Step 3: A Few Final Thoughts

Removing your roadblocks and learning how to listen effectively are the two most important things you can do to build a good relationship with your son. Research has consistently shown that when parents see and respond to their children’s emotional needs, their children thrive [1][2]  There are a few additional things that will also help you maintain a good relationship with your son:

Be willing to Apologize

None of us will get through this life without needing to apologize to our children. Messing up as a parent is a given. Apologies are best when they are stand alone and do not include explanations, justifications or rationalizations. Here’s my favorite apology format:

I’m sorry for…

That was wrong because…

In the future I will…

Will you forgive me?

Have Fun

There is some evidence to suggest that the best predictor of family relationships later in life is how much fun they have together. The good really can outweigh the bad. Build fun into your family’s life. [3] I would also add, let your children guide the fun. It’s frustrating to plan an expensive activity for your child and then find out that the two of you have different ideas of fun. Sometimes a simple game of tag with mom or dad is as good, or better, than a trip to Disney Land.

Set Boundaries and stick to them

Children are designed to explore and try new things. They are designed to test their limits. This is how they learn. Children also rely on their parents provide boundaries that keep them safe. Your children will be most comfortable in an environment with clear boundaries and freedom to make their own choices within those boundaries.[4]

For example, when I was very young, my parents set some boundaries about what I could wear. I was allowed to wear whatever I wanted as long as it was appropriate for the weather. I challenged my mother on this often. One of my favorite stories was a bright cold, January morning when I came downstairs wearing my swimming suit and announced I was going to my friend’s house. She refused to let me out of the house until I was dressed appropriately for the freezing temperatures. I cried and complained and eventually went upstairs to change. I came back down wearing a sweat suit with my swimming suit over the top. Even though I looked ridiculous, she let me leave.

Evolve

Clearly, as children grow, their boundaries need to grow with them. Telling a 15 year old that they aren’t allowed to cross the street without holding your hand would be ridiculous in most cases. Knowing when to expand your boundaries can be challenging.

My favorite rule of thumb is when a child stops complaining about a rule and starts obeying by choice, they are ready for some more freedom. When my son stops complaining about having a bedtime and starts going to bed whenever he feels tired, then he probably won’t need a rigid bedtime anymore.

Occasionally you will make a mistake and discover you’ve make your boundaries too loose, or too rigid. If that happens, don’t be afraid to be flexible and adapt.

Encourage and Believe

Having dreams and reaching for the stars matters. Many parents, myself included, fall in the category of “dream killers.” We don’t do it intentionally. In fact, we usually think we’re being helpful; but the wrong kind of help, kills dreams.[5]

When my 7 year old son told me he was ready to join the major leagues in baseball, I was quick to “encourage” him by telling him the statistical likelihood of that ever happening and how much work he would have to do to get there. What I said was true, but I also saw in that moment, he stopped reaching. Most of his dreams now come with a qualifier, “This is what I really want to do, but I know that it’s not very realistic, so…”

One of my personal strategies in life is to prepare for the worst case scenario. If I know I can handle the worst case scenario, then I don’t worry. If I don’t make the high school volleyball team, I will go out for track. If they don’t accept our offer on this house, we’ll make an offer on that house. You get the idea, right? I’ve found, however, this strategy only works within the walls of my own head. It feels very different when someone tries to do it for me. Rather than being helpful, it feels like they don’t believe I can do it.

What I could have said to my son is something like, “Well, I hope you’ll stick around here for a few more years before you run off and join the MLB because I’m not ready to let you go yet!” You don’t have to lie, but let your children reach and dream and try. Reality will make itself apparent without your help.

Return Responsibility

I’ve said this before and I’m sure I will say again. Don’t give into the temptation to solve your son’s problems. It’s hard to watch him struggle. It’s uncomfortable because it tears at your heart. It physically hurts; but there is a lot of learning that happens within that struggle. If you take that away, you take away opportunities for him to grow.

Let him own his problems. Ask him questions; help him think through the situation; be a sounding board while he brainstorms steps to take; comfort him. Walk with him and be involved, but don’t do it for him.

This year one of my sons REALLY wanted to have field day at his school. It’s one of his favorite days of the year, but his school had some problems last year and cancelled it. My son was disappointed. I explained that if he wanted field day, he was going to have to convince his school to have it. And do you know what? He did!

He started by asking the teacher in charge of his team if she would run it. She said no. Next he organized a committee of six classmates: 3 boys and 3 girls. The committee organized a schedule, activities and refreshments. They put together a Powerpoint presentation and presented it to the principal who was impressed by his committee (of 12 year olds). She said if they could convince their teachers to use their plan, they could have field day. The committee presented to their teachers and, with a detailed plan already in place, the teachers agreed to have field day.

“The best solution to any problem lies within the skin of the person who rightfully owns the problem.” [4]

Photo: Pixabay