*Quentin, three-and-a-half, was happily darting around the playground, like usual, when out of nowhere another little boy kicked him in the shins. Quentin looked stunned, like he couldn't believe what had just happened. But he didn't kick back. First, he cried for a few minutes -- not unusual for a small child. But then he collected himself and walked right up to the boy and said calmly but with emotion. "I do not like what you did. I would not kick you -- you should never kick, and that's the truth!"
We have a lot to learn from him Quentin. He's one example of a stable, independent, caring boy. But it's possible for all parents to raise morally-grounded boys.
Parents, instilling morals and values come from one place and that is YOU.
1. Let him be him.
Accept your child for who he is, rather than trying to mold him into your vision of who you think he should be. By allowing your child his own space to move beyond you and establish his own sense of identity, you open him up to a world of possibilities and give him the chance to live up to his potential. Expand -- rather than constrict -- your child's life by not imposing your own fears or limitations on him.
When I was a new, inexperienced mother I sent my small son, to a preschool in which ALL the two-year-olds were expected to shake hands with the woman who ran school as they arrived. My son refused to shake hands although occasionally he would try to slip her a "high five." Rather than question the demands the school was placing on its preschoolers -- or let my son be himself -- I initially assumed I had done something wrong.
2. Encourage independence...
Do this by letting your child do whatever he can by himself, from sounding out letters to pouring a cup of juice to carrying his dishes to the sink. Help facilitate the process for your boy, but don't do the task for him. One mom I met made clean up easier for her three boys by storing little dustpans and brooms under each sink including their play area.
Encourage responsibility by having your child set -- and then live up to -- his own goals and expectations. Through this, he will consciously examine and develop his own morals and values.
3. ...but make him feel like a part of the team.
Instill responsibility and moral strength in your boy by making him an active and engaged member of the household. Expect him to do his share of the chores and other age-appropriate duties. By the time he was 6, Quentin was already earning his allowance by pulling sheets off the bed, helping with the laundry, setting the table, bagging the paper for recycling, and washing the salad for dinner. His mom said, "We told him, everybody works in this family. Nobody gets to sit and be waited on." And, in fact, Quentin liked having jobs that were his. Give your boy the ability to feel like he has a role, and is an important part of the team.
4. Enforce boundaries.
Parents whose style can be described as both involved and considered raise reflective, conscious, centered boys with a sense of identity and moral fiber. That means enforcing firm limits and sticking to clear boundaries, but without harshness. Let him know what's right -- and what's not -- when it comes to the treatment of other family members, their friends, and strangers. Help him negotiate family decisions while expressing a broad range of feelings. Do this by talking to, and with, your boy using emotional and empathic language, and discussing morality as it relates to broader social situations. One parent told their kids, "you are my emissaries," keeping them in line by making it clear they represented not just themselves, but their Mom as well, out in the world.
In my observations, boys of parents who encourage high standards and moral courage have an easier time thinking independently and standing up for what they believe in. And that can be as simple as being brave yourself: After all, you are the best role model for your son.
5. Make a commitment to non-sexist parenting.
We've been raised in a society where mother-son closeness is approached with suspicion. But I learned that a mother's ability to connect with her son -- including letting him know how she was feeling, acknowledging her own mistakes, and treating his feelings with respect -- helps him extend that sense of connection and closeness to others. In the case of boys, the son may grow up with great respect and openness, and to be the sort of openhearted man women are purported to want to marry.
Eight-year-old Mac was extremely close to his best friend, Alec. After playing rough and tough out in the backyard, they'd come inside and read a book side by side and just talk. When Alec transferred to another school, Mac said he was lonely. Mac's mother took her son's sadness seriously, and encouraged him to express his feelings. She gave him the gift of caring and insight; in turn, he gave that back more easily to the people in his family and his schoolmates.
*All names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals discussed.