By Alita Alanchard, Parent Coach
I am a mother of 3 boys – and it’s been the greatest growth journey of my life. Unpacking my stereotypes, learning to listen to tears, meltdowns AND anger, holding space for aggression, setting boundaries with respect, being around so much intensity, movement and noise while also being in full adoration of my boys’ sensitivities, emotions, tenderness and fragility.
Their anger and physicality can be highly triggering for mothers. It was for me. My greatest work as a mother has been making sense of my own suppressed feelings and beliefs so that I could learn to be more emotionally available to my sons.
Here a few things I’ve learned raising my boys
Boys are just as sensitive and emotional as girls – it sometimes just looks different
Society ingrains us to believe that boys and men should be tough, hard, closed down emotionally. Sadly this is still the message many boys receive from parents, family, friends, sports and school. We need to learn to nurture their soft, sensitive, emotional side while also accepting their big energy, need for physicality, expressive movement and yes, their BIG anger.
Crying is healing
Teach your boys that crying is healing. Remind them they are allowed to feel sad, worried, fearful and lonely at times. And remind them that you will always try to listen to their feelings – the tears, anger and worry. Let them know you are not perfect and that sometimes you won’t be able to listen but you will keep trying. You are learning too.
Anger and aggression can be healthy
Tantrums, meltdowns, hitting and fighting, slamming doors, punching things, ripping, silent treatment, disrespect, meanness. Yes it will trigger you especially mothers who fear anger (this is many of us!) But anger and even aggression can be healthy. It’s life force energy. And its a journey to finding healthier safer ways to release anger. Co–regulation is key and you doing your own anger work.
Shame and embarrassment runs strong for boys
Try not to put them on the spot in front of others. Notice when you are harsh with your boy because he is being loud, active, physical, jumping around. Try and redirect this energy rather than shut it all down. Yes this is HARD! Boys receive messages very early that they are too much, too loud, too naughty. This builds shame.
They need less talking and more movement
They probably won’t be able to “use their words” often – they need movement and fun and play and then they are more likely to connect and communicate. They may say “I don’t know” and “ I don’t care” because they need a little longer to process what you are asking of them or telling them. Slow down. Surrender. Connect through movement and play.
Conversations about winning and losing are vital
Discuss how to cope with losing and the feelings around sadness. Discuss that a sense of achievement is sometimes just as powerful as winning. Stop saying “good boy” – instead notice the behaviour and speak what you see. ie. “I saw how you missed the goal but continued playing.”
They will have meltdowns after school and big days away from you
Meltdowns after school are common and can be a healthy release – they have been holding their feelings in ALL day. You are their safe person to release it all too. Regulate yourself BEFORE you pick them up. Be prepared for meltdowns in the car – if you have capacity, be ready to listen. If you don’t have that emotional capacity, have food, fun, icy water and calming music.
Don’t take their behaviour personally
Some days they will just send you to your absolute edge. Anger, aggression, moods, disrespect, constant fighting, punch ups! Stop making it about you and your parenting or lack of skills. Your boys behaviour is not a reflection on you. Yes you can guide and love and teach over the long term, set boundaries, learn more tools, seek extra help but stop taking it so personally. If you personalise it, you both end up suffering.
Boys are emotional beings and deserve to feel safe, seen and soothed when big feelings arrive. Mental wellbeing for men starts by changing the way we view and accept our little boys emotions. As parents, we must learn to advocate for our children and to learn how to listen to their feelings, instead of suppressing them with fear, punishment and aggression. Every human being deserves that.
Alita is a mother of 4 young boys (including a stillborn son Remy) on the NSW Central Coast of Australia. She is a Parent Coach trained by Jai Institute of Parenting, Mother’s Circle and Rites of Passage facilitator. She provides mothers circles, workshops, and parenting support programs. www.theawaremama.com.au / Socials: @alitablanchard_parentcoach