In a previous column, I wrote about four essential tools for rearing boys: Work them, feed them, run them and discipline them. In this column, I will address the other four tools.
5. Talk and listen to them.
We’ve all had a conversation with our son that goes something like this:
Parent: How was your day at school?
Parent: What did you learn?
Son: I don't remember.
Parent: What was your favorite part?
End of conversation.
Most parents want to have an ongoing dialogue with their sons, but how do they crack through that?
Studies show that parents talk to their infant daughters more than their infant sons. But boys are capable of great emotional intelligence and verbal skills. It just may not happen in the way we imagine. Your son may not give a 30-minute play-by-play of his day. Instead, he might give a 30-minute play-by-play of his latest Minecraft creation.
What I’ve noticed with my boys is most of their dialogue revolves around an exchange of information. They come to me with a joke, an interesting fact about the core of the Earth or their favorite scene in “The Lord of the Rings.” It may not be as interesting to me as hearing about their day, but it’s important to them. When boys are ready to talk, parents need to give their full attention.
In my opinion, the best parenting book on communication is the old standard, “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. The authors’ first and most important piece of advice is to affirm a child’s feelings.
Your son walks into the room, throws his shoes off and yells, “I’m so angry!” As parents, our first reaction is to scold, deny or correct. “Calm down!” we say. “Don’t yell.”
However, what boys need is an affirmation of their feelings. So instead, you say, “Boy, I can tell you’re really upset.” This type of affirmation expands a boy’s emotional vocabulary and allows him to work through his problems without reprimand.
Another piece of advice I got from a wise mother of teenage boys was to sit by my son’s bed each night and just wait. Before long, he will start to open up and share things he might not have done earlier in the day.
Boys will talk on their terms and in their way. Parents need to listen with full attention and not lecture or scold.
6. Make them laugh.
I heard a speaker once say when we use humor, we open the door to teaching. I have found it to be the case with boys. If I can laugh at a situation or smile instead of scold, I earn the respect of my boys. Kids love to laugh. They love a good joke, and they love to see their parents do silly things. Humor can diffuse a tense situation faster than most other tactics.
As a family, it’s important to carve out time to laugh and have fun. This doesn’t require special equipment or tickets to Disneyland. Put a few tricks up your sleeve on April Fools' Day. Turn on music and have a dance party. Watch an old, funny movie. There are some great kid-friendly comedy options, like BYUtv’s "Studio C" or stand-up comedians Brian Regan and Jim Gaffigan. Sharing those humorous moments as a family can give you something to draw upon during more difficult times.
Bringing good humor into the home also allows for teaching moments. Parents should teach when and where humor is appropriate. It doesn’t have to include potty talk or be sarcastic, and it should never be done at the expense of others.
7. Teach them.
We need to stop outsourcing our teaching to programs, or assuming that all the teaching will be done in school, church and online. You are your child’s first and last teacher. So teach your sons. Learning in the home doesn’t stop when grade school begins. Teach them languages and literature, history and etiquette. Read out loud with them, even into their teens, and discuss world events.
Teach them life skills — how to do laundry and cook a decent meal, iron their church shirt and replace a lightbulb. Teach them about finances and how to throw a baseball.
Teach them to love God and honor him, to serve others, to respect women and their elders. Boys need to be taught to say please and thank you, to look adults in the eye when greeting them and to carry on a conversation. They need to be taught dress and grooming skills.
Temple Grandin, the famed autistic author of “Seeing in Pictures,” attributes her success to two things: Her mother taught her how to work, and she taught her good manners.
Society will teach our boys none of these things. This needs to happen in the home.
8. Love them.
Boys need physical affection. They need hugs and words of affirmation, especially as they enter those awkward adolescent years when they are at their gruffest and most prickly. They need to know they are loved and valued for who they are. They need this from their fathers as well as their mothers.
They need the attention and care of people who love them, as well as good mentors, whether that comes through a sports coach, a church leader or an extended family member. Love comes in many forms. Show love through trusting your boys with responsibility and work. Praise them for their efforts. If you believe in your boys, they will believe in themselves.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is a start. Society needs better boys who are armed with the tools and the skills to be good men and fathers.
Years ago, I was traveling through the airport with my four boys in tow. I was used to receiving comments about my all-male offspring, usually along the lines of, "Oh my, you must have your hands full!"
This time, however, an Asian woman stopped me near the gate and held my arm.
“Four sons!” she said. “You are a very lucky woman.”
I looked at my boys, who were licking the window panes and rolling on the floor like puppies. Clearly we had a long way to go, but I saw my boys through new eyes.
“You’re right,” I said. “I am a very lucky woman.”
Tiffany Gee Lewis runs the newly launched site Raise the Boys (raisetheboys.com), dedicated to rearing creative, kind, courageous and competent boys. Follow it on Instagram and Twitter at raisetheboys. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.