Reconnecting with my son (not in a dramatic way) - and I'm a guy
August 8, 2016 8:09 AM   Subscribe

So my son is now about to be six. I feel like the amazing bond we had/have through shared interests and just sheer delight in each other's company needs (for the first time) thinking about and curating and not just taking for granted. Anyone have any tips on this next step?

My son and I love to spend time together. We like talking about the world around us (not in a grand way, it might just take the form of him asking me how the traffic light knows there's a car waiting, and me then explaining that to him at an appropriate level for his age).

We used to like baking together or making pizzas...but recently I've noticed that he's not all that interested in rolling or stretching the dough or adding the ingredients like he used to be. He's older and I guess that's just not that exciting anymore.

He adores being read stories or listening to audiobooks and that hasn't changed. So ideas for nice books to read him are very welcome.

We like going on car journeys or train journeys together and having days out...but we're NOT so good at just playing at home together.

I hope this isn't a bit of a "non question" but I do feel anxious that I don't want to get progressively more and more distant from this little guy I love so much and have so much fun with.
posted by dance to Human Relations (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My husband spends 1:1 time with our six year old girl in these ways:

- watching Godzilla movies together in the den - nobody else in the family likes these, so its their thing
- playing a game on the iPad ("fallout shelter"?)
- taking her to the park for bike riding
- as far as books go I'm sure you'll get a lot of recommendations but there are a million threads on it here if you search

I think it's nice that you're paying attention to this!
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:14 AM on August 8, 2016

It's not a hundred percent clear from your question, but do you live together full time? Are you and his mom together?

With my six-year-old, the number one thing that I feel like really builds that bond is playing make believe with her calling the shots. Like, she's really into this absolutely execrable show about faeries called The Winx Club right now, and she loves it when I play Winx with her. We play Winx by carrying belts around with us until we find bad guys, and then wrapping the belts around our arms in order to turn into faeries and kill the bad guys (I tried to suggest that we might just capture or rehabilitate the bad guys, but she thinks we should definitely kill them. shrug.).

Then, after the bad guys are dispatched, we go to the living room and she uses this toy abacus that she calls her Winx Computer to check and see if there are any reports of more bad guys wandering the house.

The game makes no sense, and it is exhausting in its way, but it just makes her so happy to have me earnestly and wholeheartedly take part in her little fantasy world.
posted by 256 at 8:23 AM on August 8, 2016 [9 favorites]

Kids gradually do become more reserved somewhere between ages 5 and 9. They are less likely to great us at the door with the passionate exuberance of a dog that has been at home all day. So, yeah, extra thought on your part so that you both feel strongly loved could be a good idea.

My son liked Garfield comic strip collections and a funny book called Wolf Story around that age, because humor was his wheelhouse. I don't know anything about what your kid likes, but I hope you do.

My now 22 year old grew most of the way up before kids had phones and pads. God knows I love escapism and the internet myself, but I know that interacting with my grand kids will be a lot different. They might have things to do that are better than story time with grandma, sadly. So if you have some regularly scheduled face time with your kids now, like dinner time or Sunday mornings, where he gets your undivided attention, that may payoff with you being able to get his attention up into the early teen years. Start the habit now, when it's something he wants from you. My kid is moving away next month, so I am glad you want to pay attention to yours while you can. Hugs and walks and listening are the classics in my book. Board games and opened ended lego sets are also good for combining socializing with a fun activity.
posted by puddledork at 8:33 AM on August 8, 2016

Make sure the activities continue to challenge him as he gain skills. For instance, he may have mastered pizza making and be ready to move onto breads or mac and cheese or other cooking/baking skills. My husband moved with the girls from camping to geocaching to and now is doing remote Pokeman challenges with them. He also taught them card games, board games, model building and singing along badly to the 70s AOR.
posted by beaning at 8:35 AM on August 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Pokemon Go!
posted by capricorn at 8:36 AM on August 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Our guy is 7 1/2 now and I definitely noticed this for us as well. Broader picture, it's healthy that they're starting to strike out to define their own little worlds and interests just now. They still need their parents, but are moving to you being a home base rather than a whole world. I love the idea of curating special time in a mindful way. For us, we have a sacrosanct bedtime routine with stories (Roald Dahl has been a huge hit with our guy) or a short board game together. Those discussions in the car were really big deals then. Big questions pop up in traffic and it gives you an opportunity to really dig into things. For cooking, maybe let him move up to the next difficulty level. Maybe rolling out the dough isn't a draw, but what about (carefully!) using a sharp knife to cut some toppings? Or making the dough by hand from scratch (yeast "burping" to make our dough rise was HILARIOUS to boy-o then). So think of this as leveling up his skills and the opportunities you give him to exercise them. And also to level up your own skills at allowing little spaces where they need to come. It's tough and wonderful.
posted by goggie at 8:41 AM on August 8, 2016

In the kitchen, I would think about what the more challenging aspects of it are that your son might be able to handle now. For example: measuring the ingredients for the dough, preparing things that can be cut with a non-dangerous knife (like grating cheese or tearing up basil by hand), etc. You could also ask him what he wants to make or look through cookbooks together and then try some crazy new recipe together (adventure!).

