The epidemic of anger among men and how I’m teaching my boys to be mad.
I grew up in the midwest with strong working class values. In my family, men worked their asses off in trade jobs; women took care of the kids, while also working; men showed few emotions unless it was anger; and women were meant to stay quiet unless they had something to say about the kids or dinner.
It might sound a bit extreme, but these values were upheld by much of my family throughout the lifetime of each of my parents and their siblings. The women in my family are tough though, and I’ve seen each of my aunts and grandmothers become strong advocates in their home and many divorce husbands that weren’t providing strong emotional and physical support for their families. However, throughout my lifetime, one thing has remained the same: men have been allowed to be angry in any way that suits them.
I’ve seen blowups, fist fights, spanking kids, physically abused women, and more shaming coming from the men in my family than I can even count. I’ve seen it all and for the most part it has been considered okay — or at the very least normal — by every single person in my family. Anger is an epidemic in my family that has caused decades of trauma for many of my family members, myself included.
Most recently, a family member was physically abusive with his wife and mom in front of his four year old daughter. I spoke out against it and not one member of my family was impressed by my behavior. That’s right, my behavior was the one that was ostracized. I was condemned, because I held him accountable for his behavior.
Abuse and outbursts of anger are meant to be seen and heard in the family, but never beyond. You don’t discuss them. “You keep your damn mouth shut.” (That one is an exact quote to me following this incident.) Even now, in 2019, you are supposed to shut it away. Close the box on anything your male counterparts are doing inside the home. Sound familiar?
We could have a wider discussion about men and anger, considering how much these topics have been in the mainstream as of late, however, I want to talk about how we can teach our boys that ALL of their emotions are okay and how we can teach them to be angry in a healthy manner. I want to talk about how I’m flipping the switch for my family and teaching my boys to grow up understanding their emotions and anger, and knowing how to be mad in a way that doesn’t harm those around them.
Even with a long history of this behavior in my family, I believe that my boys can grow up healthy men with strong relationships and respectful members of society that feel good about themselves and understand their emotions. This article is all about how I’m making it happen in my house.
Teaching my boys emotional intelligence.
One of the foundations of a child avoiding outbursts or other unhealthy displays of anger, is their understanding of their emotions. As a child myself, this wasn’t something we explored. I heard a lot of “get over it,” “why do you have to be a screamer?,” and “are you kidding me (while I cried)?,” among other shaming phrases any time I showed a little emotion.
For my boys, I’m trying to be different. I’m not perfect, but I’m trying. I’m determined to help them be emotionally healthy as early as possible.
If you are interested in scientific reasoning for why emotional intelligence is important this is a great article from a psychologist about why teaching our kids emotional intelligence is so important. The bottom line is that if children are able to understand their emotions they are less likely to have anxiety and more likely to be able to be empathetic, internally motivated, and hold healthy relationships.
So, how do you actually do it? Here are a few things that we are working on at our house and that I’ve seen other moms who are focused on emotional intelligence try:
- Naming emotions for your children. Whenever your child is throwing a tantrum, crying, or excited about something, try naming the emotion for them. “It looks like you are sad, do you want to tell me about it?” This type of support, helps your child put words to their emotions, which leads to the ability to share and communicate their feelings as they grow.
- Practicing emotional facial expressions. Brene Brown has put together a great list of emotions. She recommends going through each of them and asking your children to make the face of that emotion while you do too. I do it with my boys and the more we do it, the more I am amazed by how they are able to shift their facial expressions to match each different emotion. It is important for kids to learn what each emotion looks like on others and themselves.
