One main way that we learn is by observing those around us. Alfred Bandura, renowned psychologist and Social Cognitive Learning theorist, cemented this reality into modern education and mental health training. He put forward the idea that our behavior could be determined by our environment and what we observe happening around us—for good and for bad. With this simple understanding, I have helped children with behavioral and emotional challenges by working with their parents first--particularly fathers.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. -Ephesians 6:1-4
Bandura observed that a critical component to your son’s growth and understanding is not simply words or commands, but by observing and following in the footsteps of you as you walk ahead of him. I have found this truth to be difficult for many fathers because it places a lot of responsibility back on them. Instead of just being frustrated with their children, they have to observe and adjust their own behavior, words, reactions, and character deficits. Before you implement these ideas, read and work through my other post about Christian character (here), as it will help you lay a strong foundation for personal change. Here are three ways that you, as a father, can model well-being for your son:
1. Improve Yourself
Easy enough, huh? A father who has frequent outbursts of anger could likely teach his observing son that anger is acceptable and to be expected or that he is to fear his father; a father who is consistently absent due to work could likely teach his son that he is less important than work or material things; a father who is moody and unpredictable could likely teach his son that feelings are preeminent, cannot be controlled, and are to direct his decisions and commitments. A father who improves himself, improves his family. Fathers, know your weak areas and work to strengthen them. Get help if you struggle with aggression, excessive substance use, escapism into video games/cars/sports/man cave. When your son sees you improving and engaged, he will see what is possible and what will be expected of himself in just a few years.
2. Get a Mentor “Be imitators of me [Paul], as I am of Christ.” -1 Corinthians 11:1
As men, we need other men to help us. It is important to have peers and to know that we are not alone in the pressures that we face. It is also important for us to be connected with a man who is farther ahead than we are and walking in wisdom, victory, and maturity. Fathers, take the step to initiate this sort of connection in your life with someone who qualifies. Does he love his wife and children well? What about his character? Has he shown evidence of growth in truth and grace? Ask yourself what type of man you wish to be in 20-30 years, and seek him out now. This man could be your own father, someone in the congregation, or the pastor. Get someone to help you as you seek to help your family and your son. Weekly/monthly encouragement, coffee, golf, book studies, whatever. Always remain teachable and learn from someone who has been here longer—and has done it very well!
3. Speak Life, not Death “Death and Life are in the power of the tongue.” Proverbs 18:21a
Your son hears a lot of messages. As boys continue to fall behind by almost every measure (click here for an excellent book about the subject), they will increasingly be told that there is something wrong with them. They will likely hear that they are hyper-active and need medication; that they are disruptive because they can’t sit still for 6+ hours; or that they are predatory and a potential threat because they engage in physical play or want to shoot play guns. Your son needs to hear words of affirmation—about the boy he is and the man he can become with Christ’s help. Let your words and actions stand for truth AND grace. Investigate the life and words of Jesus Christ and discover that he did not seek to humiliate or degrade anyone. He sought to cover them while calling them to higher standards and obedience. Your son will best be served when you learn this lesson for yourself and others. Sit with your son and memorize a verse that is just for him. Proverbs is a great place to start.
Fathers, you are desperately needed in your families, and your well-being produces and promotes their well-being.
-Bradford Coleman, LPC