Your son will automatically grow up to become a man. But will he become a good man – a man of character?

As his mom, you have a crucial role to play in helping your son become the type of man God wants him to be. Don’t underestimate your influence just because you’re the opposite gender; you hold his future in your hands. The way you raise him will likely determine whether or not he can fulfill God’s purpose for his life.

Here’s how you can help your boy grow up to become a man of character:

Understand gender differences. Realize that, at their very core, males are different from females. You can’t expect them to think and feel the way you did as a girl or do now as a woman. Rather than trying to force your son to act like a girl, learn all you can about how God has wired him to act distinctly as a boy. Ask God to give you the wisdom you need to understand and relate well to your son, even though you’re the opposite gender.

Recognize a male’s four core needs. Know that every boy and man needs a sense of significance in his life. Your son needs to know that his life is a great adventure that means something. Realize that your son also needs other men to be actively involved in his life as role models, mentors, and friends. Understand that he needs a cause to fight for – something noble and bigger than himself. Be aware that your son craves respect and admiration from you and other people. Keep these four core needs in mind constantly as you work to give your son the best in life.

Don’t keep your son tied to your apron strings. Understand that boys need to break away from their moms at various stages of life so they can develop a healthy masculinity. Don’t take it personally when your son distances himself from you. Refuse to be overprotective. Allow – and even encourage – him to take healthy risks to grow more mature. Don’t try to solve your son’s problems or shield him from the natural consequences of his mistakes. Instead, help him learn from his failures (which is a vital part of achieving true success in life). Urge him to dream big dreams, and support him as he pursues them.

Learn how to communicate well with your son. There may be days when you wonder if you're really getting through to your son when it comes to even the simplest daily tasks. You find yourself repeating everything to the point of exasperation. When this happens, modify your communiction style.

Be direct, since your son will understand you the most clearly when you’re frank and even a bit tough when speaking to him. Don’t expect him to understand indirect or subtle statements as females might. Instead, say what you mean, and mean what you say.

Understand that your son is wired to respond to visual stimulation, so remove distractions from his line of vision when you’re talking to him. Touch him gently on his elbow or shoulder to get his attention. Avoid lengthy lectures; speak succinctly in brief sound bites, keeping your comments short and to the point so he can successfully process them. Ask him to repeat what you said and ask for clarification of any points he doesn’t understand.

For lengthier, more in-depth conversations, tell a story to illustrate your point. Respect the confidentiality of information he shares with you. Understand that he’ll be more open to what you have to say if you talk with him in the context of a physical activity he enjoys (such as hiking in the woods or playing a sport together). These activities open up great opportunities to discuss important issues with him while you're spending time together.

Encourage your son to take responsibility of issues by presenting them to him in the format of problems and asking him to help you come up with solutions. Whenever possible, allow your son to end conversations with his input. Give him the respect and admiration he craves by letting him know how proud you are of him. Understand that he’ll be motivated and empowered to act on your suggestions when he feels needed.

Discipline your son wisely. Pick your battles; focus on defending the values that are most important to you, and let small issues slide. Give your son plenty of structure and supervision.

Clearly communicate your rules and expectations, and establish concrete consequences for when he doesn’t follow them. Don’t just threaten consequences; enforce them. Be consistent, and don’t back down when he challenges your authority. Focus more time and attention on reinforcing desired behaviors than on punishing undesired behaviors.

Encourage your son to be accountable to people like teachers and coaches who will push him to do his best in all he undertakes. Know what your son is doing and whom he is with at all times. Teach him to discover the emotions underneath his anger and to express anger in healthy ways. Require him to help out with chores regularly and show him the benefits of a strong work ethic as you let him know you value his contributions.

Instill key character traits into your son. Realize that boys have a way of becoming what they’re encouraged to be. Think and pray about specific character traits you’d like your son to develop, then tell him what those are.