- Showing children how to respond and letting them try it out. I heard a great lesson on the podcast, “Your Anxious Child: 5 Minute Solutions,” about how to reduce anxiety in kids. Anger, by the way, is one of the many ways humans behave when they hide their anxiety. So anyways, the podcast recommended naming the emotion, then giving your child a brief lesson on how they can manage that feeling, then giving them a hug until they calm down. Do this the first time, then let them try it out on their own. For example: If your child is scared to go to a new daycare, you might be listening to them yell and then say “I understand that you are scared, but you can talk to your brain and say ‘I’m scared to go in there, but my mom says it’s safe, so I will be okay.” then allow them to calm down and then head in to daycare. You may have to practice this a lot and in many different emotional stages, but the more you do the better your child will get at noticing their emotions, processing them, and then moving forward.
Specifically focusing on processing anger.
Since anger and frustration are the main culprits we are talking about here, I think it’s important to talk about how we are teaching our boys to process those emotions specifically.
One boy mom I know, said that she has talked to each of her boys about the best way for them to process their anger, the best way for them to manage it in the moment. She said that each of her boys does it differently. I love this idea. Each kid is different and they should be allowed to find a way to process anger that works for them.
Here are some ways to process anger in a healthy way:
- Yell into your pillow.
- Run outside and punch the air (instead of your brother).
- Take a lap around the house.
- Do Jumping Jacks or any type of physical exercise or movement.
- Take deep breaths.
- Stomp your feet.
- Write a story about it.
- Put your energy into creating something.
These are only some of the ways, you may find that others work for your boys. Figuring out what works best for my boys has been a bit of an experiment.
For E, he tends to be more vocal. He wants to scream or cry. For him, he has had to take breaks in his room to yell or cry it out. We haven’t tried it a ton yet, but I think writing about it or encouraging more creativity would be good for him to try. He uses creativity a lot to express himself.
For T, he tends to be a bit more physical. He gets frustrated and immediately wants to hit or kick. For him, things that I have seen work are: stomping and breathing. After he stomps it out a bit I ask him to take a couple deep breaths and then he is usually able to “use his words” to tell me or his peer what he is frustrated about. Even at three he is able to do this because we practice, practice, practice.
Spend time observing your boys when they are angry and help them through the tough moments. They more you help them practice, the better their habits will be, and the better they will be when processing anger as adults.
Holding my boys accountable and teaching them to take accountability.
It is essential to make the point here before even going further that spanking is not accountability. Yes, it is a form of discipline, however, corporal punishment in this form has been proven to lead to more violence. One study says: “there is also a correspondence between the behavior involved in corporal punishment and the behavior involved in criminal assaults and homicides that is seldom perceived.”
Discipline is essential to accountability if used correctly. There are many ways, outside of spanking, that can work to help you be consistent and show your kids that they are accountable for every single one of their actions.
Some ways that we have tried holding our kids accountable include the following:
- Not giving in, once I give a discipline or a rule.
- Practicing accountability and follow through on my own. If I threaten something be taken away, I have to take it away. If I promise something, I have to keep my promise. If I do something wrong, I have to admit to my mistake and talk it through with those I may have harmed. Modeling good accountability is essential.
- A point system. Long time parents of three taught us this one. If our boys break the rules they “get points” which means they are given 10–25 points or more depending on the severity of the rule breaking. They are then essentially ground until they make up those points. Making up points consists of choirs around the house. I like that this system makes the boys accountable for making up the points and not me for holding some random time frame over their head for being grounded. It even works for the 3-year-old, who is able to empty the dishwasher, sweep, pick up toys, etc. Essentially, with the points system the boys have the choice to become ungrounded or not, it’s completely on them.
Those are some of the ways we hold our boys accountable, although it is taking some training on our part too. Remember, I grew up in a household where accountability wasn’t king (and neither did my husband). We’ve had to teach ourselves and learn how to model better behavior for our boys. But what I have learned is that I can combine what I know about healthy emotional development with consistency and make anything work for our family.
Overall, I do really think it is possible to raise boys that express their anger in a healthy way, are able to have strong relationships, empathy, and low anxiety. It is possible, even with a long history of this behavior in my family.
This is possible through the development of emotional intelligence, learning how to process anger, and finding ways to teach them how to be accountable for their actions.