How to Strengthen a Father Son Relationship

father and son reading

Hero Images/Getty Images

In life, we tend to invest time and money into the things we care about and when it comes to father-son relationships this principle is especially relevant. But the father-son relationship can be complex. Fathers and sons with widely different interests can find it hard to relate to one another. Sometimes, dads and sons feel competitive against one another.

Other times, communication issues are compounded when both want a better father-son relationship but neither one knows quite how to go about it. If you find yourself in this situation, here are some key elements to creating and building a strong father-son relationship.

Set a Good Example

There are many things you can do to develop a strong bond with your son. Whether we realize it or not, sons learn about being a man primarily by watching their fathers. A father's influence on their son's personal development is often unseen but nonetheless real.

As young men watch their fathers interact with others including their partner, they learn about respect (or disrespect), about how men interact with others, and about how men should deal with conflict and differences. Understanding that a father's influence on their son is unmatched will help you think more deeply about your relationship with your son and take your responsibility as a good role model seriously.

Spend Time Together

As a father, make sure that you allow for some one-on-one time with your son. This time together lets your son know that they're important to you, especially if you make time for them amidst a very busy schedule.

Carving out time together also communicates that they are a priority in your life and that you enjoy being with them.

While they are young, you can engage in boisterous play outside, read books, build with legos, or play a game. Once they are older and have more defined interests, try to participate in the things they enjoy, too.

Whether your son loves basketball or debate, find ways to get involved. Play hoops in the driveway or learn how to be a debate judge when they're in high school. Some of your best memories will be of those times you spent together doing something they're passionate about. Plus, evidence suggests that a father's involvement in activities supports their son's cognitive, linguistic, and socio-emotional development. Here are some things fathers and sons can do together.

  • Work on a hobby together. Some fathers enjoy time with their sons when they find a hobby they can do together. Whether that involves collecting memorabilia, building model airplanes, gardening, or restoring an old car, find something you are both excited about and do it together.
  • Participate in father-son activities. Local communities and schools often organize father-son events like fishing derbies, game nights, and more, so be sure to take advantage of these events. The Boy Scouts also provide an opportunity to bond. Father-son duos can camp, hike, work on merit badges, and spend quality time together. You could even consider getting involved as an adult Scouter volunteer.
  • Volunteer for your son's after school activities. If your son is involved in extracurricular activities, look for opportunities to get involved. For instance, you can volunteer to be a timer at a swim meet, a line judge at a volleyball game, a chaperone for a band competition, or an usher at the school play. Regardless of your son's activities and interests, there are always ways to get involved.
  • Play a sport together. Although the mention of sports conjures up images of traditional sports like football, basketball, and baseball, don't let that limit you. There are many sports that fathers and sons can do together like running, hiking, rock climbing, skateboarding, volleyball, swimming, and even ice hockey.

Develop Shared Interests

Father-son relationships can feel strained at times, especially if your interests appear to be polar opposites. With a little effort, though, you can usually find something that you both find interesting. These shared interests allow you to discover some commonality while maximizing the time you spend together doing something you both enjoy.

Finding common interests benefits your father-son relationship in a number of ways. For instance, sharing an interest with someone allows you insight into who the person is.

Common interests also become a vehicle for bonding by giving you something to talk about and do together that you both enjoy.

If your son is younger, try different things together until you land on something you both enjoy doing. And if your son is older, talk to them about their interests to see if it sparks something in you as well. Here are some common things that fathers and sons might share an interest in, but don't limit yourself to this list.

  • Music: Some fathers and sons both have a passion for music. Whether that means attending concerts together, following particular bands, building playlists, or even creating your own band, there are a number of ways you can bond over your shared interest in music.
  • Sports: Following a favorite sports team is a classic father-son activity. Aside from watching the games on TV or attending a game in person, fathers and sons have been bonding over baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and more for years. If sports are something you and your son share a passion for, look for ways to build on this shared interest.
  • Outdoor activities: When it comes to the great outdoors, the options are endless. Perhaps you both enjoy hiking, fishing, and camping, or maybe you both enjoy gardening, bird watching, or stargazing, the key is to explore different things until you find something you both enjoy.
  • Cooking: Some fathers and sons find that they both enjoy cooking, grilling, or even baking. If this is a shared interest for you and your son, you can spend a few days a month experimenting with flavors and creating new recipes. You can even enter cooking competitions together. Doing so, will build memories to last a lifetime.
  • Games: Whether you play board games or video games, if you and your son both enjoy games you have countless options for father son bonding time. Nothing builds a relationship more than playing a game together. Aside from the fun you get from a little friendly competition, playing a game together is the perfect vehicle for having meaningful conversations. And it's these conversations that allow you to build a deeper relationship with your son.

Work Together on a Project

There is something magical for a boy about being involved in something bigger than themself. Plus, these big, visible projects can really help strengthen a father and son bond.

