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How To Raise A Son Into A Good Man
The instant you looked into your newborn son's eyes you knew that every hope you had for his future rested on what you did starting from that moment on. And you would ask yourself "Would I be able to help him grow into a caring, confident, responsible man?" Every mother questions how she's doing when it comes to raising her boy. But if you follow the advice below, chances are, your son will turn into the kind if man you want him to be.
#1 Give Him a Hand at Managing his Emotions
The strong, silent type and the macho tough guy may be appealing on the big screen, but in real life, the good guys are the ones who know how to deal with their feelings-the right way. "Some qualities that we stereotipically think of as manly are actually repressive-being stoic and in control, not showing how you feel," says Christine Nicholso, PHD, a psychologist specializing in adolescent therapy in kirkland, Washington. "If your son is upset and you say, "Buck up, it's not that bad," He learns to hide his feelings."
In fact, she goes on to say, reasearch indicates that parents ask daughters how they feel more often than sons, and when girls get hurt, parents comfort them more than they do to boys. The result? Many boys grow up feeling ashamed of their emotions and become men who can't communicate well-bottling up or lashing out-which makes it hard for them to relate to others.
What You Can Do
- Get Him Talking. If your son is grumpy after school, don't swoop in with questions." Simply say, "Looks like you're upset. I'm here to help if I can," says Dr. Nicholson. Then bring it up later: I'm concerned that something bad happened at school. If he lets you in a bit (School is boring), echo his feeling (Yeah school can be boring). Odds are he'll open up: That teacher gives me so much homework. Again, validate his feelings, but this time coax more: You do get a lot of homework. What do you have for tonight? "Your son will know that you're on his side and that you're not going to lecture, so he'll feel comfortable talking more in depth," says Dr. Nicholson."
- Help him find solutions. Getting boys to open up about how they feel is one thing; getting them to understand that while bad feelings may linger, they don't last is quite another. "Boys prefer to focus on the problem rather than the emotion," says Dan Kindlon, PhD, adjuct lecturer at Harvard School of Public Health and coauthor of Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional lIfe of Boys. "Part of a parent's resposibility is to teach his or her son that emotions-whether pain, sadness, anger or fear-don't always go away quickly, and that's ok. Eventually he will begin to feel better." It's a lesson Patrick Coleman of Maplewood, Minnesota, learned from his mom when he tried out for the high school hockey team. " All of his friends made the team, but he didn't," says his mother, Patty. " He was devastated and wanted to quit hockey completely." So she sat down with him to talk about it, but let him fill her in at his own pace, without interruption. When she sensed that he'd gotten it all off his chest, Patty then offered ideas on how to make things better. "I told him I knew he ws hurting, but that he could still play on another team if he wanted to," she says. After thinking about it, Patrick realized his mom was right, and eventually joined his community hockey team despite his sadness. "He ended up having fun and learned that good things can come outof disapointment," says Patty.
#2 Teach Empathy
When Boys are able to understand how someone else feels, it makes them better husbands and dads in the future. "Empathy is a valuable social skill that helps you feel for others and prevents you from doing things that are hurtful," says Shari Young Kuckenbecker,PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Chapmen University in Orange, California. "It's one of the best foundations you can give your son." But studies suggest that moms may have their work cut out for them. According to researchers at the University of Michigan, today's College students are 40 percent less empathic than they were 20 years ago. Two likely reasons, researchers say, are violent video games that numb kids to the pain of others, and social networks filled with virtual "friends" kids don't get to know in a meningful way.
What You Can Do
- Play "what-if." Encourage your son to put himself in others' shoes by using examples from something he enjoys, like sports. If he's watching a baseball game, for instance join him on the couch and say, The pitcher looks like he's under a lot of pressure. How would you handle being on the mound? "It takes just a few seconds here and there, but you're teaching your son to consider others' feelings and put himself in their place," says Dr. Kindlon. "If you do that enough over the years, he'll grow into someone who can handle emotional situations well."
- Engourage him to read novels. Ongoing studies at York University in Toronto show that people who read more fiction than nonfiction score higher on empathy tests. Why? Researchers theorize that the parts of the brain we use to understand how fictional characters feel are the same ones we use to figure out how real people feel. And the more we use those parts of our brain, the stronger our ability to understand others.
#3 Strengthen His Sense of Self
Think of men you admire. Odds are they have an important trait in common: a healthy dose of self-esteem. When a man feels good about himself, it doesn't mean he's egotistical. It means that he feels confident, competent and worthy exactly what you want for your son.
What You Can Do
- Skip the false praise. Saying You're the smartest kid in the world or You're the best basketball player ever sets expectations your son can't live up to. "Praise his efforts rather than his talents," says Dr. Kuckenbecker. According to studies at Columbia university, young kids feel more accomplished and better able to handle challenges when they're praised for how they do a task (You worked hard) and for completing it (Good job getting that done), rather than when they hear general kudos like I'm proud of you.
- Don't label him. Never say Boys will be boys or use other expressions that blame your son's behavior on his gender or that suggest he can't control his actions. "The messages kids get from parents play a major role in the development of their self-esteem," says Paul W. Schenk, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in Tucker, Georgia. "When your son hears words that attack who he is, it has a negtive impact on his self-worth." Bottom line: He'll begin to believe what those phrases imply that boys are troublemakers.
#4 Instill Respect for Others
"A boy who grows up listening to authority figures, obeying rules and interacting in a caring manner learn a baseline of treating people with respect," says Micheal Gurian, author of The Purpose of Boys. By the time he is a man, that respectful manner will be second nature.
What You Can Do
- Set rules and enforce them. If your son breaks a rule-whether it's using bad language, missing a curfew, or some other infraction-impose consequences. "Boys respect people who hold their feet to the fire," says Gurian. "If you coddle your son and don't follow through with consequences, over the years he can turn into an unmotivated person, and ultimetely become spoiled and uncaring person."
- Set a good example. Treat other grown-ups in your son's life, such as teachers, coaches and his friends' parents, with respect. Make him do the same. If a conflict does arise-say, between your son and his teacher-handle the situation with grace. Don't immediately side with your son, says Gurian. "Hear both sides of the story, and even if that rudeness to a teacher is never acceptable," he says. Then say: I'll talk to your teacher to see if we can resolve this. If something like this happens again, I want you to tell me, and not talk back to your teacher. You'll teach your son problem-solving skills while emphasizing respect for others," says Gurian.
#5 Show Affection
Your son loved your hugs and kisses when he was little. Once he hit adolescence...not so much. It's normal for boys this age to begin seperating from Mom in order to be independent, says Dr. Kindlon. But remember, men who freely give affection grew up getting it, so find ways to show it to your son-even if he acts like he doesn't want you to.
What You Can Do
- Time it right. If your son resists, choose your moments carefully. He'll likely be embarrassed if you try to kiss him in front of his pals, but a quick peck as he heads to bed or a brief hug if he's feeling down lets him know you still care about him without crowding him. "Boys need and want the caring touch that a mother provides, even if they don't always show it," says Dr. Kindlon. "Boys need to experience that physical tenderness if they are to become affectionate men later."