10 Ways That Parents Can Help Their Sons

By Georgia Orcutt

Mom & Son1 Let his imagination soar.
"If you are going to be the parent of a boy, you have to learn to trust his childhood fantasies and stories and those of his friends, even if they are not to your taste," advises psychologist Michael Thompson.

2 Moms: tune out!
"Boys talk about who’s boss and who’s not, who’s best and what matters most, relentlessly and competitively, whether the topic is athletes, action figures, video games, or the members of their own boy pack. … Mothers often perceive [it] as ‘bad’ or immature and reflexively attempt to interrupt it, stop it, or steer the conversation in a different direction," says Thompson, who adds that this aggressive talk simply helps boys establish an all-important hierarchy.

3 Promote spontaneous play.
"Do everything in your power to allow boys to play with other boys in as free and unstructured a way as you possibly can," Thompson urges. "Help to create a safe neighborhood, talk to other parents about the need of boys to play, and give your support to any activities that will give boys time just to be together."

4 Don’t try to toughen up little boys.
"I do object to fathers who believe that little boys, who are acutely sensitive to their father’s opinion of them, need to be toughened up with harsh discipline or tough lessons," Thompson notes. " Life will toughen up all boys. … If a father tries to toughen up a preschooler, either by frightening him or humiliating him, the fear of the father that results may last for a long time."

5 Look closely at preschools.
Experts on boys’ needs are not opposed to preschool for boys, just the trend toward more academics in early education, which they believe does more harm than good for boys. "Before you enroll, visit the school," recommends education journalist Peg Tyre. "Put your anxieties about college acceptance aside, and make sure the curriculum is play-based and not too academic."

6 Dads, open those books!
"Dads need to take the lead in bedtime stories, reading out loud to their children from the newspaper or off the Web," Tyre advises. "As boys get older, fathers or uncles need to engage them in discussions about the kinds of things that adults read – and to gradually initiate boys into the world of literate men."

7 Find reading material to match his interest.
"Moms, don’t do what I did and hand your son a book that you loved from your girlhood and expect him to have the same reaction to it that you did,” writes Tyre. “Comic books, newspapers, sports biographies, and graphic novels are all good. Look for irreverent, funny, exciting, scary books. And yes, sometimes bloody ones."

8 Lobby for recess.
"At your son’s school, recess should not be optional. Nor should it be given as a reward or taken away as a punishment," insists Tyre. "There is a strong connection between recess and the well-being and academic achievement of all children but especially of young boys."

9 Demonstrate confidence in your son.
"When we panic about the fact that they aren’t reading in kindergarten, it demoralizes them; when they sense that we do not have faith in their development, it undermines them. They need us to see the promise in them; they need us to be excited about them as boys," writes Michael Thompson.

10 Find places where men teach boys.
"If you belong to a church or synagogue, talk with your pastor or priest or rabbi about arranging an all-male retreat. … Contact your local chapter of the Boy Scouts … or get your son involved in year-round competitive sports. Or sign him up for activities with the Izaak Walton League or other outdoor nature conservancy organizations that have programs targeted at getting young people involved with the outdoors," advises Leonard Sax.

Updated August 2012