience.
Call him to action.
Once the feeling is identified and acknowledged, boys must then decide what to do with it. First, encourage your son to talk about what he is feeling. He doesn’t have to over-analyze it, but if he can verbalize it to you, that’s huge. You can then guide him—not to be confused with giving him advice—on how to sort out his feelings through a filter that takes into account his moral beliefs.
Put him in charge.
Your son needs to know that, ultimately, he is the one in charge of how he reacts to his feelings. Teach him that physical force is unacceptable and that he should never use that type of force with others. If he needs to get out aggression, he can find physical release through exercise, punching a pillow, or even screaming into a pillow. My very wise uncle, who’s also a child psychologist, says we need to teach our children that they are the boss of their feelings.
Your son needs to know that, ultimately, he is the one in charge of how he reacts to his feelings.
What other methods have you used to help your son handle his emotions?