Raising great men is a serious job. One day, your little boy is going to grow up, and they will take on their role as men. The way they live out that role, the contributions they make to the community and the world around them, and the generations that follow them will all be affected by the way they see themselves and how they choose to live their lives. With all the parenting advice out there, it can be difficult to know what it takes to raise a good man, and some of that definition will depend on who you ask.
What we do know is boys grow up and face a tough world. Having the support of parents who believe in them makes all the difference. Here are some important and simple ways you can help affirm your sons in a culture that doesn’t always reinforce what they truly have to offer the world.
- Be proud of their boyishness. This one can be difficult, especially for mothers who are often in total shock at their son’s boyish antics, risk taking, and overall destruction of toys and houses alike. While raising boys can be trying, it’s important to be proud of boys for what they offer. Their ingenuity, problem-solving, creativity, competition and desire for autonomy all have the possibility for great traits later in life. Make sure that when you speak about them, and especially when they can hear you, you’re bringing up the best.
- Allow them to take on tasks that are too hard for them. Today’s parenting can be overprotective. The constant overshadowing presence of one or both parents, while well meant and intended to provide more security, often has the exact opposite effect. The best way for your sons to learn, and more importantly, to know that they can learn, is to let them experience frustration and work it through to the end. Interrupting or forbidding games or activities that are beyond their current abilities will never build the confidence and self-assurance every boy needs for later life. So the next time your four-year-old wants to help you with groceries, let him give it a shot.
- Don’t Interfere with their play…unless you have to. Boys take games seriously. Men take games probably even more serious. It is their chance to build skills, strength, and problem-solving for the real world. More than that, it allows them to prove to themselves that they have what it takes. It is a confidence builder, so when your son wants to climb a tree, why not let him try? If he can’t build something with his Legos, let him work through it. Unless he asks for help, assume that he is capable. Assume that he has what it takes.
- Provide opportunities for risk taking. This one can be difficult for parents. After all, it’s your job to protect them. I have observed one thing which is missing from many men’s lives is risk-taking, and attempting to shield our sons from any and all hardship is neither beneficial nor realistic. Instead, why not provide the opportunity for them yourself? Make it age appropriate, but let them own it. Whether that’s taking a backpacking trip through the wilderness with your teenage son, or allowing your kid to try out a part in a play, affirming the desire to go above and beyond your comfort zone and limits are often the separation between mediocrity and greatness.
- Let them solve problems with others. Whether it’s a sibling, neighbor, or a child at the park, your son needs the opportunity to disagree. Sometimes parents have to get involved, especially with young children or when physical safety is an issue. There are a lot of other disputes, however, that can be left to your child and other children to try and work out. This can help give your son the assurance that they have a voice, that they can disagree with other kids, and ultimately, that you believe they are capable problem solvers and decision makers.
- Don’t let them win every time. So much could be said about this, but one thing is certain: it’s not good for kids to win every time. My favorite story about this is one from Bob Marley’s son that he retold on a documentary, Marley. One of his favorite memories of his father is playing soccer and running with him on the beach. He recalls that his father never slowed down or lightened up in his play with his children. He always gave it his all. There is something to be said about giving your sons something to look up to, to work for, and to face the disappointment that is such a normal part of life. Inspire them without trying to silence all their competitiveness. Don’t let them win, make them work for it.
- Treat them like they are capable. The last thing your son needs is to feel like you don’t believe he is capable. Even young children want to be included and acknowledged for what they are able to do. Instead of always using entertainment to distract, try and include your boys in the daily house chores or work that needs to get done. Treating them like they are able to help set the table, vacuum out the car, or assist with yard work can go a long way in building their self-confidence and self-reliance in the future.
- Take them outside often. Too many kids are glued to screens all day, every day. Get your boys outside and physically active. Go to the park, hike, and get out in nature. In today’s highly structured and in many ways anti-boy culture, the outdoors can be therapeutic for boys. They need a place that has few rules and a lot of room for exploration and natural curiosity to flourish, and let us be honest every boy should get to play in a mud puddle and climb a tree, it is only natural!
- Give them responsibility early. From a young age, boys want to be important. For too long in today’s society, boys are seen as a problem rather than an asset. The sooner you can get your sons involved in the inner workings and responsibilities of your family life and household, the better. Even young boys can help with simple household tasks, packing a lunch, or helping make snacks for younger siblings. We can’t expect men to be autonomous later if we don’t help our boys gain some sort of confidence now.
- Take an interest in their interests. This isn't always easy, especially during particular phases and depending on how much you truly relate to your son and their unique personality. But it can make all the difference in building their confidence and helping them feel like they have an adult who they can relate to. Engage in their fascination with bugs, encourage their photography hobby and take the time to admire their accomplishments. Instead of berating their video game playing, show some interest in the characters and skills needed to win. Rather than being disappointed that they want to play soccer instead of football, become their biggest fan. Participate in conversations about comic book characters, figure out why they like that certain band, and acknowledge them for who they are. It may not be your favorite activity and you may not understand it, but it's one of the easiest ways to build a strong relationship with your sons. They will feel the benefit of that type of attention long after their interest fades.
- Always Let Them Cry: This one comes up in research over and over again. Men do not feel it is okay to show a full spectrum of emotion in our society. They are taught from a young age that aside from anger, emotions are not okay to express. Unsurprisingly men also struggle with feelings of isolation, anger, loneliness, depression, substance abuse and suicide at rates much higher than women. Allow your son to cry. Allow him to be honest about his feelings. Imagine the impact that can have on his future relationships, children, and ultimately, his inner self.
I hope you liked these simple ways to affirm your sons! We would love to hear your thoughts and other ideas on how to affirm boys.