A boy learns what it means to be a man from his father, so the time fathers and sons spend together is critical. Noel Janis-Norton suggests ways that fathers – and sons – can get the most out of their time together.
When you as a father are actively involved in teaching your son how to be a man, both father and son benefit hugely and your son will want to grow up to be just like his dad. When you are not spending enough time together, then your son will seek out and find role models in other places.
Even a loving, conscientious father who works long hours during the week and needs to catch up on chores at the weekend, may stay on the margins in terms of enforcing the rules and routines – often because the mother has declared rules unilaterally in his absence and fathers may come to feel on the outside of family routines.
But certain areas of a boy’s development hang critically on their father’s input. Here’s where you can, and should, take the lead:
Teach boys how to manage their physicality
Fathers usually have the job of teaching boys how to use their physical energy, strength and drive through the rough and tumble, play-fighting and wrestling that they engage in together. You usually know that it is just fine if someone gets hurt; you know that being able to ‘take it on the chin’ helps boys to feel confident that they can handle themselves in the play-fighting that boys like to do. Friendly rough and tumble can teach boys how to fight fair and know when to stop.
Teach respect for others
You can help teach your son to respect his mother. Clarify the rules and the routines you as a couple both want for your family, and also the rewards and consequences. Make a habit of keeping any disagreements that the two of you may have for a private time; do not talk about them in front of your children. You need to cultivate a United Front. Model appreciation of your son’s mother, grandmother, female teachers and all the other females in his life. Insist on politeness and respect, both in words and tone of voice.
Show the importance of education
Part of a father’s role is to show his son that education is important. Mothers usually do most of the supervising of homework and the majority of teachers are female, so it is easy for a boy to assume that men care less about learning.
Even a father who works long hours outside the home can make time at weekends, or possibly early mornings before going off to work, to sit down with his son and show an interest in his schoolwork and homework.
Act as a role model for how to handle responsibilities
Fathers are role models for how men handle their responsibilities in the world outside the home. A boy who respects his father will naturally want to imitate him. He will also want to be included in his your activities. Take the time, both at home and at work, to show and explain what your work consists of.
Let your son participate in aspects of your work if it is appropriate; let him earn some money by doing this. Talk to him about problems and strategies rather than just about problems. Talk about your goals, triumphs and disappointments, how you feel and what you have learned.
Mealtimes and bedtimes are a good time for these conversations, and carving out special time enables you to share these parts of yourself without being distracted by siblings or chores.
Encourage physical affection
Even after a boy has outgrown sitting on his father’s lap, he still needs physical affection from his father (or father-figure), as well as from his mother. Take every opportunity to rumple your son’s hair, give him a squeeze, pat him on the back, touch his arm. Include sports or games that require physical contact in the repertoire of activities you do together.
Model good friendships
Boys need to hear fathers talking about friendships. A father can explain what he likes in his friends and how he has handled problems with friends. Your son will want to copy you so remember to show your best side.
Teach and train consideration and good manners
Boys can get the impression that table manners and politeness are ‘girly’ and that real men are proud of being crude. Therefore, it is important that fathers and other adult males set a good example and show that manners matter.
Encourage allegiance to switch from the mother-figure to the father-figure
Young children of both genders often start out very attached to the mother as she usually does the bulk of childcare in the early years. It is important that boys shift their allegiance from the mother to the father.
It helps if you spend time alone with each child, without their mother around, as often as possible from earliest infancy. The mother will need to refrain from attempting to micro-manage how you, in her absence, feed, dress, bathe and play with the children. This will help a boy who is over-attached to his mother to naturally bond more with and come to trust his father. And you will grow in confidence.
Simple changes you can make to improve your time with your son:
- Sit in the same room with your son – just start chatting.
- Do not ask questions of your son when his mood or attitude seems to be surly or sullen or disrespectful. Instead, Descriptively Praise any tiny bits of friendliness. You can Reflectively Listen, and share your own experiences too.
- Include one child in each meal preparation. You can alternate by meal, by day or by weekend.
- Sit down with your children for all meals and snacks. You will have a captive audience.
- Drive your son to his activities. Leave the car radio off. Make a rule that you will only drive him if he is not listening to music or texting on his mobile.
- Listen with an open mind when your son is talking, even if you are not really interested in the topic and even if what he is saying goes against your values. Refrain from trying to set him straight, which would just alienate him further.
- Arrange your schedule so that you have time to spend with your son every day, even if it is only ten minutes.
- Arrange special time together. Offer him a choice of activities. Expect complaints but persevere. Your son will see that you really want to be with him. He may not really know that unless you insist.
- Offer your son ways that he can earn money or extra privileges by doing something with you, such as DIY, household or garden chores, helping to sort and file receipts, etc.
- Bring your son to work with you on a day when you can spend some time showing him what you do.
- When your children are awake, be with them. Resist the urge to catch up on work or emails.
- Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your job is to entertain your children with treats or new toys. Your children only need you. Focus on free or cheap activities where you are all relating and enjoying yourselves.
- Stagger the children’s bedtimes so that you have half an hour if possible with each one for a goodnight ritual. When a parent and a child are chatting in the dark, a lot comes out that can’t easily be said during the day.