For books, my dad read us the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings around this age. I think early elementary is when many kids begin to be able to follow a more complex plot of an adult book, even if they can't read it themselves yet.
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:48 AM on August 8, 2016

My husband and step son have weekly boy nights. (We have 50/50 shared custody with his bio-mom, in case that matters.) As the step mom my role seems to be more of the play parent - I'm the one to play video games with him or go sledding in the snow or have water fights in the summer - so he and I have no shortage of bonding time and we are very close. We also have a lot of good family time (the weeks we have him are VERY family focused), but I have always been careful to ensure there there wasn't a sense of me "taking his daddy away" so I encourage them to have time without me. One evening every week (even the weeks that he is with his bio-mom) they go out for dinner together. Sometimes after they are done eating they do mundane errands (get groceries, etc) but other times they do something special like go to the arcade for a bit or go geocaching. The Geocaching is particularly fun for them, but not so much in the winter months. They are always home in time for his bedtime. The weekly tradition of their one-on-one time has been long standing and I think a big contributor for why they are so close. It is never a big huge event, but nor does it need to be. I actually think that it is best that it isn't a big thing. Casual, non-forced time together. Scheduled but casual.

They have had their weekly boy nights since the kid was 4 and he is now 9, so this is a long standing tradition that I don't see going away any time soon. It is something I know they both look forward to.

Bonus side effect is my having an evening a week to be alone and refill my introvert silos. :)
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:22 AM on August 8, 2016

Oh, and my husband and step son also have periodic "boy weekends", since my best friend lives out of town and I periodically go visit her for the weekend. This happens about once every 2 months, and is very much about me and my need for a break and to see my friend. Luckily, rather than it being a weird thing of me ditching them and having fun without them, it has instead become an awesome "Aww yeah! Boy weekend! Unlimited farts and burps without saying excuse me!" thing. They eat pizza and watch movies and drink sugary pop that is otherwise not allowed and usually get up to some weird hijinx.
- Once I came home to find the house absolutely wallpapered with drawings they made of Angry Birds.
- Another time I came home to a new "tree" in our living room (which was just a giant branch, propped up in a big planter, and covered in mini-lights).
- More recently I returned to tales of them having locked themselves out of the house and all the crazy ways they tried to break back in.

Boy weekend.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:35 AM on August 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

As a son who didn't have a close relationship with his father—always civil, never close—I can tell you that the moments that always made me feel close were the ones where I suddenly got an inkling of what it was he liked to do when I wasn't around, especially when it related to what I liked.

Maybe that's already the case for you—my dad just doesn't have hobbies like most people have hobbies. But I've got fond memories just from... realizing that he liked to play Tetris and Sim City, and was way better at them than I was. Even if the Recreational Activity you're doing isn't for him, give him access to your life and see if he's interested; I always was.
posted by Polycarp at 9:45 AM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

During the winter, I ski with my kids every Sunday. It something I've always loved to do and it's an awesome thing to teach kids that give them lots of confidence. Take a deep dive into something you're passionate about with your kids. Make it a regular thing and help them master it. When a kid realizes that they can do something really well it becomes a real source of pride and hopefully something you can do together for the rest of your lives.
posted by trbrts at 10:23 AM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

As just an auxiliary consideration, when I first learned about it, I really appreciated some of the assertions in Erik Erikson's Theories of Psychosocial Development, particularly connecting with his understanding of the dynamics of ages five to twelve.

