Somehow I ended up in the toy aisle this evening and I found a punching bag toy for kids. Really it was for boys, there were no girls on the box, it was all blue, Spider-man and Iron Man, man, man, man. Boys.
At first, I was really excited because I have been trying to figure out some nifty ways to give Taylor an outlet for his frustration, anger, anxiety. He knows I don't like any physical games outside of hugging and cuddling, so he ends up trying to encourage me to beat him senseless with pillows or throw him across the room onto the bed, both of which I have consistently declined for his entire life so I don't really know why he tries. Come to think of it, it probably has something to do with all of the social pressures around him having to define himself as a real boy through these types of activities. Anyways...
Aren't punching bags a really great way for a child to let off steam? Kids have all sorts of pent up frustration that comes out in all sorts of physical ways and doesn't it feel good to just hit something sometimes? Isn't this a great option when they can't go outside and because they can't hit people anyways? Won't this teach them that lesson to keep your hands to yourself while not being so restrictive?
Then I realized something. What about the girls? I had been thinking about kids the entire time but defaulted to boys and not even once thought about the how the girls in my son's class deal with just as much frustration, anger, depression, as he does. I highly doubt that purchasing the punching bags - that are marketed so directly to boys - would ever cross the minds of most parents of kindergarten girls.
So what are girls taught to do? What do girls do at a young age to de-stress and (a) is it helpful or should they start beating punching bags and/or (b) would it be advantageous for boys to learn from how girls cope with stress and frustration?
I am going to take a stab at it. Girls are generally allowed to feel emotion. They are often given the option to be consoled more through physical touch (i.e. cuddling and smothering). Girls are often given squishy fuzzy toys to hold and treat as their own little babies. That's all I got. Boys, on the other hand, are given these things but with side comments about how they're so strong and they don't cry and plush toys aren't boy toys - perhaps compared to the punching bag or boxing gloves.
I'm sure that I'm missing a bunch here but my sense is that I'm onto something and I'm less convinced that I should buy that punching bag for him and more convinced that there may be a better way to explore his frustration, like maybe through visual art or improvisational theatre - we can create angry character monologues or something, I don't know.
My hesitation boils down to this: if I teach him that it is okay to create time throughout his routine and/or resort immediately to physical action, although it is with an inanimate object, would this condition him to do things like punch walls, slam doors, throw remotes chairs, out of frustration? My sense is yes and I don't want that. That is dangerous. That is called domestic violence. We have a lot of people who have lost their lives due to these types of situations, whether it is the perpetrator of violence ending up in prison or the victim of this type of domestic violence, ending up traumatized or on-the-run to stay alive and save the family from the perpetrator. We have off-the-grid locations for women who are dealing with domestic abuse because the men in their lives cannot figure out how to cope with their frustration to the point that they have to literally hide from the world. We all know people in these situations and we all want them safe and this is the first thing that comes to mind when I think about my son using a punching bag.
My final question is this: Is the best way to cope with frustration or anger through the use of physical activity and if so, then does it have to be through actually punching or kicking something like a punching bag with a life-sized picture of a character on it?
So after all, I guess Taylor and I need to seriously practice meditation (and a few other really cool, completely googleable activities) together...