Boys learn behaviors from their fathers. Yet the U.S. Census Bureau shows that 24 million children in America — one out of three — live in homes absent of their biological fathers.

Maintaining a good connection with your son can be challenging, especially since parents today juggle multiple pressures, but parenting still means that you need to learn to take complete responsibility for your child as a solid mentor.

As Father's Day approaches, discover ways that you can serve as a healthy role model to your son. Whether you're a new dad or a father of three, it's crucial to understand the impact you have on guiding your child toward becoming a healthy, well-adjusted adult.

Learn more about parenting tips and creative tools to maintain healthy father-son relationships.

Emotional Health

"The primary way that dads can help their boys understand that they matter is by making them a priority over the myriad demands that life throws at us," said Roland C. Warren, board member of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), a nonprofit that seeks to educate fathers about being strong role models for their children.

Given the many things competing for a contemporary father's time (work, technology, sports, TV), it's far too easy for a child to think that he doesn't matter in his dad's eyes.

"It is critical that dads make it clear to their sons that they are a priority," said Warren. "That our most important investment is in them and that all the other 'stuff' gets only the leftovers."

Show your son that everything he does is important to you. Examine how you react to your son's life. Do you show interest in his interests? Do you value his hobbies and passions? A son seeks his father's approval and praise. And, as Warren suggests, "it is critical for a father to guide his son into right actions and help him live a life centered on serving others. However, you can't expect to teach a son the value of charity if you are not charitable in how you spend time with him. You can't expect to get him interested in your church's community-service project if you haven't established a 'community' that includes him in your home."

Children learn how to be a role model by studying you, the parent. No matter how many material things you shower on your son, if your time spent with him is tense instead of peaceful, he will not be getting what he truly needs from you: Nurturing, guidance, support, and encouragement.

Building a Foundation

Build a solid emotional foundation, involving a father who provides the emotional, physical, intellectual, and social needs that your son needs.

Your kids are listening, whether you realize it or not. Kids learn by imitating. Most often, they will follow your lead in how they deal with anger, solve problems, and work through difficult feelings.

You need to let them know that you're listening too. When your children talk about concerns, stop and listen. Express interest in what your child is saying without being intrusive. Listen to his point of view, even if it's difficult to hear.


  • Boost self-esteem. Use positive language and praise your son's abilities and actions.
  • Listen. Notice times when your kids are most likely to talk — at bedtime, before dinner, in the car — and make yourself available. Listening and talking are the key to a healthy connection between you and your son, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).
  • Start the conversation. Let your son know you care about what's happening in his life. Initiate conversations by sharing what you have been thinking about instead of beginning a conversation with a question.

Parenting Tool: Try this worksheet to not only get to know your kids, but for them to learn a little more about you.

Physical Health

As a father, you set an example to your son in all areas of health. Show your son the importance of maintaining physical health:

  • get annual physicals
  • eat the right foods
  • exercise to stay in shape

Your son has a strong connection to his family and community, and he will choose friends who support his healthy choices. As a dad, model healthy behavior to show your son the value of making good nutrition choices. Remember, if you feel good, your child will feel good.

Set a healthy example. Children learn behaviors and attitudes at home. If you're never satisfied with your appearance, chances are your child may end up feeling the same way. Encouraging a healthy self-esteem in your child is crucial to his development. Low self-esteem patterns develop early in life and can be difficult to break later on in adulthood.

Promote healthy body image that doesn't conform to social and cultural messages, which tend to be unrealistic and unattainable. Poor body image can lead to low self-esteem, which can result in a withdrawn, depressed child.

Spend quality and active time together. Turn off the TV and video games, and take walks together or some other shared physical activity. Find time each week for a one-on-one activity, and avoid scheduling other activities during that time.


  • Eat healthy meals together, as a family, and try new foods together.
  • Involve your children in the grocery shopping experience and in preparing meals.
  • Avoid using food as reward or punishment. Soothe hurt feelings with a hug, not with food.

Find out more tips about being active with your son.

Parenting Tool: Father-Son Activities

Source: Carr D. Springer KW. Advances in families and health research in the 21st century. Journal of Marriage and Family. 2010.