Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Little Boys Need Help with Big Emotions

An article in Social Development recently attracted my attention. It considered the role that parents play in helping toddlers, especially boys, learn to manage difficult emotions. It struck my attention because, first, I am the mom to a toddler boy and second, it reminded me once again helping youngster learn to manage emotions is one of our major tasks as parents. Personally, I feel it’s sometimes easy to forget this as you go about your daily work and try to get your toddler to go along with your plans for running errands, etc. Since toddlers are still small in size and not usually the easiest to understand verbally, I think it’s oftentimes easy to disregard their feelings and just scoop them up and on to the next task or activity. What this article reiterates, however, is helping toddlers, especially boys learn to manage emotions like anger and frustration will ultimately help them become better adjusted children later in life.

Here’s a brief summary of this interesting article:
- The researchers studied 107 toddlers at age 33 months and again at age 39 months (this is not a large time lapse, but at least there are two time points)
- Parents were asked questions centering on three basics areas:
o How often their child showed emotions like anger or social fearfulness.
o How they would respond to their child in hypothetical situations in which the child displayed these types of emotions.
o The current state of their child’s behavior or behavior problems
What the researchers found was not completely surprising but still enlightening:
- Children whose parents more often responded to their display of negative emotion (e.g., anger, frustration, fear) with punishment or minimization were more likely to be anxious and withdrawn at the second assessment.
- This relationship between parent’s response and the child’s later psychological health was more pronounced among boys.
It seems from this that little boys, in particular, need a lot of adult help in learning how to manage these difficult and often strong emotions. While it is often easier as a parent to minimize or disregard toddler’s intense emotional reactions, it is better, according to this research, to try to talk through these emotions with your child. This will give them the tools to cope with these emotions on their own in the future and not become fearful of being punished for an emotion.

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