10 Things I Want to Teach My Son This Year

k hurley
Image via Katie Hurley

My son takes my breath away. I'm sure every mom of a little boy says that at some point, but I have felt this way since his giant sapphire eyes first met my weathered green eyes in the hospital six years ago. He truly takes me breath away.

He's sensitive and caring, empathic and understanding. He's playful, silly, a bit of a joker at times, and curious about everything. He's one million beautiful adjectives all wrapped up in one, and then some. And he takes my breath away.

But sometimes, he feels different from other boys his age. He doesn't enjoy the rough and tumble play the way some kids do, but he is athletic and strong. He senses the needs of others and will leave his favorite game behind to help a classmate struggling to fit in. Sometimes he wants to run, kick, and throw a football, but other days, he wants to slow down and enjoy a puzzle. He knows his limits, and he stops when his body tells him to stop.

Lately, I've noticed a shift. I've seen him fighting back tears when he needs to cry or holding his feelings in when he needs to let them out. I see the effects of school, other kids, and life outside the safety of home.

I want to wrap him up and hold him tight and whisper that it's OK to be sensitive (and often I do), but I also need to help him find his way so that he can feel confident and calm when he's not with me. It's up to me to help him find his way in the world. As much as I want to keep him all to myself, I have to teach him how to fly.

Individuation is a long process. It certainly doesn't happen in a day, a month, or even a year, but I can start with these ten life lessons that will help him for years to come.

Image via Flickr/ GabrielaP93

You can be strong AND sensitive

Boys are often socialized to be strong in the face of adversity. They are told to get back up, dust themselves off, and move on. But sometimes, life is hard. Sometimes people aren't nice. And sometimes it really hurts when you fall (literally and metaphorically).

It's possible to be both strong and sensitive. You don't have to choose one or the other. There's no rule in place that says that you have to leave your emotional side behind to be a big strong boy. In fact, it's the sensitive people in this world that tend to make the biggest difference.

Image via Flickr/ Runar Pederson Holkestad

It's OK to cry


I will never understand why people tell kids not to cry. Crying is a release of emotions. It's an expression of pent-up sadness, frustration, or countless other feelings. It's a healthy way to express those feelings (much healthier than, say, screaming).

When he fights back tears, I take him aside, wrap him up in my arms, and whisper that he needs to let it go. Tears heal, and boys do cry.

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kids sports and activities 4
Image via Flickr/ Keoni Cabral

Winning is fun, but sportsmanship is important

I was genuinely shocked by some of the behavior I saw on the soccer field this fall. Five- and six-year-old boys were trash talking and pushing. In AYSO soccer. And while the coaches did their best to correct the behavior, I have to wonder why such behavior even made it that far.

It's fun to win games. I know that high of the perfect goal or the win at the buzzer — there's nothing like it. It's an exciting experience, even when you're 5. But good character is important, on and off the field, and that needs to start early.

k hurley
Image via Katie Hurley

“No” is always “no”

My kids aren't limit pushers by nature. Every once in a while, they test our boundaries as they learn to assert their needs and personalities, but they are generally good listeners and understand the meaning of “no.”

But sometimes they get carried away with their play, and “no” loses its meaning. I stopped them in the middle of the sidewalk just a few weeks ago for a quick refresher on “no.” “No” means “No, I don't want to be tickled.” “No” means “No, I don't want my arm pulled or my hair touched.” “No” means “Don't run across the busy street,” but it also means “No, I don't want to be touched right now.” There is no room for negotiation when “no” is the answer. With adults, kids of all ages, and even big sisters, “no” always means “no.”

Also, if he says “no,” people need to listen.

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Image via iStock

Your opinions are important

Because my son has a tendency to be quiet, he often gets bossed around in large groups. I see him trying to assert his opinions here and there, but when big kids are involved, he always defers to the oldest.

We all have opinions, thoughts, and feelings, and all of them are important. If I have any hope of raising a kid who isn't afraid to walk away from the pack, I have to build his assertiveness skills now. I have to empower him to share his thoughts and opinions in a calm and assertive manner so that he can make good decisions along the way.


happy little boy hugging her mother; closeup
Image via iStock

No good comes from stuffing your feelings

People don't think to teach kids skills to cope with their feelings until those feelings become a problem (as in explosive behavior). When kids (or adults, for that matter) stuff their feelings, their feelings come back to haunt them. Those feelings can come back in the form of a meltdown, explosive anger, or a fight. Feelings always come out in the end.

It's better to share those feelings with a trusted source. Work through the negative to return to the positive.

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Image via iStock

Always hold the door

Manners are important in this world. Always hold the door (even if big sister can hold it herself, thank you very much), help someone carry a heavy load, pick up something dropped by another, say “hello” and “goodbye” with a smile, and remember “please” and “thank you.”

Small acts of politeness and kindness make a big difference in this world. Be the person who always holds the door.

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Image via Flickr/ JustyCinMD

Creativity matters

Team sports are everywhere. Once upon a time, you had to be a certain age before you joined a team, but these days, team play begins as young as preschool, and creativity suffers because of it.

My son is a musical and artsy little being. He can pick out a tune on the piano and draw a beautiful bald eagle without looking at a picture. We always make time for creativity in our home, and we will continue to discuss the importance of tapping into that creative side, even during soccer season.

parent child holding hands
Image via iStock

When in doubt, choose kindness

I choose to look for the good in people and seek out the things that bring us the greatest happiness as a family. Sure, we all have to face adversity, and we need to learn to cope with failure, loss, and disappointment. There are unkind people in this world. There are people who choose to see the negative and seem to love a good fight.

Choose kindness. You won't befriend every person you encounter, and you won't always be right, but you can be kind. No matter the circumstances, you can always find a way to choose kindness.

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mindi stavish
Image via Mindi Stavish

Know when to walk away

My dad taught me an important lesson early in life: There's a time to fight for something, and there's a time to walk away. It's important to know when to walk away.

It can be hard to close the door on something that feels important (be it a friendship or a job), but walking away from something that isn't working sets you on a path toward finding something that will work. That's not giving up; that's making healthy choices.

Never be afraid to walk away.

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10 Things I Want to Teach My Son This Year

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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