"The biggest way to keep a boy from growing up aggressive is to have a loving, safe non-aggressive home. While we should monitor and limit boys' exposure to the media, what they see on TV is not nearly as powerful as the actions of family members, relatives and neighbors. If boys are exposed to real violence at home and in the street, they are very likely to imitate it, if they are brutalized and humiliated; they will react aggressively and may grow into violent men."
Michael Thompson, Ph.D.
Co-Author, Raising Cain; Host, PBS documentary, RAISING CAIN
There are ways we can help support our boys' active impulses and help them work through feelings of aggression. Start by developing an appreciation for what and how boys like to play and by giving them safe spaces at home where they can go wild. And get out the pillows and join in the fun from time to time!
Allow your boys to play the games they want to play — within reason. Warlike and competitive games are OK, as long as boys don't hurt each other. Set rules that are right for your house like "no baseball bats inside" but don't inhibit their ability to play. Stay close by and monitor the situation to be sure the kids are in control, but don't intervene unless one boy is dominating the other in a hurtful way.
Let your boys play games at home that they can't play at school. Schools may need to limit some types of play because there isn't room or adequate supervision. In addition, if parents don't allow any adventurous, exciting or violent fantasies at home, the boy may feel like nobody thinks his thoughts are OK.
Limit the amount and type of violence your young boys are exposed to through television, movies, and video games. The images from the media often frighten children under age seven, and may stay with them in their play.
Control the remote. Make sure your television is located where you can see what your child is watching. If allowed to channel surf, young children may discover exciting (but disturbing) programs. "Young children may be fascinated by these shows. While they may know they are not OK to watch, they may not want to tell you about what they saw," advises Jane Katch.
Remember boys' adventurous fantasies are not the same as real aggression. If boys do play games filled with violent imagery, don't tell them not to play them. Instead, talk together about how these games make others feel, and set rules to ensure the game is safe. "Instead of telling him to 'stop talking or playing games about destruction,' try to look at the game from his point of view and then discuss how he can make sure the game doesn't scare or hurt anyone else," suggests Katch. "Don't freak out if the themes of the game are violent, they are just themes, not reality," adds Thompson.
Find appropriate places for boys to act out their games. Instead of saying, "stop running around in the restaurant," suggest you save the game for outside. Instead of saying, "Don't be so wild at school," you might suggest "When you walk into school you have to stop doing that." This way, boys learn that the game is OK, but the behavior is not appropriate for a specific occasion and needs to be modified.
Try not to be critical of your son's interests. "There's a thin line between hating the things a boy likes and hating the boy," says Joseph Tobin. "If everyday you're telling a boy, 'I can't believe you like this stuff,' you are telling him that there is something wrong with what he is interested in. That said, I'm not saying that all media is appropriate."
Keep communication open and keep talking together. Ask your boy to tell you about his world, what he likes and what disturbs him. And listen to how he feels without judgment so he doesn't feel he has to hide those things from you. Try talking over a game of catch, instead of a formal sit-down chat. And be sensitive when he gets mad. "When your son gets dramatically upset or angry (particularly at you) don't just send him for a time out, instead, help him articulate what he is feeling. Keep in mind that he may not be able to explain it in that moment, but that he will talk sooner or later," advises Thompson.
Keep in mind when you inhibit boys' natural aggression, they may become more aggressive. "Punishing boys by taking outlets like recess away may only encourage them to become more excited and aggressive" says Thompson. "Recess is part of the curriculum and it has a function," adds Joseph Tobin. "Teachers take it away because boys like it. But if boys liked reading, would teachers take that away?"