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Father teaching his son cycling at park.

Fathers Raising Sons

Over the past few years, I’ve done a number of presentations for parents and professionals about the importance of raising emotionally healthy boys. Overwhelmingly, the audiences that I have spoken to have been predominantly women, with very few men or fathers in attendance. While I think this is important information for everyone to hear, I want to cater this post specifically to fathers who are raising sons.

Fathers play a vital role in the social and emotional development of their children. To those of you raising sons, it is important to be aware that your behaviors, words, and interactions with them demonstrate what it means to be a man and a father. These are lessons that have lifelong implications.

There might be certain skills or knowledge that you knowingly want to pass on to your son. For example, you might want to make sure your son knows how to change a flat tire, cook and clean, or play a particular sport. However, purely through observing you, they are learning a great deal as well. They are learning when and how to express their feelings. They learn how to view and treat women, and the role that men play in relationships. They learn how to view themselves and whether they’re measuring up. They interpret what it means to be a “real man.”

We all want our kids to grow up being happy and healthy. Happiness for our sons includes being able to freely express emotions without negative consequence, participate in activities that they enjoy, and have close and meaningful relationships.

Dads, we want to send positive messages about manhood that will benefit our boys during childhood and as they grow into men. Below are a few tips to help promote healthy emotional and social development in your sons:

  • Be a role model. As a dad, you are their primary authority on what it means to be a man and a father. Your son is constantly observing the things you say and do, and he is putting together his own image of what a boy or man should be. Just as with the hands-on skills that you may want to pass down, you also want to be deliberate in teaching the intangibles as well. So, if you want to raise a son who is a kind, empathetic, and a responsible person and partner, you have to model these traits for him in your daily life and interactions.
  • Promote emotional expression. Typically, when our boys show emotion, we tell them to stop crying or “man up” rather than allowing them the freedom to express how they are feeling. Doing this can have long-term negative effects on your son’s development. He may grow up to have trouble knowing how to share his feelings and may use aggression to handle any uncomfortable emotions he experiences. Instead, you can send your son the message that it is OK for boys and men to feel sad, anxious, or afraid. As with any child, it’s important to provide them with the tools to cope with these feelings in a healthy way.
  • Let your son do what makes him happy. Have you ever stopped your son from playing with a toy because it was a “girl” toy? Or, maybe you kept him from participating in a sport or activity that you didn’t feel was appropriate. When these things happen, you may be keeping your son from doing the things that make him happy. We often try to force boys (and girls) into boxes and limit the things they can enjoy or participate in based on their gender. As dads, we should allow our boys the freedom to do the things that they enjoy, even if it doesn’t fit into our view of manhood. Playing with a doll will not damage your son but keeping him from doing something that truly makes him happy will have a negative impact on his development.

To further discuss this, I invite you to join us for the Dad Talks virtual discussion on Raising Sons scheduled for Thursday, March 18, where we will be answering these questions:

  • What messages am I sending my son about what it means to be a man and a father?
  • What do I believe to be the difference in raising sons vs. daughters?
  • What has been the most challenging thing about raising sons?

I look forward to seeing you there!

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About Z. Andrew Jatau, LPC

About Z. Andrew  Jatau, LPC

Z. Andrew Jatau is a Licensed Professional Counselor and content creator currently working at Hopscotch, a leading pediatric behavioral health company.  He is the founder and CEO of Mylemarks, a website dedicated to providing engaging social-emotional resources for children and adolescents.  Andrew has worked in a number of settings providing mental health services to youth and families, including a day treatment center, a university counseling center, and most recently, a private practice in Virginia Beach.  He previously served as a Fatherhood Consultant with CHKD, helping to organize and facilitate fatherhood programs in the Hampton Roads area.  Andrew resides in Aurora, CO with his wife and two daughters.