Teaching Boys How to Handle Their Emotions

emotional development

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.


What other methods have you used to help your son handle his emotions?


  • B. Jenkins

    Great article! This is really helpful. I’m going to take this approach with my son,

    • Thanks, B. We hope it goes well!

  • Angela Davis

    Thank you for this! We are dealing with a lot of negative emotions with my 12 year old and I am defintiely going to try this!

    • We hope it helps, Angela. I know with my own son that positive reinforcement works very well too. Even when most of what he is doing is off track, I try to find what he’s doing good and reward him.

  • Jennifer Rumberger

    Love this article. So timely for the age of my oldest son. Thanks!

    • You are very welcome, Jennifer!

  • Karen

    This is such great advice! I’ve used this with my oldest son and I do think it has helped teach him to slow down and think before he reacts. But, this would be helpful for girls, too. My daughter (the middle child) struggles with anger when her little brother pushes her buttons and this has helped her as well. Girls need to learn to curb their anger, too!

  • cat

    Useful read! I like how you said “boss of your own emotions/feelings. I like to use 2Tim 1.7 where it talks about being given a spirit of self control. For me, it’s bibical evidence that my twin boys, 9, can hang onto. I have also had them memorize Prov 25.28 comparing a man who lacks self control to a city whose walls are broken down. So far, my one guy, who is more angry than the other, is trying hard to control his mouth and hurtful words in anger…. Some days are better than others…. I also like the book “The heart of Anger” by Lou Priolo… Very useful techniques in addressing, praying and managing anger in ourselves and our children. I am grateful for your blog! I read it often… May GOD be glorified

    • Merin Gracey

      Cat, my twin boys are 8 and I am currently reading Meg Meekers “Strong Mothers, Strong Sons” book and it is also a great resource for us moms of boys. 🙂 God bless you and your boys.

    • Diane

      Great advice, Thanks so much for sharing.

    • laura

      Cat….do you have any suggestions. I have an almost 11yo…who gets so angry. He doesn’t control his words well and later apologizes abd says he was just angry. I’m a single mom abd think alot of his anger is because of his dad leaving. I would live to hear some things that work for you.


      • Kevin


        I was once that angry boy whose dad left and I didn’t learn how to really deal with it until earlier this year (I am now 42). I had learned how to stuff and move on. I even thought I had forgiven. However, my own dealings with my son lead to anger and I couldn’t imagine where it was coming from until I explored it. I would like to recommend a book called “Trading Pain for Peace” by Dr. Jim Gardner. He has become a personal friend of mine and we have had him come to our church and do trainings. I have been doing pastoral counseling for about 9 years now, but never have I seen the kind of results that I now see. My relationship with my son has taken a complete 180. I am seeing marriages transformed and people set free from anger, grief, shame, and other emotions. The above article has some great advice, but we have to teach our children how to get rid of anger, not just manage it. We can only put so much in a closet before it is full. Once it is full, just one more thing makes the whole mess fall out on top of us or others. We have to be honest with God about what we are angry about. Have him list out on paper everything that makes him angry. Try to keep it within a subject, such as everything he is angry with his dad about. Then, list them out individually in a prayer. For instance, “God, I am angry that my dad is not here to go to my ballgames.” At the end, have him say (if he means it), “But Lord I am tired of carrying this anger. I choose to give you my anger and ask that you carry it in the name of Jesus.” Then thank God for carrying the anger and ask him to fill your son full of His peace. Then, if you wish, say, “Lord is there anything you want _______ to know right now. Be quiet and still for a moment and see what comes to his mind in the form of words or pictures. If there is something, explore if it feels true. If nothing comes to mind, that’s okay, too. Then, see if he is still angry. If he still finds things he is angry about, repeat the process. Then thank God for carrying the anger and for filling him full of peace. It seems very simple, but God has set so many people free, including myself, with this emotional healing prayer. May God bless you as a single mom. You have one of the hardest jobs on earth!

        • Tonya Reese

          Thank you so much for this response. My son and I have been arguing so much lately and we are both very angry. I said this prayer and already feel relieved of my anger. I feel confident that I can teach by example now. I wrote it on a sticky note to refer to every time I feel angry. I will share with my son and hope that when he is old enough to understand (he’s 7), that he will use this prayer when he feels angry. Thank you!

          • Kevin

            Praise God! I am so happy for you Tonya. This makes my day. You started in the right place – praying through your own anger. I found that my son’s anger was largely attached to mine. God works in amazing ways. I have lead children through this prayer, as well, and God has delivered them from anger. It’s all about asking God to do what only He can do. The Holy Spirit is the counselor. Blessings to you and your son on this journey together. I’ll consider this a divine appointment and will add you to my prayer list. I’ll commit to praying for you and your son every Monday for at least a year.

          • Tonya Reese

            Thank you for keeping us in your prayers! My son just had another tantrum, but I was able to keep calm. I thanked the Lord while listening to my son’s tantrum. Not only did I not join in the yelling, but my blood pressure didn’t even rise. This will be a long journey, but we’ll get through it with prayer.

  • Donna Moon

    I agree with Karen… this isn’t just about boys. My daughter (the youngest and by far tiniest) has a tremendous temper. She’s a little spitfire (I like that auto-correct changed that to spirited lol), and these tips will definitely help her more than boys. They are all strong-willed and like to feel like they’re in control. I have worked with my oldest a lot on managing his temper, the middle does pretty well on his own, but little missy will definitely benefit from these ideas. Thanks for sharing!

    • Donna, we hear you on that! Yes, these tips apply to girls too, for sure.

  • drrichardnorris

    Thank you. I wish I had this teaching when I was a kid. I’m doing the best to help my son (and daughter) to deal with their emotions. I work on being a better example. I don’t always get it right and when that happen I am quick to apologize.

