This year ‘Movember’ is in support of men’s mental health. And anyone with a son – from baby to adult – is the first point of call in supporting this.
This idea of ‘toughen up son’ is generational – it’s no one’s fault or purposeful intention. We only know what we know… we only see what we see… and it wasn’t long ago this attitude of ‘suck it up’ was a common one.
We were often told ‘you’ll be right’ (or my mum’s favourite ‘put a bit of spit on it’). It was probably that way to stop the whinging. Or perhaps it was this way because our parents only knew this response and didn’t know what else to say.
Truth be told, people’s negative emotions make us feel uncomfortable.
For whatever reason, our immediate reaction to an upset child is to slap a band aide on it – literally and figuratively – and get on with it. We are quick to try and give our children a solution and brush off what they are saying without a second’s thought. But there are drawbacks in this kind of response.
1. Kids stop talking to us. We know in ourselves that if a friend or family member brushes off our worries with a ‘you’ll be right’ we immediately draw back and think ‘well I won’t be telling THEM my problems any more’. And isn’t this whole mental health message telling us we need to encourage the OPPOSITE of this? We WANT kids to talk. We NEED them to share their problems.
2. Kids never learn to work through their own problems. When we jump to the rescue EVERY SINGLE TIME they stop thinking for themselves and start relying on you to think for them.
3. Kids don’t learn to IDENTIFY their feelings. Emotions can be very confusing. If a child can learn to recognise how they feel and assign a ‘plan’ to this emotion this can encourage their independence and give them self-monitoring strategies. For example, if he can say ‘I’m mad!’ and assign himself to run around the yard – or have ten minutes’ time out, this allows cool down time and lets people around him know that he needs some space.
4. We make kids answer to us instead of to themselves. We often expect a ‘you’ll be right’ to fix the problem then get annoyed when they are still upset or annoyed ten minutes later. Just because we’ve moved on, doesn’t mean they have. ‘Feelings must be dealt with before behaviour can be improved’ – Dr H Ginott.
Working with children, and having my own, I see the struggle of mental health starting at a young age. It saddens me to see an 8-year-old hitting himself on the head when he’s made a mistake. Or reject a compliment when they’ve achieved something.
We need to teach kids that NOTHING is irreversible and their mistakes can be fixed. We need to teach them methods to identify their feelings and deal with them. We need to let them talk – or not talk – without jumping in and taking over because WE feel uncomfortable.