Tough Boys

When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother wold say to me, “Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.”

To this day, especially in times of  “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers.  So many caring people in this world.

– Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers)

 

A few weeks ago I brought my kids to a local park to enjoy the beautiful weather.  My heart began to beat faster  when one boy flew off the merry-go-round and onto the ground. He looked to be around 6 years old.  The boy was trying to be brave and not cry.  His father responded by saying, “If his mom was here, he would be bawling.”

I thought about this incident during the ride home.  Why is a boy more likely to cry in front of Mom, but not Dad?  I have encountered boys in school that grew up with the notion that “boys need to be tough” and “boys don’t cry.”  I recall one boy being told that he is now “the man of the house” after the death of his father.  It was tremendous pressure for a grieving boy in elementary school.

My counseling experience has taught me that boys grieve differently from girls.  Teachers often report more behavior issues in the classroom with grieving boys; such as, not focusing and aggression.  Girls would sit down and discuss feelings openly, even after meeting with me for the first time.  It proved to be more difficult with boys.  Parents and teachers sometimes struggle in helping boys who are grieving a loss.

 

How can parents, teachers, and counselors help boys who are grieving?

 

1.  Talk during an activity.  Take a walk, play a game, or throw a ball back and forth.  

When I was a school counselor in Maryland, I met with a second grade boy to shoot hoops once a week.  He was experiencing the death of his father and the loss of not seeing his mother.  The teachers in that school were amazing and realized the importance of counseling.  I was encouraged to meet with students during instruction time, instead of only recess and lunch.  He was in a comfort zone and easily talked about his feelings while we payed basketball.

 

2.  Teach boys that no matter how emotionally painful life becomes, violence is NEVER an option.

Have a plan in place.  What will he do when he feels angry?  What will he do when he feels sad?  These discussions need to begin in elementary school and continue through every grade.  I already began this conversation with my 4-year-old son.  He hides under our kitchen table when upset, but I never know the reason.  I help him to talk about it.  When his sister teases him and he feels like punching her, I teach him to use his “words.”

I had the opportunity to attend a conference by the United States Secret Service at Penn State.  The agent interviewed boys that were involved in school shootings.  I will never forget what he said.  Every boy wished that one adult would have acknowledged him at school.  Simply said “hello” in the hallway.  They thought no one cared about them.  Some were bullied.  I can’t even imagine how that feels.

Not every boy who is bullied will engage in violence, but it is important to be proactive and reach out to every boy in a school.  Teachers and adults in the school need to make it a priority.  For example, after class a teacher could take a minute to check in with a boy that has appeared to be more withdrawn than usual.

 

3.  Teach boys to find the “helpers” in life.

Who can he talk to about his feelings?  I was surprised to see the negative association with school counseling when I began a career in Pennsylvania.  I invited students to have lunch with me during the first few months.  A few parents called me about it.  It was a big deal to see the counselor.  After talking to me, they appreciated that I was trying to get to know everyone.  However, it took time.   Call your pediatrician for a referral to a therapist if your child could benefit from counseling.  Counselors can be certified in play therapy, which is a type of therapy that uses sand, puppets, and art.

 

4.  Contact the school counselor to inquire if there is a bereavement support group offered at your child’s school. 

Support groups are beneficial because they support the notion that “I am not the only one going through a loss.”  If a support group is not offered, the school counselor should be familiar with groups available in the community.  During the summer months, bereavement camps might be available in your area. 

 

5.  If you are a teacher/educator in a school, be aware of bullying that may take place during lunch and recess. 

Boys may be vulnerable to bullying because they are in an emotional state.  Grieving children can be the target to bullies.  It is difficult to believe that a child could be teased for the death of a parent, but sadly it is a reality.

 

6.  Continue with a normal routine.

If your boy is involved in a sport or activity, do not take a break from it.  He will benefit socially and emotionally by being around friends and coaches that can show support.  

 

If you are a parent or guardian of a boy that is grieving a loss, let him know that he is not alone.  Tell him there are many helpers in this world that care.

 

http://www.jonihaypatras.com

 

 

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