Mother/Son 101: Smart Tips for Raising Boys
There are a lot of tips out there for a good mother/daughter relationship, but maintaining a healthy mother/son relationship is tricky and less talked about. Learn the keys to showing your son the ropes in life and staying connected as he grows.
Parents tend to limit their affection for boys but shower girls with love and hugs. The term "mama's boy" leads us to believe that affection and attachment stunts boys' masculinity. But being a steady source of hugs and comfort for your child (beyond just the baby stage) is one of the best things you can offer as a parent. Knowing that his home and his mother's arms are a safe haven builds up a boy's self-confidence. He will want more space as the teen years approach, but a hug a day goes a long way to show him you care and power him through hard times.
Teach Him Kindness and Respect
The world could use more gentlemen — and more kindness in general. Teaching children the old-school rules of politeness, kindness, and respect is no easy task in our busy yet increasingly informal lives. But showing your son from a young age how to use the magic words, mind his mother (and father), and hold the door (not just for women but for whomever is right behind him) will make him a stand-up, standout guy down the line. Model good behavior in your relationships with your children and your spouse. Also, teach your son to respect women by valuing them for their intelligence and personality, not their appearance and domestic skills.
Ditch the "Tough Guy" Stereotype
Many parents expect their sons of all ages to be Mr. Tough Guy with a "thicker skin" than girls. The fact is, it's healthy for boys and men to cry and show emotions like love, sadness, grief, and fear rather than bottle them up inside. There's no such thing as male emotions and female emotions — we're all human. Also, society leads us to believe that boys shouldn't play with dolls, play dress-up, take dance lessons, or participate in anything that isn't "rough and tumble." Allow your son to explore and enjoy all kinds of activities, just as you might with a daughter who's a "tomboy."
Discipline Him Wisely
Loose rules are not helpful for boys. Boys tend to be very literal and can't always read between the lines. They might push the limits if you don't set up firm but fair standards. At the same time, when disciplining your son, choose your words and punishments carefully. Keep in mind that spanking can result in aggression in kids later on, and name-calling and excessive yelling may cause emotional issues. Even when he gets on your last nerve, try to keep your cool and talk with him about what he's doing wrong and why you want him to stop. Take a break from each other when things get heated and return to the issue when everyone has calmed down. Be consistent in your expectations and consequences.
Build His Life Skills
You used to change his every diaper and spoon-feed him every meal. As a mom, it's easy to fall into a pattern of doing it all for your children, even into their teen years — but that's not healthy for you or them. Just as you might do with a daughter, involve your son in cooking, cleaning, and a variety of household chores. Lacing life skills into his childhood will help lighten your load as a busy mom and set him up for independence after high school. (Bonus: His future spouse will thank you!)
Stay Involved in His Education
Boys are disproportionately affected by ADHD and retention in school. Early on, make sure to communicate regularly with his teacher, help him with homework, and address the disorganization problems many boys face. Getting your son more organized by his teen years will help him stay on track academically down the road.
Know When to Step In and When to Butt Out
As a mom, you manage a lot in your own life and your family's, so it's easy to get confused in your "Mama Bear" role and "fix" any problems or mistakes that arise. It's great that you want to protect your child, but try not to micromanage your son's life. If he gets a bad grade or has trouble with a teammate, talk with him about it first — don't pick up the phone to demand that his teacher change the grade or to report the problem to his coach. Pay attention to serious patterns — things like his grades dropping or his group of friends changing overnight — and talk with him about what's going on, what outcome he hopes for, and how you can support him. But remember that it's his life, and he'll learn a lot by rising to challenges himself.
Don't Make Him the Man of the House
There are moms who do it all for their sons, and then there are mothers who expect their sons to do it all. If you're a single mom or your husband is working all the time, don't get confused about your son's role in your life. Sure, he should know how to do his fair share of chores and take on some financial responsibility in his teens. But his primary focus should be on his schooling and social development as a kid. Even if he's a mature, capable young man, don't unload your marital woes or your home maintenance to-do list on your son. If you put the weight of the world on his shoulders, he could come to resent you.
Plan Time for Play and Exploration
Boys benefit tremendously from playtime and exploration. Recent studies have linked children's recess and playtime with better focus and performance in school. Boys of all ages need to move their bodies and enjoy some healthy competition every day. Even though you're busy, block out some regular time for backyard games on sunny days, basement games on rainy days, as well as some unstructured play. The research shows that even just 15 minutes of playtime can help your child focus better on schoolwork. Playtime is also a great opportunity to connect with your child or teen.
Be Smart About Sports
Encouraging athleticism and being your kids' #1 fan is awesome. But some parents take cheering on their son to a whole new level. Resist becoming so entrenched in your child's sport that it turns into "your thing" or lowers your expectations for his grades and academics. Even if you're the sport's booster club president, don't push your son into sticking with it if he is failing in school or has a strong desire to quit. There's something to be said for committing to a sport or hobby through a season or trial period, but forcing a child to do something he doesn't like or that causes him to suffer in school can backfire.
Don't Play Favorites
Moms often develop a natural closeness with a particular child in their family. If it turns into favoritism, it can quickly lead to sibling rivalry. All kids are sensitive to favoritism, regardless of their sex or the sex of their siblings. Even when they push your buttons, try to handle all your children with fairness and care. Don't compare your children's grades, weight, sports performance, or anything that can be measured: it can be bad for sibling relations, and can be even worse for the parent/child bond.
Remember Your Own Teen Years
The teen years can be frightening for any parent. Your son may start to pull away, becoming more independent, private, and defiant. He's starting to test the waters on his way to adulthood. This is a great time to tap into your memories of being a teen and try to be as understanding as possible. Think about what your own parents could have done better when you were a teen. Have the crucial discussions about drugs and alcohol and the birds and the bees with your son, but also give him space and offer him trust and room to grow. Work on communication during disagreements, and also keep in mind the challenges he faces as a modern teenager who's finding his way. Good luck!