Just like every school year, a new set of challenges is presented before him.  With these challenges comes both stress and excitement.  Do you remember your first day of class?  Maybe you were like me and unable to sleep.  The first day is usually fun, with everyone running on adrenaline from seeing good friends after a long summer break.  The second day, however, my lack of sleep caught up to me and I was exhausted.  Depending on your son’s age, he will be experiencing new teachers, classmates, girls, sports, homework, and most of all, pressure.

The pressure will come from all of these new experiences, including his home life.  Sometimes the re-addition of school responsibilities to home responsibilities can take some getting used to.  If your son had certain chores during summer, like mowing the lawn, washing the car, or cleaning the house, he now has to juggle those chores with sports practice, homework, and social time with his friends.  Stress and anxiety can build up internally until he releases it on someone.

With a little patience and understanding, you can create a better relationship with your son while he’s in school.

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Here are 4 Tips for Father-Son Bonding During the School Year

1. Remember when you were your son’s age.

Regardless of how old your son is, remember that you were once that age.  Because life is stressful and busy, I know it is hard to even remember what you did last week, but there was a time when you were younger and having a lot of the same experiences your son is having now.  All of the homework, projects, and presentations probably seem like small potatoes compared to what you do in your career now.  Try to remember how overwhelming those things could be when you were young, and remember that your son is feeling overwhelmed at times.  Maybe you had it more difficult than your son has it now, but remember your son has difficult things in his life as well.  He doesn’t only have academic pressures, but also social pressures that can build up and create stress for him.

2. Keep open lines of communication.

Sometimes just getting a conversation started with your son is the hardest part of communication.  Teenage boys, with their tendency to be withdrawn around their parents, often seem to be unwilling to talk about their lives, and usually give the shortest answer possible.  Try to focus on asking questions that require an actual answer instead of yes or no responses.  For instance, instead of asking “Did you have a good day?”, ask something more along the lines of “what did you guys do in football/lacrosse/soccer practice?”  If your son manages to give a one-word answer like “Fine” or “Nothing”, try again.  Don’t be deterred by a couple minutes of reluctance before he gives you a real answer.  Also, I know men get a bad rap for not being good listeners, but it’s something easy to do that will help to build your relationship with your son.  If your son comes to you and wants to talk, put him first.  Work, projects, and chores can be put on hold for a minute to listen to concerns which took a lot of courage to express.

3. Be Strategic – Schedule out events.

Iphone, Droid or Google calendars can be helpful for work, but you can also use them to schedule events with your son. Even if it’s just an hour or two that you both set aside to do something together, put it down in writing (or rather, text).  For the first few events, pick something that you know your son will enjoy so that he doesn’t feel like he’s just tagging along to his dad’s favorite activity.  Make it something your son (and you, hopefully) will want to do.  After you hang out, try to immediately make a plan for your next activity.  Whether it’s the next day or two weeks from then, set it in stone and stick to it.  Consistency on your part will show your son that you’re serious about spending time with him, and encourage him to be serious about it too.

4. Spend time dreaming with your son about his future.

Depending on your son’s age he could be getting stressed about his future, and might not know how to answer when people ask about what he’s going to do after high school.  In addition to just hanging out with your son, make an effort to spend time sitting and dreaming with him.  For younger sons, the conversation can involve encouraging him that he can be whatever he wants in life, and asking him what his dreams are for when he grows up.  If you have an older son, you can help set realistic goals about college admission, jobs, or internships which might get him started on the right path.  Find out what his interests and talents are, and help him visualize his future by suggesting different careers paths.

At the end of the day, your son is still growing and learning who he is as a person.  As his father, you play an important part in who he becomes and how confident he is in himself.  New research from PSU shows that teens who spend time with their father have better social skills and higher self-esteem.  With these tips, you can continue a relationship which has more trust, honesty, that will impact your son for the rest of his life.  Your time is valuable and spending it with your son will be a wise investment.

Authors: Matthew Martin, M.S., Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern IMH#10418 | Bailey Scott, B.A., Intern