In How to Turn Boys into Men Without a Man Around the House, Richard Bromfield, PhD, says, “Your son's good moral judgment is based on his having a strong character and a great deal of trust in his own values. Children who are raised with discipline alone, but who are not taught and encouraged to act and judge for themselves, may well behave but may fail to morally thrive.” Character is far more than mere compliance.
Competence and Capability
As your son grows to manhood, he will face many temptations. Before he can make decisions with confidence, he must have the belief that he is capable; he must know that his decisions matter and that he himself has worth. You may remember that human beings need a sense of belonging and significance; this basic need is an essential building block of character.
One important way of teaching your son that he is capable and competent is to teach him life skills. Even the simplest tasks of everyday life are opportunities for your son to learn that he can care for himself and for others, that he can make a meaningful contribution to the life of his family, and that he can influence the world around him.
When you watch a movie or a television program, invite your son to tell you how he would have reacted or what he thinks should have happened. Ask “what” and “how” questions and listen to his answers. Inviting him to think for himself is an important way to teach values.
Teaching life skills may begin when your son is a toddler and you allow him to “help” you push the vacuum cleaner. As he gets taller and stronger, you can invite him to place napkins on the table, rinse lettuce for salads, or use a sponge to mop up spills. Notice that these tasks are not dreaded chores. They are opportunities to learn and to share the work of keeping a family running smoothly.
As your son grows, he can learn to cook nutritious meals, do his own laundry, mow the lawn, and change the oil in the car. Your attitude is key: If you approach these tasks as opportunities to teach skills and spend time working together, your son is less likely to be resistant. When the day comes that he leaves home, he will be able to take care of himself with confidence.
Teaching Character by Modeling
From the day your son was born, he has been watching you constantly for clues about how life should be lived. You may as well know from the beginning that the old saying “Do as I say and not as I do” will not work with your son. Like it or not, you are your son's most influential teacher, and your actions teach him his first lessons about character. He will be watching to see how you treat other people, how you behave in public places, and what things you value most.
Children are astonishingly perceptive, especially when it comes to adult hypocrisy. Your actions are a far more powerful teacher than your words; your son will assume that if you do it, so can he. Difficult as it may be, living your beliefs honestly is the best way to teach character.
You may fear that admitting mistakes or appearing less than perfect may damage your relationship with your son. In truth, when you can acknowledge your own errors and admit your failings, your son will be able (with time and practice) to do the same. The only way to teach character is to demonstrate it yourself.