I titled this post as anger management for boys not because I think girls do not have anger they need help to manage, but as a personal story about my grandson.
I grew up in a generation and a family where anger was to be hidden. We talk only about positive things and scorn those that appear to promote conflict or violence.
As a toy maker for children, I seek to promote toys that encourage healthy play environments and to that end, navigate away from creating toys of “conflict or pretend battles.” Well, at least until I entered the world of play found in communities of boys. I started to examine more closely traditional boy play environments seeking to understand the why of play conflict, such as super heroes and villains.
I then pondered a world filled with conflict, divorce, separation, and hurt. Could it be children can benefit emotional well-being through conflict play environments? A place where the good guy and bad guy are clearly defined? A place where children are safe in expressing feelings of anger, fear, and triumph? A place to reconcile feelings they don’t quite understand? A place where children have complete control over the outcome…who the winners and losers are?
I have researched and written papers on the role-playing aspects of play. How repetitive play acts as rehearsal and can build positive skills in children. My worry was that combat play would rehearse the wrong skills—reinforce aggressive behavior. But I see now, that I was short-sited with application. Not only do children rehearse and build desirable skills through a guided play environment, but they also practice how to manage conflict, fear, and uncertainty.
For many years we have put aggressive boys into sports teams to help them direct their aggression in a positive environment. Sports are a type of battle—there are winners and losers. Here we teach how to be a gracious winner and a tempered loser. We teach that losing is not the end. To keep on trying to win at your goal. The same type of positive application can be true of combat play using toys.
I said this was personal. Yes. My grandson is separated from his father. A father who has not found the value in being an active participant in his life. Additionally, my grandson has some emotional disabilities that make it harder for him to control his impulses. The combination of feelings of sadness, loneliness for his father, anger, and lack of control leads to episodes of behavior problems. My goal is to give him a healthy way to vent these feelings before they build up and contribute to problems that can impact his ability to interact socially.
My grandson is very smart and creative; he loves to make things. So, I made him a bad-guy that he helped design. I suggested when he feelings anger, this bad guy is tough enough for a pretend battle. I gave him permission, if you will, to act out on this character. My hopes are the stuffed bad guy, that he help make, would help him transition from feelings of anger to feelings of confidence that he can win even when life hurts. I understand that this toy is not a “magic bullet” in the war over hurt and sadness, but perhaps it can be a tool to help him in times when he needs to express the negative energy created by being hurt in his situation. At a time when his maturity is not enough to reconcile the situation of his broken home. I figure, at minimum, he will know his grandmother loves him and this bad guy that we built together represents a positive element in his life.
The feature picture is of the stuffed bad guy my grandson designed. He selected the colors. (The color selection gives insight, doesn’t it?) Later today, he will glue on the face pieces and decide what his Japanese oni should wear and we will make it together. Perhaps we will make some more battle tools to aid his play experience. I hope my story and thoughts create conversations on how we can help our little ones navigate a big and sometimes difficult world.