Some dads and sons build planter boxes, landscape a backyard, build a vacation cabin, participate in Habitat for Humanity, or head off on a big summer biking vacation. Whatever it is, a bigger-than-life project done together can create a bond that will last a long time and make memories you will talk about together for decades.

To come up with a project you and your son can do together, think about what you both enjoy or community issues you are passionate about when developing a project. If you're having trouble coming up with ideas, here are a few tips to get your creative juices flowing.

  • Look for service opportunities. Whether you work on an Eagle Scout project together or you choose a charitable foundation to support, completing a service project together is a great way to bond with your son while learning the importance of giving back.
  • Plan an adventure. Some fathers and sons enjoy going on an adventure together like biking across the country or walking the Appalachian Trail. You also can make it a goal to visit all the baseball parks in the country or try white water rafting in a variety of locations.
  • Remodel or build something. Sometimes the best way to bond with your son is to build something together. What's more, your project can be as big or as small as you want it to be. For instance, you can build a bird feeder, flower boxes, an elevated garden, or display shelves for your memorabilia. Or, if you're really ambitious, you could always remodel a room in your home creating a cool space that the two of you can enjoy together later.

Listen

Starting from an early age, it's important that fathers learn how to listen to their sons without judgment and without trying to fix things too soon. Doing so, will go a long way to building a lasting relationship and developing an effective communication style.

To encourage your son to open up, look for opportunities to be with your son when you can just listen to what's on their mind or what they have to say. Fishing together, going to a sporting event, or taking a road trip can all be effective ways to create a listening environment.

Commit to spending 75% to 80% of the time engaged in active listening. Here are some tips on how you can effectively engage in active listening.

  • Give your son your full attention. Whether your son comes to you with a question or they're talking while you're out on the lake, it's important that you give your son your full attention. Make eye contact and pay attention to their words without interrupting or offering advice.
  • Stop what you're doing. When your child is talking, it's important that you stop what you're doing and pay attention. This may mean putting your phone down or turning away from the computer. Of course, if you're driving or doing something you cannot stop at the moment, do your best to communicate that they have your full attention like turning off the radio in the car.
  • Reflect back what they're saying. A hallmark of active listening is the ability to repeat back what the other person is saying. Ensure your son knows that you understand what they're saying as well as how the situation makes them feel. If you are unsure, it's OK to ask questions for clarification but watch how you phrase the question as well as your tone of voice. You don't want your questions to come off like you're irritated, interrogating them, or being judgmental.

Have Conversations

Our children are bombarded with negative messages all around them. Just watching commercials on television can create a sense of inadequacy in our sons. They probably are not quite as strong, may not have six pack abs, or be quite as good looking as the guys they see on television.

As they grow up, they are forced to navigate and wrestle with a lot of big issues. For this reason, fathers need to have regular conversations about those big issues. Here's a brief overview of some of the topics you need to make sure you are talking about.

  • Sex: Take the time to talk to your son about sex and relationships. Being open to having these conversations will help your son develop better attitudes about sex and romantic partners in general. Be sure to also have age-appropriate conversations about everything from sexting to consent.
  • Relationships: Talk to your son about healthy friendships and relationships. Make sure they know what constitutes healthy dating as well as what would be considered toxic or abusive behavior.
  • Money: Teaching your son how to handle money is one of the most important skills you can provide them with. Discuss the importance of saving, budgeting, and investing while giving them opportunities to practice their skills.
  • Social media: When it comes to social media, it's important to teach your son the basics of digital etiquette before they even get a social media account. As they get older, be sure they know what constitutes cyberbullying as well as how important it is to manage their image online. Additionally, it's never too early to help them do a social media audit and clean up their accounts from time to time.
  • Peer pressure: Talk to your son about the risks of peer pressure and what they can do if they're pressured to do something they're not comfortable with, especially when it comes to juuling, drinking alcohol, and using drugs. Equip them with the tools needed to respond to peer pressure in a healthy way.
  • Spirituality: Helping a son be grounded spiritually is an important role for a father. Whatever your faith tradition, help your son understand the deeper meaning of life. If you don't have a faith tradition, help them look at things deeper than on the surface.

A Word From Verywell

Focusing on your son, spending positive time together, and talking about life lessons, scattered with a large dose of quiet and engaged listening, will help you develop a nurturing and meaningful relationship with your son. Your efforts also will help your son form attitudes that allow them to develop into an upstanding person in the richest sense of the word.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. McMunn A, Martin P, Kelly Y, Sacker A. Fathers' involvement: correlates and consequences for child socioemotional behavior in the United KingdomJ Fam Issues. 2017;38(8):1109-1131. doi:10.1177/0192513X15622415

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Active listening. Updated November 5, 2019.

Additional Reading