How to Improve Father-Son Relationships

The father-son relationship can be fraught with communication problems and anger. Here's how to improve your father and son relationship.

A mother writes, "My husband and our 16-year-old son have difficulties in their relationship. Our son complains that his father is always judging and criticizing him. My husband complains that our son is mocking and evasive. In my mind, the problem is the two of them can't stand each other because they think the other is so different but, in fact, they really are very similar. Any suggestions?

Father-Son Relationship Struggles

The struggles between fathers and sons are legendary. In the minds of some fathers, a son holds such promise, offering them an opportunity to relive an "improved" version of their own childhood. Conversely, in the minds of some sons, being fathered means carrying the weight of responsibility to satisfy a father's dreams and destinations. This makes for quite a combustible mixture; especially as the autonomy of middle and late adolescence kicks in, leaving dreams and destinations in the dust.

Generations might divide fathers and sons, but personalities slice through communication and relationships. Similar personality traits, such as tendencies to be self-centered, judgmental or stubborn, can be the staging ground for verbal wars of attrition, wherein no one wins and the father-son bond is the casualty. To establish a more positive momentum one of the combatants must stop and see the bigger picture of what's at stake. The job of taking heed to consider future implications falls upon the adult.

Ways to Resolve Father and Son Conflict

Fathers, here are some ideas to reach one of your most critical destinations: a more positive and nurturing relationship with your child:

Soften up the criticism so it sounds more like a suggestion and feels less like an incision. Fathers shouldn't be expected to always withhold their opinions but just to be more sensitive about sharing them. Resist the urge to label behavior, such as calling it selfish or idiotic, since such words leave a stinging imprint on the relationship. Take context and timing into consideration since the best feedback might be dismissed by the insensitivity displayed in delivery. Make it a habit of prefacing your comments by mentioning the positives before the negatives. And last but not least, take pains to avoid embarrassing your teenager or you will certainly live to regret it.

Balance debating with validating so you don't always come across as the opinion adversary. Some fathers have a habit of often taking the opposing point of view when their adolescent's express themselves. The goal may be to help kids consider alternate points of view or learn how to assert themselves but the result can make fathers look like verbal bullies. Overlooked is the fact that teenagers still require praise and validation from parents. Just because they might be as tall as us doesn't justify our relating to them as we might our adult friends when a point of contention is debated. Deep down there's still an ego under construction, strengthened or weakened by the words that flow from mothers and fathers.

Find common ground topics and activities immune to judgments and criticisms. Positive, bonded relationships require plenty of time for mindless fun without editorial content. Make sure you spend time together laughing at Adam Sandler movies, reminiscing about a favorite vacation, or doing something completely out of character for you but totally enjoyable for your kid. Turn off your "critical voice" during these times so that your teen can perceive you as a regular person who enjoys them and not someone assigned to critique them.

Keep an open mind to spousal feedback. Of the people most qualified to comment upon your fathering, your wife may well rank near the top. She sees you at your best and your worst and serves as a sounding board to your teen. This probably means that she has more knowledge of what's wrong in your father-son relationship than you do, and what contributions are yours alone. She may also have some suggestions for how to build a more positive bond since she has faced the same challenge and probably learned a few things in the process.

APA Reference
Richfield, S. (2019, August 6). How to Improve Father-Son Relationships, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Last Updated: August 6, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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