He suggests that industriousness (competence) is the major player in self-esteem and/or positive social interactions at this time: in being able to have, and understand, a demonstrable value to others and themselves; in the agency of deciding to accomplish something themselves and then being able to successfully do it, even in play, within others' purview; and in the reward-cycle mechanism of receiving encouragement for this: thus furthering their sense of self, future self-determination, and value therein.
posted by a good beginning at 12:32 PM on August 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

One thing, I do think it's important that the stuff you do together is stuff you legitimately enjoy. We would all walk through fire for our kids, but they know when you're gritting your teeth and just aching to finish up the damn Candyland game. Whatever you do to relax on your own, see if he might enjoy it too. (Sometimes my kid wants to curl up with me on the couch and watch cooking shows - her own TV time is super limited but I don't count this against it - and it's pretty much the only time I get to cuddle her extendedly anymore, and we get in-jokes from it.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:47 PM on August 8, 2016

My husband has a few hobbies that my kids (7-yo girl and 4-yo boy) just love to do with him because he's always having fun. They paint the little guys for Dungeons and Dragons (I can't remember the official name, they're little figurines you can paint yourself. Bonus is that they are cheap!), he will play a modified kid-version of D&D with them, and also board games that HE likes, not candy land or anything. My 7-year-old is legitimately beating him sometimes in one game called Imperial 2030. He also taught her how to play chess.

They have a lot of fun together I think because these are games of skill that use a lot of higher reasoning power. My daughter feels empowered and smart when she plays. And they both have fun. He's having fun and she wants to as well.

I work Saturday nights so my husband gets a lot of dad time in with the kids and they all really enjoy it.
posted by sutel at 1:40 PM on August 8, 2016

I almost hate to say this because omg such a fad, but Pokemon Go has been SO MUCH FUN for our family. Our near-six-year-old who starts whining and flopping as soon as we let his little sister ride in the stroller? Turns out the kid can walk for MILES, if imaginary monsters are involved. We've been going out for evening Pokemon walks as often as possible, sometimes him and one parent, sometimes all four of us together. We've been for some looong weekend walks as well. With some focus as a parent, you can incorporate a lot of learning, too, which is great if you have a naturally curious kid. Maps, a variety of math (addition, subtraction, percentages), safety rules & impulse control (you NEVER look at the phone while you're crossing the street, even if it buzzes), general etiquette (yes, we can go to the pokestops near the Holocaust Museum, but we are going to be very quiet and very respectful and we are NOT going to talk about pokemon while we are within earshot of the building, and this is why.) And, we have a rule that when you visit a pokestop you have to look at the thing that is there and talk about it. Plus, as the parent, it's been a lot of fun to seek out new places to explore!

Aside from that, I suggest revisiting hobbies you enjoyed as a kid, or introducing him to hobbies you have now. Add an element of grownup mystique, make him feel like you're letting him into your world.

Micropanda and I love to play legos together, I love to take him to model rocket launches (we build a rocket together for him, and I also bring one I built for myself), he loves it when I get out my box of fancy colored pencils and we color together. I got him a handheld USB microscope for Christmas (Learning Resources Zoomy) and we look at random stuff under it. We play Carcassone together (with very slightly simplified rules). He likes to build K'Nex with me, because they're a stretch for him motor-skills and diagram-reading-wise - he can do it, but needs a little help.

In terms of finding time for all this stuff, we have scheduled into our day 30-45 minutes after his sister goes to bed for an Activity. He is mostly in control of the Activity, but we offer options such as those in the paragraph above. The point of the Activity is to have 1 on 1 time with him doing something that interests him. The parent's job is to be interested no matter what (but also to offer cool choices in hopes of not having to work at the interest.)

Honestly, 5-almost-6 is a WONDERFUL age, because there is still so much that is new in the world. Mundane stuff can be pretty damn interesting if you really stop and think about it. Like, all the stuff we are cramming into our Pokemon Go obsession is in no way unique to a video game. You can fit interesting tidbits about math, interpersonal relations, strategy into literally anything you choose to do together.
posted by telepanda at 2:33 PM on August 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

What do you remember about being that age? Sharing a story about my taking a big box of matches into the bathroom and trying to light them all at once over the toilet where it seemed like it would be perfectly safe but lit both the curtain and the tp and put them out with the shower head and got busted because I could not clean all the soot up and hiding a burned curtain under the sink was like not hiding it at all because where are the parents going to get the sponges and stuff to clean up the mess?

Kid looked at me and said "You did that?" Yeah. Rumination and silence.

Next day boy says he would like to drive a car. I had access to an Outback where the seat actually scooted up enough that he could reach the pedals and made it happen for him. Not on roads.

That got us to the "Tell me another stupid story about your childhood" phase which is ongoing and he will tell me any crazy thought he has knowing that I will try to make it happen. Activities flow from this font and we've survived.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 8:29 PM on August 8, 2016

You asked for book recommendations. If you haven't seen them yet, here are two AskMes looking for read-aloud chapter book recommendations for age 5 (and presumably also age 6): one, two.
posted by salvia at 8:32 PM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by Mistress at 3:39 AM on August 9, 2016

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