An essay by Erin Janda Rawlings
This is part 1 of a 2-part series on Boys & Emotional Intelligence
When I found out I was pregnant with a boy, I cried. Not tears of joy, but tears of fear. I was scared I wouldn’t know how to raise a boy. Friends and family commented on how fortunate I was to have a daughter since Marie played so quietly and independently, and then in an ominous tone, would add how much trouble I was going to be in once my active little boy came along. I was also horrified when I would see little boys acting defiantly while their mothers used the old “boys will be boys” to justify their bad manners and rude behavior.
My childhood was another factor contributing to my fear. I grew up in a very loving and expressive family, which included a younger brother who constantly challenged my parents. There were countless screaming matches between my brother and parents, and even though I wasn’t explicitly involved, I was directly stressed-out by the situation. As a parent, my goal is to keep the love and ditch the screaming.
When Thomas as born, love replaced fear. Overwhelmed with how perfect and innocent this little being was lying in my arms, I realized we’re all blank slates in the beginning. I vowed I would do everything in my power to teach him to be a good person, full of self-awareness and empathy.
As my son’s personality emerged, I saw he showed his love without reservations . . . and he also expressed his anger with reckless abandon.
I remember when he had just turned two. He wanted a chocolate protein bar, and I said no. He threw the most theatrical tantrum which dramatically concluded with the dreaded words, “NO LIKE YOU!”
I was shattered. How can this be? I don’t express my anger like this? Although fury has blurred a bit of the details, I do remember yelling at him to never say that to his mother again EVER, putting him in his room, and *possibly* slamming the door.
I then proceeded to slam my door and cry. When I calmed down, I went to Thomas’s room to have a rational debriefing of what just happened.
Except Thomas didn’t use his time to calm down. He was actually more upset than when I left him. In that moment, I realized how counterproductive it was to lose my patience. Yelling and screaming at a toddler to stop yelling and screaming doesn’t make a lot of sense, and clearly it failed to diffuse the situation.
I also realized that all that screaming was a one-way ticket to developing a tense dynamic with my own son. I now manage my feelings much more effectively. I do some deep breathing and count (anywhere from 10 – 52). In all seriousness, I do visualize a wall going up that separates my feelings from the immediate situation. This helps me manage the tantrum, and allows me to vent my frustrations at a later time.
What will forever be known as “The Chocolate Protein Bar Incident” frightened me; not only by its intensity, but how quickly it escalated. Marie hardly ever threw a tantrum; she is more reserved with a keen sense of observation. She came out of the womb with a natural ability to talk about feelings.
Thomas is very loving. He is always giving kisses and wants to snuggle. When we read stories, he wants to make sure I’m warm and cuddly under the blanket. He likes to blow on my coffee to make sure I don’t burn my tongue. But Thomas struggles with temper tantrums; he loses himself in his frustration and it becomes difficult to get through to him.
After his tantrum, he needs a cool down period, then there’s this wave of remorse that comes over him – his eyes soften and he buries his head into my shoulder. My heart breaks watching him struggle to manage his feelings.
If I ever doubt the importance of keeping calm and teaching him how to regulate his emotions, these desperate moments reinforce my beliefs.
Recently, I was getting ready to go to the gym when Thomas (who is now three) threw a metal train at my head. Immediately he buried his face in his hands as his bottom lip began to tremble. My head hurt, and all I wanted to do was scream, but I took a deep breath and asked him why he threw a train at my head. He said, “I don’t want you to go to the gym. I want you to put me down for night-night.”
This was a huge a-ha moment for me, because had I just yelled and put him in a timeout, he may not have shared why he threw a train at my head. However, this was also a tricky situation because I needed to communicate the importance of not throwing toys, yet keep the lines of communication open.
I said, “I understand you’re upset I’m going to the gym. You must feel sad that I’m not going to be home. Please use your words. Throwing trains is not practicing kindness. Throwing things hurts me. Daddy is going to put you down, and I’ll be sure to see you in the morning. I love you.”
By taking my frustration out of the equation, I hope that Thomas felt heard. Through listening and validation, it is my wish Thomas will feel safe to share his feelings with me.
I look back on those fearful months before meeting Thomas, and I’m embarrassed I was afraid. I feel excited I have a chance to raise a boy who will know healthy ways to express feelings. Boys are different from girls, but the benefits of learning emotional literacy are not gender specific.
They are human specific.
Erin Janda Rawlings, a former junior high English teacher, is now a mother to her young son and daughter, who supply her with plenty of thought-provoking issues which she processes at her personal blog, Mommy on the Spot. She is also a regular contributor at the Detroit News MichMoms parenting blog as well as an adjunct professor at Walsh Business College where she teaches Social Media Strategy for Business.
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