Dad Frustrated Because Son Wants to “Do It Himself”

Why doesn't my son want me to teach him things? From the moment he was born I've been looking forward to the time when I could teach him how to do all kinds of fun "guy" stuff. But now that he's old enough, he doesn't want me to teach him anything. When I try, he just says, "Dad, I can do it myself!" This isn't how I envisioned fatherhood. Any advice?

“Dad, I can do it myself!” Whether you realize it or not, that’s boyhood’s universal cry. That’s your son’s declaration of independence – a confident assertion that he’s ready to take on the world and figure things out on his own. Don’t you remember saying the same thing when you were a kid?

And it isn’t just boys who act that way. This perspective is characteristic of the male at every age and stage of life. You’ve heard all those old jokes about men refusing to ask for driving directions, haven’t you? The reason they’re funny is that they’re rooted and grounded in fact. Men don’t like to be put in the position of becoming dependent upon other people – not for anything. They’re fixers and problem-solvers by nature, and they’re eager to prove that they can deliver the goods and get the job done without any help.

That’s because the male is outward-directed – not just sexually, physiologically, and anatomically, but in terms of his entire approach to life. Unlike the female, who is designed to receive, conserve, and protect what she has, he wants to move out and make his mark in the wider world. He’s geared to explore, conquer, invent, initiate, create, and confront. He craves independence and likes the challenge of coming up with new ways of doing things.

All to say that your son sounds like a normal, typical, healthy boy. Unlike a girl, who enjoys the feeling of being dependent upon and protected by her father, he’s in the process of trying to become his own man. That’s why he resists your offers to teach him things. He’s not looking for a lesson – he gets plenty of those in school – and he doesn’t particularly like being corrected or told what to do.

Maybe you should try another tack. When you see your son starting some new project – whether it’s learning to kick a field goal, rebuilding a vintage car engine, or designing a skateboard ramp – don’t jump in with, “Here, son, let me give you a few pointers on how it’s done.” Instead, sidle up next to him and show some interest in what he’s doing. Rather than giving advice, ask questions. Get his perspective on what he’s trying to accomplish. Ask him to explain how he plans to go about it. After conversing in this mode for a while, you’ll be in a better position to make observations and suggestions of your own. The key is to work alongside him as a partner and ally rather than handing down expert knowledge from above.

While you’re going through this process, remind yourself from time to time that it’s good for a boy to learn from his own mistakes. If you see that he’s on the wrong track, don’t be too quick to come to the rescue. As far as possible, allow him the luxury of failing and gaining insight from his errors. Naturally, this suggestion doesn’t apply in cases where mistakes might be dangerous – for example, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to let him try out your chainsaw without supervision.

Here at Focus on the Family we have a staff of trained family therapists available to provide you with sound advice and practical assistance. Call our counselors for a free phone consultation if you’d like to discuss your questions further.


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