How to help your son be his authentic self
Last weekend I watched Space Jam: A New Legacy with my sons. And although the movie has its flaws, I loved it for one thing – its central message of ‘do you’. That being a good parent is about nurturing each child’s individuality and letting them explore their fully authentic selves.
But away from LeBron James and the big screen, what does authenticity really mean and why is it important to cultivate in your son?
The dictionary definition of authenticity is ‘the quality of being genuine or real’. Ultimately, authenticity means knowing, acting and being comfortable with your true self. And not feeling the need to wear a ‘mask’ that prevents others from seeing who you really are.
When kids act authentically, they experience increased happiness, improved self-esteem, and more connected relationships. Authenticity may also promote healthy behaviours, such as help-seeking or providing support to others.
In a nutshell, authenticity is awesome.
Here are 4 ways to encourage your son to be his true, authentic self.
1. Allow him to explore and express his opinions
The pressure of other people’s opinions can be the enemy of authenticity. Help your son practise expressing his own opinions by creating a safe space for him to do so at home. Start by simply giving him choices about small things, such as what veggies he has for dinner, and respecting those choices. Be open to his opinions and don’t shut him down by telling him he’s wrong – even if you don’t agree with him. Ask questions about why he thinks a certain way. Responding to his opinions with curiosity will mean he’s more likely to share them with you again.
2. Emphasise and value your son’s differences
Differences make people special. Explain to your son that the world would be a dull place if we all looked, acted and loved in the same way. Celebrate and praise what makes him different, whether that’s his off-the-wall fashion sense, his crazy curly hair or his current obsession with Greek mythology. Never make negative comments about your kid’s quirks and differences. Instead, be his biggest fan and teach him to fall in love with all the things that make him who he is.
3. Encourage him to express himself verbally
Peer pressure and unhealthy male stereotypes that portray men as unemotional and non-nurturing can make boys feel that expressing their vulnerabilities and worries is unsafe and ‘unmanly’. Encourage a positive sense of masculinity by allowing your son space to express himself, and appreciate him when he does. Make the connection between vulnerability and courage and tell him that speaking about his feelings means he’s brave and strong.
4. Live authentically yourself
Kids learn from the people around them, so the best way to encourage authenticity is to model it. Celebrate your differences. Be transparent about your feelings, fears and worries. Seek help openly – whether that’s asking your partner to help you with chores when you’re overwhelmed, or seeing a psychologist or counsellor when you’re struggling with anxiety. Act according to your own desires and nature. Sing loudly in the shower. Wear the outfit that makes you feel great and stand out in a crowd. Set your gardening geek free. Your ‘you-ness’ won’t be like anyone else’s and that’s perfect. Your son will recognise your self-acceptance and follow suit.
Following from a successful +M webinar in 2021, our friends at the Foundation for Positive Masculinity are hosting an International Conference on 1 September 2023 for educators, men’s health practitioners, teachers and leaders who are ready to help boys improve their life outcomes. Learn more about the upcoming conference.
Bec Cavalôt is a Melbourne-based writer, and mum of two beautiful, boisterous boys. You can find her at www.cavalotcopy.com. This article is about Positive Masculinity
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