Believe it or not, a lot of boys don’t know when they’re feeling stressed. They might feel — and act — angry, mad or upset, or even withdraw and shutdown. An older boy might be able to tell you he’s overwhelmed. More often that not, though, you’ll see the signs — frustration, a short fuse, a boy who’s banging things around — before your son will tell you he’s stressed. Yelling at him, in that moment, won’t help. Here’s what will:
#1: Recognize that he needs help
The research shows that boys are likely to ignore stress. They may deny their stressful feelings or refuse to think about the issue causing them stress. And while both strategies may work in the short-term, neither is a long-term solution. So your first step as a parent may be to help your son realize that feeling stressed out is a signal, a signal that something needs to change.
#2: Identify and minimize triggers.
If you can, figure out what’s bothering your son. If he’s young, say under the age of three, it’ll be up to you to identify the causes of his meltdowns. Is he hungry? Tired? Overstimulated? Try to figure out what’s going on, and then take steps to remedy the situation. Also, see what you can do differently next time. If your son has a temper tantrum every time you stop by the grocery store on the way home from daycare, it may be that the grocery store, with its lights and sounds and people, is just too much for him after a day of childcare. Next time, try picking up milk before you pick up your son.
If your son is older, see if he can identify what’s causing him stress. Don’t be suprised if his first answer is an exasperated, “I don’t know.” Remember: boys avoid thinking about their stress. Talking through some possible causes (“Your new teacher seems pretty strict”) might help him open up.
#3: Get him moving
When a person is stressed, his body enters a stage of fight-or-flight. Adrenaline pumps through his body — whether or not he needs to flee from a Siberian tiger.
Take advantage of that chemical influx by encouraging your son to go for a run, punch a pillow or do jumping jacks. He may return with a new perspective.
#4: Speak up
Boys’ hearing is less acute than girls’ anyway. Add in stress, and they’re likely to tune you out all together. Don’t yell; just speak in a loud, clear voice.
#5: Teach problem solving
After your son has calmed down, talk through the situation. What happened? What would he like to happen? What steps can he take to make that outcome more likely?
Role-modeling is great here. Let your son see you constructively handling stress in your everyday life. Better yet — let him see his father, uncles, and male neighbors handling stress productively.
What other ideas do you have for helping boys deal with stress?