An Introduction to Raising Sons

In a post #MeToo world, many parents of young boys are anxious to find a better way forward for their sons. Luckily, there are many things parents can do to foster a positive environment in which their sons can flourish and thrive, and be proud of who they grow up to be.

How do I raise my son to be a good man?

Remember that attitudes are caught, not taught. The best way to raise a good son is to lead by example. Our children pay more attention than we realize to the things we say and the way we behave, both toward others and toward ourselves. For this reason, it’s important to look at your own patterns of behavior and decide, are these the things I want to model for my son? If you frequently put yourself or others down or allow your emotions to take charge when you need to breathe and respond from a calmer place, it is important to recognize and take responsibility for your own behavior. Working with an individual or family therapist can be extremely helpful, allowing you to process past traumas and create healthier strategies going forward.

Teach him to self-soothe and emotionally regulate. This can help young boys to understand their emotions from an early age and make positive choices in a world that often encourages them to choose anger first. When your son cries or gets angry, let him know that you see he’s upset and ask him if he can think of something that he can do that will help him feel better without getting him in trouble, like taking a deep breath, finding a comfort object, screaming into a pillow, exercising, or sitting down by himself with a book. In the future, remind him to stop and identify what he’s feeling, then to do the things that helped last time. Encourage him to find compassion for himself, building his understanding of his own feelings and helping him find positive outlets for them.

Instill the values of a moral compass and self-validation. Peer pressure is something that starts when we’re young, and doesn’t let up as we grow older. But if your son is secure in his own ability to choose the right path, trusting and valuing his ability to think for himself, he will be more likely to resist outside pressure to conform. You can reinforce self-validation by saying “You must be so proud of yourself!” when your son accomplishes a goal. Also, when he seeks your approval for something, ask him first what he thinks about it and why before you weigh in.

Find positive male role models. Whether or not your son’s father is in the picture, studies show that boys who have a strong, positive male role model in their lives do better in school, have fewer behavioral issues, and have a reduced risk for substance abuse later in life. This role model can be an extended family member, a family friend, or a coach or mentor—anyone who has a consistent, positive influence on your child’s life. 

How can I raise a feminist son?

Start small, plant seeds. Experts say that there’s no need to start lecturing our kids on the ins and outs of feminism—as a matter of fact, that’s usually counterproductive. Instead, find moments to start small conversations, such as something that happened on your son’s favorite TV show or in response to something he said at the dinner table. Get curious, asking him what he thinks about the topic in question and offering a brief suggestion without pushing the issue. Little, organic moments like this can be built on over time.

Instill the concept of boundaries and consent early. If you’re tickling your son or roughhousing, stop as soon as he says to stop, and tell him that he has to do the same thing for you. If you have multiple kids, make sure they understand that when someone else says to stop doing something during play, they need to stop immediately. Remind them that they’re in charge of their own bodies and that it’s ok to tell another person to stop doing anything that makes them feel uncomfortable, even if they started out enjoying it. This includes politely refusing kisses or hugs from family members if they don’t feel like it. 

How do I teach my son to be respectful?

Reinforce the importance of manners and politeness. Even if you feel like a broken record, keep reminding him to say “please” and “thank you,” to wait his turn to speak, and to behave at the table. Consistently and repeatedly enforcing good manners is the first building block to respectful behavior.

Model respectful behavior yourself. Be kind and firm whenever you are setting limits with your child or dispensing discipline—don’t yell or overreact. Be sure to model this behavior when you talk with other adults as well.

Encourage empathic thinking. When your son sees someone who is upset, ask him why that person might be feeling that way, and if he can think of a time he felt similarly. When you find yourself getting upset over something, take a moment to explain what you’re feeling and why to your son so he can understand where you’re coming from. 

What are some tips for raising a teenage son?

Set limits and agree on consequences for breaking them. Come up with a short, clear list of mutually agreed-upon rules and decide beforehand what happens if a boundary is violated. 

Connect while engaged in an activity. Most teen boys find it easier to communicate while they’re doing something else simultaneously. Whether you go for a walk, play a video game, or make dinner together, keeping the main focus off the talking can help your conversations flow more naturally.

Let him develop autonomy. A huge part of growing up is letting your son take responsibility for his own actions. Within reason, allow your son to try himself against the problems he encounters and make his own choices. Let him learn from any failures or successes he achieves based on his own merit, acting as an advisor and resisting the desire to nag or intervene.

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