I couldn’t believe what happened. As described to me, a 6’ plus, 250 pound plus, high school graduate male was hiding behind his 5’ mother’s skirt! If you let that image develop, I think you’ll share my mortification.
The story was that a young man had been charged a bank fee for his checking account, but he had understood it to be a free-checking account. Upset at the charge, he went to his family for help. So far…. I’d say things were on a healthy track. However, this is where the train jumped the rails.
His dad listened to his story and promptly punted to mom. He instructed his wife to go with their son to the bank, see what was going on, and work it out for him. This is where I say, “Big mistake!”
If he were an 8 year old, or a 10 year old, sure, have mom take him to the bank. In fact, even better if dad takes him, but…… not at 18! Why not? Because of the damage it delivers to his confidence and the weakened view of himself that results.
Boys need to interact with the physical world. That’s why they need to build forts from branches or old boards, dam streams, disassemble perfectly good bikes to make new versions of their own design, and wrestle, punch, and race each other. This push and shove against the elements, and even other living things, informs them who they are, that they matter, and that they make a difference…. thus football, bull riding, surfing, caving, and the like. Remove that interaction and you create uncertainty, low esteem, and you rob them of opportunities to build confidence.
I suggest that a better approach would have been for dad to give his son instructions and then allowed/encouraged him to test them (and himself) in the real world.
“Son, go to the bank. Talk to one of the tellers and explain your concerns, just as you did to me. Listen to what they say. If you still don’t feel the charges are appropriate, ask to see that person’s manager. Then, politely explain the situation to that person, just as you have to me. If still dissatisfied or unclear, ask for that person’s manager. Keep going until you get an answer that settles the matter or until you run out of people to present your case to. If any questions, or you don’t know what to do or say, you can call me and I’ll walk you through it. You can do it, and I’m proud of you for trying. I know it isn’t comfortable, but men tackle things that are uncomfortable. You are made for this. You’ll do fine.”
Hidden in the sample conversation above are three ways a father (or mother) can quickly build confidence in a boy.
1. Expect the boy to try it himself.
Expecting him to try it conveys the notion that you believe he CAN do it. That alone is a boost to his confidence. And who wants to let down the people who have confidence in them? So, not only does the expectation that they will handle a matter on their own convey confidence in them, it motivates them to fight against their own self-doubts in order to preserve your belief in them.
Actually, this works for children of much younger ages. Practice giving children ability-appropriate opportunities to tackle challenges and new experiences on their own. There is no reason an 8 year old can’t be responsible to keep the trash bin emptied and tidy, be responsible for their own room, or wash the car. I know 8 year olds who can drive skid loaders, a 10 year old who drives the farm truck around at hay-bailing time, and an 11 year old who works a team of 1000 pound mules! (no, I am not joking). Kids can do much more than we have come to expect them to …and it’s hurt their confidence when we rob them of the chance. That said….it isn’t a good idea to strap a youngster to a harnessed mule without good instructions and supervision….which is my next point.
2. Give Him specific steps to follow; also be present through his first attempts.
In the improved banking scenario above, the father explains the process of ‘appeal’ and gives examples as well. This is CRITICAL! If you send him on a mission without adequate instruction, you are sentencing him to failure. Failure at this stage means a LOSS of esteem, and can destroy his confidence. So, make sure he understands the process thoroughly before sending him out. Understanding the process (or tools) provides an initial confidence that experience will strengthen.
Follow up your instructions with your presence. This doesn’t necessarily mean your physical presence but access to you if needed. In the scenario above, the dad offered for the boy to call him if needed. On the other hand, driving a truck or plowing with mules requires a parent’s physical presence until the boy masters the equipment. Having dad available is different than having dad do the job. Better to supply instructions, remain available, and let them try. When he’s done his best, whether the result is a success or a disaster, encourage him with lavish praise for having tried his best.
3. Provide ample encouragement.
As I counsel men regularly, I hear a constant refrain from men whose dads belittled or ignored their boys. Nothing seems to tear down a boy like his father’s ranting and belittling in anger. On the other hand, the power of praise and encouragement from a father is perhaps the most powerful image-building fuel a boy can receive during his formative years.
In our scenario above, the dad sends his informed son to the bank with the added assurance, “You can do this. I know it isn’t easy, but you can do it, and I’m proud of you for trying.” Wow! A perfect confidence-charge if there ever were one!
Pats on the back, words of encouragement, affirmations, and expressions of confidence in a boy supercharge him for action—even actions that he may dread or fear. When combined with appropriate instruction and the assurance of your presence, it is a winning recipe.
Boys need challenges, but even more, they need to know they can overcome them.. An emotionally neutered male will withdraw from adult responsibilities and lean on others if not given real-world instruction, interactions, and your personal support.
Today, I see two things neutering our boys’ confidence in manhood. We introduced the first of these ways at the opening of this post, but I believe that video-gaming does it faster than a 5’ momma doing for a boy what he can and should be doing for himself. Of the two, personally, I’drather he step behind mom’s skirt than in front of a video screen.
So Dad, consider what are you doing to build your son’s confidence? And, what are you doing that may be damaging it? If any corrections are needed, act on them today.
NOTE: Mom’s are amazing! So many are going beyond amazing as they try to ‘fill in’ for absent or distracted fathers. The sentiments expressed in this post are in NO WAY disparaging of women or of mothers. In fact, the opposite is true – it is more like I’m shaking my finger in the faces of dads who are leaving it to Mom to deal with things that Dad ought to be taking the lead on. So, please understand, ladies; this one is about men who aren’t giving their kids the attention, instruction, encouragement, and supervision they’ll need to be strong and confident in life.