Anger: The Acceptable Male Emotion
Stand on any school playground and watch what happens around you. You'll see groups of children playing, some children wandering by themselves, and occasionally, children arguing and fighting. And depending on whether those children are girls or boys, you will notice differences in how they express their anger. The boys may argue, have fistfights, or throw things at each other. The girls usually sulk, exclude certain girls, or spread gossip.
Boys and Anger
Anger has long been an acceptable emotion in boys and men. After all, the reasoning goes, they have lots of testosterone; they can't help being aggressive. Indeed, anger, including fistfights or other physical confrontations, is often seen as true masculine behavior. Even in these supposedly enlightened times, someone who walks away from a fight may be called a coward.
My nine-year-old son is being bullied. When he asks for help from teachers, the other kids tease him. What can I do?
Research shows that bullying is difficult to stop without support from caring adults and peers, both at home and at school. Be willing to listen to your son and offer him unconditional love and support, and to talk to school staff when necessary.
Numerous studies have shown that there is no real difference in the way men and women experience anger. All people feel anger, and most feel angry about the same things. However, men and women (and boys and girls) express their anger in different ways. Men tend to be more physically aggressive, to engage in passive-aggressive behavior more often, and to be more impulsive in expressing anger. Women stay angry longer, are more resentful, and often use relationships as weapons in expressing anger (such as excluding a former friend, starting unpleasant rumors, or insulting someone's appearance).
Some experts believe that boys are prone to anger because it is an emotional substitute for other, less culturally acceptable emotions, such as sadness or loneliness. Parents, too, contribute to boys' anger; research has shown that parents encourage daughters to resolve conflicts peacefully but allow boys to retaliate. Anger is a normal part of the human emotional spectrum; in fact, anger is often what motivates us to solve problems, to stand up for ourselves, and to attempt to right the wrongs of the world. Misdirected anger, however, can cause great harm.
Everyone gets angry from time to time; your son will, too. How you respond to his anger will teach him about how to recognize and manage it as he grows. First, though, you must learn to deal with your own anger effectively. If you yell, scream, and throw things, your son will, too. Admit your own strong feelings, take a time-out when necessary, and focus on solving problems rather than spreading blame.
Daniel Goleman notes that it is considered appropriate for women to express fear and sadness, and for men to express anger. However, if a woman is in a position of power in business or government, anger becomes an appropriate emotion for her. Most of our beliefs about feelings are rooted in culture.
You must then teach your son that anger is acceptable, but hurting people or things is not. You can help your son learn that he can feel angry without hurting himself or someone else. Accept his anger and offer him ways to cool down when he needs them. Then, when everyone is calm, sit down and explore ways to make the situation better.
One option you could explore when teaching your son how to deal with anger is to create an anger wheel of choice with him. Sometime when you are both calm, make a pie chart with suggestions for things he can do when he is angry. (Be sure all of the suggestions are okay with you!) Options might include taking a time-out, listening to music, calling a friend, or shooting baskets in the backyard. Then, when your son is upset, he can look at the wheel of choice for ideas. Having solutions already at hand will help him calm down more quickly. (See the Positive Discipline series for more ideas on how to manage anger effectively at home and at school.)
Finally, learn to listen to your son's real feelings and help him find words to express them. Your son's body language, facial expressions, and gestures will help you know what he is feeling. Gently help him find the right words for his emotions before he reaches the boiling point. Anger is often a smoke screen for other, more difficult feelings such as fear or hurt; when your son can talk about these feelings openly with you, anger may be unnecessary.
Remember, most boys fight, argue, sulk, and suffer. And most boys get up to live and fight another day. Remain calm, remember that feelings are just feelings, and do your best to find solutions to the everyday challenges life with your son presents.