Intentionally work to help him build those traits. Point them out in others so he can see them in action. Include such important qualities as: perseverance (encourage him not to quit in the face of adversity and help him understand the rewards that await him if he finishes what he starts), loyalty (model loyalty by letting him know – through your sincere words and actions – they he can count on you to stand by him, no matter what), manners (teach him to show respect for others, regardless of their status or attitude), courage (urge him to do what needs to be done, even when he’s scared or tired, and to stand by his convictions, even when doing so may result in pain for him), compassion (show him the importance of forgiveness and protecting the weak and helpless), self-discipline (teach him to do things he doesn’t want to do, but should), self-control (show him how to resist doing things he wants to do, but shouldn’t), dependability (explain that his choices affect other people’s lives, and train him to make decisions that consider what’s best for the people around him), honesty (help him discover and admit his God-given strengths and weaknesses so he can be honest with himself, and to value the truth so he can be honest with others), humility (teach him about the dangers of pride and help him see that genuine greatness comes only from working toward a purpose higher than himself), trustworthiness (show him why it’s important to be willing to put someone else’s well-being above his own), honor (teach him to cherish and protect other people and fight for justice and equality).

Help your son develop a healthy sexuality. Realize that, as a woman, you’re a key source of information for your son on how females think, feel, and act. Tell him about some of your experiences with guys when you were young. Give him practical advice, such as how to properly ask a girl out on a date. Always be available to discuss sex with him openly and honestly. Understand the serious dangers of exposure to pornography; take whatever precautions you can to keep him away from pornography (such as by installing parental controls on your computer and television to filter out or block pornography). Regularly discuss the importance of abstinence until marriage; know that if your son learns to control his sexual urges, he can control other areas of his life. Have him make a pact with a group of friends who share his values to support and hold each other accountable as they strive to be sexually pure. Emphasize the importance of setting specific behavioral boundaries before he starts to date – not afterward.

Teach your son to respect others. Let your son know that all people deserve to be honored and cherished. Candidly discuss what’s most important to women and when they feel disrespected by men. Always require your son to treat you with the utmost respect. Know that if you don’t respect yourself, you can’t command respect. If you have low self-esteem, ask God to give you the healing you need so you can project true confidence.

Make sure your son has healthy male role models. Understand that only men can teach boys how to become men. Know that your son needs relationships where he can see masculinity in action in order to develop healthy masculinity himself. Teach your son about Jesus – the ultimate example of healthy masculinity – and encourage him to develop his own relationship with Him. Guide your son’s choice of friends toward boys from families who share your values.

Point out heroic men in books, movies, television, and newspaper stories, but don’t rely on the media exclusively to provide heroes for your son. Instead, introduce him to people you admire, with whom he can have real relationships. Look for positive male role models among family members (such as dad, grandparents and uncles), friends (such as church members, neighbors, and your son’s friends’ dads), and through your son’s activities (such as teachers, coaches, and scout troop leaders). Explain to the people you find that you’d like them to intentionally invest some time in your son for the specific purpose of mentoring him. As your son builds relationships with mentors, be sure to stay involved yourself, thanking the men who take an interest in him and protecting him by making sure nothing inappropriate takes place in the relationships.

If you’re married and your husband is a great father, affirm his positive character traits in front of your son. If you’re divorced, or married to someone who consistently disappoints your son, try not to criticize your former or current spouse in front of your son. However, don’t make excuses for wrong behavior. Let your son know gently that you share in his pain when his father mistreats or ignores him.

Pray! Intercede in prayer for your son every day, praying for specific ways you’d like to see him grow. Recognize the awesome power of prayer to accomplish more than you ever could on your own.

Have fun. Don’t forget to enjoy your son. Expect that he’ll bring lots of joy into your life. Make plenty of time to spend with him. Laugh together, and build memories to last a lifetime.

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Adapted from That’s My Son: How Moms Can Influence Boys to Become Men of Character, copyright 2005 by Rick Johnson. Published by Fleming H. Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Mich., www.revellbooks.com.

Rick Johnson is founder of Better Dads, a fathering skills program that allows him to deliver seminars to businesses, churches, hospitals, prisons, and schools across the Northwest. This book was developed out of Rick’s experiences with his latest seminar, Courageous Moms: Raising Boys to Become Good Men.