Punching bags

Andrew Wake Newsletter, Parenting

I had an interesting question from a parent about whether a punching bag was a good idea for his angry son.  His idea was that maybe a punching bag was a better idea than the plaster walls, his siblings or the computer.

As most questions about responding to human behaviours begin… “It depends”.

We know that exercise is good for mental health.  The American Academy recommends 60 minutes of activity a day for children.  There is also evidence that activities such as boxing or martial arts act to develop  a child’s self-control of their aggression. Learning how to be “angry well” is a key developmental skill in a world that brings repeated disappointment. Japanese martial arts are particularly positive as they explicitly incorporate Zen Buddhist ideas of mindfulness and self-control.  Those interested in this idea can click on the link here to the podcast “Beating and Nothingness: philosophy and the martial arts”.

As for the idea of a punching bag at home, it comes back to the idea that “The event doesn’t matter…it is what happens next that matters”.

If your child is enraged, then using a punching bag is a great option, IF once calmed:

  • you and your child reconnect and then have a conversation about what disappointed them, you gain shared understanding about each other’s opinion
  • Repair any ruptures
  • A plan is made to deal with future ruptures

What your child has just learned is, “I can be enraged, but I can calm myself, and what went wrong can be fixed and the relationship repaired” …brilliant.  The boxing bag is a distraction to help calm, but it leads to mammal / human repair.

However, if your child is enraged then using a punching bag is a disaster, IF:

  • They go off to the punching bag and take out their aggression on the bag
  • Then once calmed the problem is blown over, not fixed, and the relationship not repaired.

In that circumstance, what your child has just learned is “When I am enraged, I beat something, and that makes me feel better” …not a great pattern to take into the future.  The boxing bag is a distraction, but the lack of repair means it is actually reinforces combat-avoidance patterns…reptile relating.

So if you want to use distraction as a way of helping your child to calm, in general what matters is not the distraction technique chosen (boxing, iPad, tv, book, mint, trampoline, walk, swing, etc) but what happens next.