Notes on Parenting

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

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Little Boys, Big Emotions

If you are a parent of a young boy you know that, despite the cultural stereotypes, boys feel strong emotions just as much as girls. Unfortunately, in our society we often (perhaps unwittingly) encourage boys to hide their emotions or “be a man.” I think more awareness to this issue has emerged in recent years, but it is still an important topic to consider.

New research is shedding light on the importance of helping young children, especially boys, learn how to cope with their powerful emotions. Researchers at the University of Illinois investigated how parents reacted to their toddlers’ negative emotions (e.g., anger and social fearfulness). Two possible parental reactions that were examined included:

-         minimizing the child’s emotions (e.g., saying, “stop acting like a baby”)
-         punishing the child for their emotional outburst (e.g., sent to room or having a toy taken away)

The results indicated a clear association between parents punishing their child for their emotions and a greater chance of the child being withdrawn or anxious at a later time point. Perhaps most importantly, this finding was stronger for little boys, especially those who experience more frequent negative emotions. Researchers point out that when parents punish children for negative feelings, they soon learn to hide their emotions and can become withdrawn or anxious.

As parents of young children, we deal with the negative emotions of our children every day. As an adult, this is mentally and emotional taxing. Sometimes it may seem easier to punish or scold your child for his or her outburst rather than helping them cope with the emotions. This research clearly shows, however, than remaining calm and talking with your child to help them understand their strong emotions will aid them more in the long term. Toddlers are sometimes overwhelmed by the strength of their emotions and they need our help. We have the opportunity (as challenges as it is) to model for them how to cope with difficult emotions.

ResearchBlogging.orgEngle, J., & McElwain, N. (2011). Parental Reactions to Toddlers' Negative Emotions and Child Negative Emotionality as Correlates of Problem Behavior at the Age of Three Social Development, 20 (2), 251-271 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9507.2010.00583.x

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