Essential Things for Dads’ to Do with their Sons.

I work with a lot of children and adolescents and in my years of practice, I have come across a couple things that I strongly advocate fathers’ to do with their sons.  Why.  Most of the boys I see lack self confidence, tolerance of stress, knowledge of older (healthy) men…what they think about, what they feel, what they enjoy, how they play, etc.  This knowledge is critical for boys to have because it gives them an idea of what they could/will be like when they get older.  It also gives them something to work with as they create an image of the man they want to become.  Boys learn how to be a man from men…in whatever models they have.  It is not that women don’t play a role in the maturation of boys/sons, but rather, they play increasingly an indirect role as boys get older and men play a much more direct role.

These activities I think can foster the boy’s self-esteem, tolerance of stress/pressure and help them get to know you…dad.  Some of these I do with the young men I see in my office…some I don’t for obvious reasons.  Try them with your sons.

1. Encourage them to climb a tree.  Stay there and talk to them as they are doing it and after they are down.  Why.  Climbing a tree calls for the boy to control his fears in the face of danger and yet also feel the exhilaration of achievement and challenge.  This activity also forces the child to confront his fears and think creatively and problem solve under pressure.  Your job, while he is climbing, is two-fold: Watch him (in case he falls) and praise him as he succeeds.  After the climb, your job is to listen to him talk about the experience and then share your recollections of trees you have climbed, the risks you took and the feelings you had…sitting up there in the tree, looking around.

2. Read a couple age-appropriate books with your son…and discuss them as you read.  What books….again, it depends on their age but ages 10, 11, 12 and up…you could read some of the classics with them…reading either to him or with him.  Books like: Call of the Wild, Red Badge of Courage, The Hobbit, Catcher in the Rye, etc.  These speak to boys being on their own, making their own decisions, the fear of the consequences, seeing decisions out to their conclusions, dealing with the results, etc.  All essential elements boys need guidance with and encouragement during the process.  Further, as you read, you can discuss with your son what you thought while you read what the characters were doing, the parts you like, the parts that made you laugh, cry, worry, etc.  This gives your son an inside view of you, how you think, feel, etc.

3. Teach him to play chess and play chess with him.  Chess is a game of war and who better to go to war with then your own dad.  It is going to happen anyway!  A lot of reasons for this one…You lose a lot before you begin winning in chess.  He needs to experience this…losing but also learning from losing.   You can help him through this…encourage him when he loses, show him what he did wrong, show him what to do instead and again share your experiences in losing….at chess and life in general.  Kids listen when parents talk about losing in life….they listen and learn and later look at you with a unique kind of respect that comes when a parent is honest with their child.  Chess again teaches creative problems solving and how to tolerate stress.  There is also the aspect of teaching your son to attack you (Watch the film, Searching for Bobby Fischer with your son.) and the respect that he feels when you teach him how to attack you in this game.  This respect will bleed over into everyday interactions between you and him around the house.

4. Praise the effort, not the winning.  Acknowledging and identifying with the struggle of any project/contest, despite winning/loosing, helps him see the value in struggling to succeed, helps you connect with him on a physical and emotional level you can’t convey with words and it can open up the doors for conversations in the future about working hard and feeling good about yourself….because you worked hard.

5. Negotiate and make them earn an honest paycheck.  If he wants something, negotiate chores around the house to earn such and then be honest when you judge the quality of his work.  If you approach him seriously, when negotiating, he will approach you seriously.  Judge the quality of his work, keeping his age and capabilities in mind. Afterwards, you can again share your experiences of earning/working to earn something you enjoyed/prized when you were his age or older.  Again, boys love to hear stories about you and what you went through when you were learning the principles you are teaching him now.


More later…