    • It sounds like you are doing great!

  • So glad this article was helpful!

  • Nikki Hayes

    My husband and I are having such a hard time with our soon to be 8 year old. He can’t ever control his emotions in any situation. We are so confused on what to do. I am just heart broken and don’t know which way to turn. I have a degree in Early Childhood and I usually can find a solution to any problem but this has me baffled. He has from day one been headstrong and determined. He seems to be very anxious all of the time. His father and I have an awesome marriage and he has never heard us argue or even raise our voices at each other. He gets angry so quickly. PLEASE ANY ADVICE WOULD BE WELCOMED!!!!!

    • Jennifer Lamb

      Have you looked into counseling? My son has extremely strong emotional reaction to everything, counseling has taught him some techniques to properly name and deal with his emotions. His counselor also recognized he has ADHD and aided us in understanding that as well.

      • Nikki Hayes

        We are hoping to have him evaluated in the next two weeks before he starts back to school. Thank you so much for your concern and your advice!!!

    • Mother of some

      There can be chemical reasons for your sons strong emotional reactions that are genetic.Find a professional to help you through this.He won’t grow out of it and he doesn’t have coping skills to deal with it.

      • Nikki Hayes

        He had a well check up with his pediatrician a couple of days ago and we are having him evaluated in the next two weeks before he starts school. Thank you all for your advice. I always value others opinions and advice.

    • Tanya

      My 9 yr old son blows up sometimes. We just had an initial visit with a therapist. She said there’s a new condition called Disruptive mood Disorder. Kind of a general term but it basically was created for boys. He shows his other emotions as anger because he doesn’t know what he’s feeling or how to express them. I’m looking forward to starting sessions with her. My son walked out of there and said ” I really like her, it’s like I can say half a sentence and she knows what I’m saying”

      • Allison Sayer

        Tanya, what kind of things has the therapist recommended for your son? We are starting on Monday with a therapist and i swear reading your post was like an AHA! moment!

  • Amy

    LOVE this article! Thank you! I’m sharing it with my friends!

  • Jonathan Dear

    Good Read. However a child psychologist should know that behaviors such as punching or screaming into a pillow will only perpetuate anger

    • Sasmooty

      I agree Jonathan, to me as parents we shouldn’t encourage punching because he or she needs to learn how to control their anger without punching or getting physical with anyone or anything. Also, I feel it would eventually lead to punching holes in the walls, etc. which I have heard of.

      • Tanya

        Agreed, I do not agree with approving the child to hit,veven if it is a pillow.

        • Cindy McQuay

          Maybe running around outside

  • Tara

    My son and I tried meditation classes when he was preteen. It helped his focus as well as his anxiety and anger issues.

  • Breanna

    I clicked on this article, not for my son, but for my daughter’s reactions to frustration and anger. I think the title and focus of this article being aimed at boys is not only wrong but sexist and it perpetuates people’s stereotypes of gender roles.

  • Frances Elvington Winburn

    I was looking forward to useful ways he could control his anger. This article seemed like a great intro but where’s the rest?

  • Hi Frances. Yes, helping our boys control their anger IS the hard part, I agree. So, maybe start by discussing with your son that anger is a normal emotion, and that we all feel anger. The important thing is what we do when we’re angry. Help him understand that how we act when we’re angry is our choice.

    Yes, it can be difficult for a boy to feel all of that anger and not just lose it. I’m not sure how old your son is, but before he has another anger episode try talking to him like this:

    “Okay, I know that whens someone feels angry, it can feel like they’re out of control. But even when we’re angry we can’t just go crazy, right?

    So, let’s think about this… the next time you get really angry, what can you do instead of screaming and acting in ways that are out of control? (let him answer)

    Okay, thanks for those ideas. You know, one thing that helps me is taking some deep breaths and staying still while I make up my mind how I’m going to act. Or, if you just can’t be still what about doing 10 jumping jacks or counting to 100 in your head?”

    The goal is to help our boys see they have other options than losing their temper.

    I hope this helps a bit, Frances. If not, let me know and we’ll try again. 🙂 Also, there is a fabulous book that really helped me with my son, Strong Mother Strong Sons by Dr. Meg Meeker. And, this article might help you on you boy journey too. http://www.imom.com/10-rules-moms-sons/

  • Lyn Fortier

    My son is 11. He just flat out refuses to talk about his emotions. His other mom also tends to be the kind of person to just stuff it all down and then burst and I am worried if he doesn’t learn to communicate his feelings it will be a huge crutch when he older during his relationship with others. He just shuts down and repeats, “I don’t want to talk about my feelings.” I think he just distracts himself from thinking about anything that is going to be too upsetting. It can’t be healthy long term.

    • Layla

      Lyn – I feel like if we listen in other scenarios, like after the game, on the way home from school, telling you about a dream they had, etc., they will be more likely to share in these instances too. And, asking a boy (not all though) to talk about his feelings seems about as promising as asking a 3-year-old if they want to take a nap. Not likely to happen.

      You have to draw it out other ways, like listening when they talk to you; every time they talk to you. Another way might be to let them hear you do it. What does this ‘talking about your feelings’ really look like? Is it just acknowledging them? Or are we supposed to find a solution to this thing we are angry about? What if there isn’t a solution?

      Even to say to them something like “Yeah, I can see why that made you so mad,” lets them know that it’s normal to feel anger, normal to express it (properly), and they aren’t the only one that gets mad. Everyone gets angry sometime over something. Welcome to the club.

      It might just be a matter of maturity for him. Just speak his love language to him often and enjoy him. He’ll be moving out before you know it!