For those of you that don’t know, I am one of six children. Four brothers (all who are older than me) and a younger sister (who has grown in to an amazingly strong women –physically and emotionally). My parents separated early and for the most part we grew up with my mother who did everything in her power to ensure we were provided for. This was a struggle for her. She relied heavily on her parents (my grandparents) as well as Aunts and Uncles, distant relatives and close family friends. Our schools were particularly important places. Teachers, tutors, coaches, admin staff all became key members of our village.
In one of my earlier articles I shared the following:
There is an old African proverb that reads “the child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel it’s warmth”. This lays at the heart of what parents and teachers should be focusing on when looking at the best interests of raising a child.
My siblings and I are products of the collective efforts of all of the members of our ‘village’. The ‘village’ is responsible for our successes and for making us who we have become.
So how can we expand our village for the benefit of our young people?
Each week I invite feedback on articles as well as ask for topics for future pieces. I am very grateful for the lovely comments I receive and particularly for those who have picked up on my passion for all things Dr Seuss. I am equally thankful to those parents who have asked for advice on specific topics as they relate to their own family circumstances.
The following are two of these requests in which I have included their question and then some reflection on this from research as well as my own experience.
“I would like to learn more about how to work with my son on emotional regulation. My 10 year old son is really challenged with his anger and impulsive responses to things that upset him at home (mostly his younger brother!). So emotional regulation and sibling relationships would be wonderful!”
Regulating emotions can be tough for the best of us in the best of times. The important thing to remember for young people is that behaviour is usually their strongest form of communication. What they have trouble saying to you in person is much easier expressed in the way they are behaving. This includes both ends of the noise and activity scale. A young person that is yelling and screaming in anger is trying to communicate something equally as ‘loud’ as the young person who shy’s away to a corner and doesn’t want to be seen or heard.
The Raising Children Network talks about emotional regulation as a learning process for children that requires both experience (yes those tantrums and sibling fights are important) as well as explicit reflection to build new decision making skills. Learning about emotional regulation helps children learn better at school, behave in socially acceptable ways, develop stronger friendships, learn independence and manage stress levels.
The single best way that adults can support young people in learning emotional regulation is presence. We need to be there for our young people and observe and respond in ways that demonstrate that it is okay to feel our emotions and that the way we react to them is all part of learning. Young people need to know that they have been seen and heard and that we can help them through whatever difficulty they are facing without losing control of our own emotions. Author and Social Justice Activist, L.R.Knost writes it perfectly saying: “When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.”
The following are additional steps that adults can use to help support emotional regulation:
- Talk openly and often about emotions. This includes using the correct language and helping them to select language that expresses what they are feeling. This is particularly true with boys who often struggle to use words like ashamed, sad, disappointed, embarrassed instead of mad and angry.
- Provide time to self reflect on situations. Often adults want to talk immediately about situations after they have occurred. There is a sense of fear that if it isn’t addressed immediately the issue will be forgotten. Young people need to know that there is going to be reflection time and that reflecting on what has occurred is active rather than passive. Ultimately they are going to be required to give some form of response.
- Develop appropriate reaction strategies. Once an incident has been reflected upon, talk about ways to regulate for future instances. When big emotions take over, it is difficult for developing brains to make good decisions and so reminding young people of options available to them (taking a walk, reading a book, etc) is extremely important.
“I’m curious about why boys might step back from sport during puberty? Thank you.”
Puberty is often an extremely challenging time for young people. For boys it can be particularly difficult as it is during this time that individuals begin to think about their own identity and how this is perceived by others. Identity is hugely important in the mind of boys. It suggests who they are on both an intellectual and physical level and this introduces a sense of competition which can be driven by many parts of society. Friendship groups are tested, family relationships strained and the social and emotional development of individuals can begin a rollercoaster of new experiences.
One of the most common responses of boys during the early stages of puberty is to withdraw from any activities that includes an element of judgement (both real and perceived). In sporting competitions, judgement comes from a variety of sources. Selection of players in to ‘A’ and ‘B’ Teams, physical skill and presence at training and games and individual and team successes are all places where opportunity for scrutiny exists. What is the easiest way to prevent this? Deliberately sabotage any chance of success or simply stop participating entirely.
During this period, it is vital that we encourage boys to participate in activities that has them interact with their peers but also provides opportunities for them to engage with other positive role models. In this instance that is with coaches, managers and other people involved in the running of the activity. Psychologist and Author Steve Biddulph highlights this in much of his writing on Boys Education. Dr Biddulph talks about the ‘stages’ of development for Boys with 0-6 years focused on mothers, 6-14 on Fathers. It is during the Fathers stage that boys begin looking for other significant male role models and enter the Mentor Stage. A boy at this age needs input from many male mentors (including but other than their father) in order to complete the journey from boy to man.
It is also during this time that boys have a testosterone surge of around 800% and existing relationships (normally with their Father and brothers) can become strained. Dr Biddulph explains that “a 14 year old boys will argue with a road-sign”. Adults must work hard to maintain positive relationships with boys in this time and actively look for opportunities for them to look for other positive role models as well.
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