I remember the day we found out that the baby we were expecting was a boy. His name had been picked out since I was in middle school and my husband and I were elated. As the news settled into our minds I remember panicking one day. I was going to have to learn the names of different types of dinosaurs. And construction vehicles— calling them “trucks” would not be sufficient with a curious little guy at my side. My mental list went on and on. I grew up with one sister, what would I do with a boy? Wisdom from my aunt comforted my anxious heart: “They all start out the same way and when they get bigger, you love them so much you just figure it out.”
My aunt was right. We made it through the diapering, the middle-of-the-night feedings, the laundry, the first tooth, and the first year of his life. As my son grew to develop more boy-specific interests, I grew in my boy knowledge. I can now tell you the difference between a gondola, a boxcar, and a hopper thanks to all the trains we’ve watched together. I stop the car to point out excavators and dump trucks. We run to the window on trash day to watch the giant garbage truck hoist our trash can into the air to haul our refuse away. And I love it. But as the train, car, and truck knowledge becomes old habit, I start to think about the future for my growing little boy. I want to raise a son who is known for being a great man.
Here Are 6 Things You Can Do to Raise Boys Who Become Great Men:
1. Teach Him How to Treat Women
One of the most important things a woman should look for when she’s thinking about marrying a particular man is how he treats his mom. The way that a young man talks about—and talks to—his mother is guaranteed to carry over into the way he communicates with his wife. Parents of boys need to teach their sons to treat their mothers well. Boys can practice being gentlemen at home. Opening doors, helping unload groceries, and practicing basic etiquette in the younger years will lead to a chivalrous husband and father in the future.
2. Show Him How to Express His Feelings
Whether male or female, we all feel things. Unfortunately for men, society puts extra pressure on their gender to keep everything bottled up. The problem is that someday the pressure will become too much and that bottle will explode. We can teach our young guys how to express their emotions without putting holes in any walls, or worse, relationships. Give boys a safety net at home where they can express and process the drama that happens outside of those caring walls. In 2001 the band The Elms released the song “Real Men Cry.” The song begins “Real men cry to their mothers, and laugh with the others, when all of the jokes are on them.” While the goal is not to create sons who whine to their mommies every time something bad happens, we can show our guys where it is safe to work through those tough life events. We can give them the tools they need to process the emotions of life. We should invite and welcome them into that process by creating a safe home environment.
Researchers at Michigan State University have developed the following strategies to help kids learn to process their emotions:
- Name the feeling: Help children name their feelings by giving them labels. “Mommy had to go to work, you are sad. You said you want your Mommy.” Naming feelings allows young children to develop an emotional vocabulary so they can talk about their feelings.
- Identify feelings in themselves and others: Talk about feelings kids have and those that they see in others. “I hear you laughing, are you happy?” Or “She fell down, how do you think she feels?”
- Talk about how feelings can be expressed: Lead by example. Talk about your own feelings and how you express them. What do you do when you get mad? How do people know you are happy? Talk about ways that your child can express his emotions.
Ignoring our emotions will not solve problems. Teaching our sons to work through them in constructive ways will help them when emotions run high in the future.
3. Help Him to Learn Self-Control
Self-control is a virtue that can grow with our boys. When they are two, self-control means not melting down in every grocery store aisle. Around age one we began teaching our son a trick to calm himself down when he was out of control. Our direction in these situations was “fold your hands together and find some self-control.” We learned this little trick from Gary Ezzo’s On Becoming Baby Wise and we love it because it gives him a physical task to do while working on settling down. He is two now and regularly folds his hands on his own when he recognizes his emotions are getting out of check.
When a boy is sixteen, self-control means not yelling at a referee when he disagrees with the call he made. It also means treating the girls in his class with respect. Self-control will continue to serve our sons in their college years, while building their careers, in their marriages, and through the parenting years.
4. Teach Him to Work Hard
One mark of maturity in adult men is the ability to engage in work, even if it is hard. There is something in boys that makes them love getting their hands dirty. Callouses are a mark of pride and a sign of the effort put into a task. Let your son work in the garage with dad. Let him learn the helpful task of sewing a button back on a shirt with mom. Engage him in work that takes effort, whether physical or mental. Give him tasks appropriate for his abilities and help him learn responsibility through working hard.
Teaching our sons to work hard means trusting them with responsibilities. Research shows that “children actually feel happier when they make a meaningful contribution to the family.” One study found that “the best predictor for young adults’ success in their mid-20’s is that they participated in household tasks at age 3 or 4.” Giving our sons work to do will help their success later in life.
5. Model What it Means to Follow Through
Great men keep going when things get tough. They do not quit playing soccer mid-season because they decided they did not like the coach. Great husbands know how to see a commitment through. They show their greatness through their perseverance when others give up. Men who exercise this quality stand out amongst their peers. Whether finishing homework or completing construction on a tree house, let your son see his work through.
6. Know His Friends
Stay engaged in your son’s social circle. Invite his whole gang over to your house. Listen to him as he explains the evolution of his friendships as he grows. Watch the movies he likes and listen as he explains the plot in the book you would not want to read if they paid you to read it (but that he loves). Allow him to play the music he and his friends enjoy. Engage in conversations about why his friends have these interests. You may be impressed with the young man you have raised.
This work of producing great men of character is not a task to take lightly. But someday, when your adult son thanks you for the work you have done, you will know that all of this work was worth it.