Special Father-Son Activities for a Memorable Valentine’s Day

Happy father and son with love cloud at beach

Happy father and son with love cloud at beach

On a day devoted to love, why not spend some special one-on-one time with your son? After all, love isn’t just for couples, it’s for everyone from parents to siblings to kids to friends and even pets. Below are a few ideas for a Valentine’s guys’ day with your son.

For younger boys

If your son is in preschool or elementary school, prepare a homemade lunch for two with a heart-shaped theme. Kraft Recipes has a tasty heart-shaped pita sandwich recipe. Of course, the pita can be subbed for any type of bread, as we all know kids are picky eaters. Make or buy heart-shaped cookies for dessert and then give your favorite guy a little token of your love, even if it’s as simple as a small stuffed animal. Then, after lunch, head outdoors for a walk or bike ride.

For middle school boys

If your son is between ages 10 and 14, he probably likes crafty activities. Make Valentine’s Day bags and develop a plan of action to drop the bags off at his friends’ houses. Boys at this age inherently love the whole concept of Ding Dong Ditch, so channel your inner merry prankster and talk with him about what you might want to give your friends and neighbors. Go shopping together for candy, inexpensive goodies and small red paper gift bags with handles. After you fill the bags, set aside an evening so the two of you can carry out the mission. When you reach the destination, pull over and let him quietly walk up to the door, leave the bag, ring and bell and scurry back to the car. This adrenaline-filled evening is sure to be lots of fun. When you are finished delivering all of your mystery bags, head out for ice cream or frozen yogurt together.

For high school boys

Your teenage son might not want to admit this to you—he is practically a grown up and everything—but he really loves spending time with you. Let your teen know that in honor of Valentine’s Day, you want to spend an entire afternoon with him…and he gets to choose the activity. This could range from playing video games together to jamming for a couple of hours on your guitars.

If your son is into sports, the NBA All-Star game just happens to fall on Valentine’s Day weekend this year, from Feb. 13-15. Clear your schedule as much as you can and get comfy on the couch with him for a weekend full of basketball. Make it even better by ordering in a ton of food (pizza, wings, sodas) and stocking up on other snacks he loves, so once you’re on the couch, you don’t have to go anywhere except the kitchen. If you love popcorn, order a giant variety tin of gourmet popcorn from an online retailer (suggested: check out the Popcornopolis Gourmet 3-Flavor Popcorn Tin from FTD). Kettle corn, caramel popcorn and cheddar cheese popcorn in a tin that serves 20? It may actually fill up your teenage son’s stomach for an hour.

The Pain of Pain

Dear Mr. Dad: My son is a freshman in high school, and until the beginning of this school year, he was a happy kid, with lots of friends and plenty of extracurricular activities. But over the past few months, he’s changed. He’s lost a bunch of weight, is sullen most of the time, and has taken to wrapping himself up in an oversized, floppy hoodie that covers everything but his face. After school, he goes to his room, and barely communicates with me or my husband. He also seems to have lost all contact with his friends. We’re really worried that he’s doing something self-destructive, like cutting himself. What can we do?

A: I appreciate your email, but you really need to contact your son’s pediatrician or family doctor. Sudden weight loss, mood changes, secretive behavior—including major wardrobe changes—are huge red flags, and your doctor will be able to put you in touch with an appropriate mental health professional.

Your next call should be to your son’s school. You want to find out whether any of his teachers have noticed the same kinds of behavior changes as well as whether he’s being bullied.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of data on the percentage of kids who deliberately hurt themselves, largely because they tend not to tell anyone. But studies I’ve looked at estimate that between 10 and 25 percent of adolescents and teens engage in some kind of self-injury at least once. Girls are thought to be a little more likely than boys to self-injure, but that might be because some of what boys typically do (such as punching walls, getting drunk, and engaging in risky behavior) isn’t always seen as self-injury. But both boys and girls cut, bite, or burn themselves—and baggy clothes are a good way to hide the evidence.

How much do you know about your son’s social life? Did he recently break up with a girlfriend or have a major feud with friends? According to various surveys, many teens self-injure to get reactions from someone, to feel more in control, to express depression or anxiety, and to stop bad feelings.

Maybe the most horrifying part of this is that many kids who injure themselves learn how from websites that actually encourage self-harm and even suicide. What a revolting thought. The good news—if there is such a thing—is that, according to Dr. Mathilde Ross, a psychiatrist at Boston University, most self-injurers aren’t suicidal and generally outgrow the behavior in their 20s.

Whether your son is harming himself or not, though, he needs help right now. And again, even though you and your husband are clearly concerned, neither of you is the right person for the job.

While you’re waiting for an appointment with the pediatrician, spend some time reading some of the resources at selfinjury.com. At the same time, pay very close attention to the way you’re responding to your son. It’s not going to be easy, but try to stay calm. Showing concern is fine, but expressing shock or horror, making threats, or getting angry will only drive him further away than he already is. He needs to know that you love him and that he can trust you. Engaging him in even the smallest conversation is a good sign that you’re on the right track.
An important part of a teen’s development is pushing boundaries and making mistakes. If your son knows he has a safety net, he just might use it.

Family Camping Never Loses Its Magic

Camping is one of those great family activities that requires everyone to sacrifice a bit of their time to open a window of opportunity for some real family bonding. Often times, parents take cell phones and keep them somewhere safe on camping trips, so that the members of the family can communicate and bond without outside interference.

So why doesn’t every family go camping? Well, depending on several factors, camping can be expensive, time constraining, or unsafe. However, these are very special circumstances. For the average family, camping can be done without spending a ton of money, during a time that’s good for everyone, in a completely safe and fun way.

The most common reason for not camping is the expense factor. Camping can be extremely expensive, depending on your requirements. However, camping is about “roughing it” a little, and not having to worry about a little dirt under your nails. Tents and sleeping bags are typically the largest “required” expense for camping. It doesn’t have to be super expensive, though. For a summer camping trip, summer equipment will do just fine. You can find quality summer tents, with rain flies, big enough to sleep 4 people and their gear for as little as $80. Sleeping bags can be expensive, but, if you are summer camping, you don’t need a -40°F bag. A simple 20°F sleeping bag will work perfectly. You may even find yourself not using it at all, depending on the temperature. These summertime sleeping bags can be found for as low as $30. All together, that puts you at $200 for quality reusable gear.

Other gear you will need depends largely on the type of camping you want to do. Coolers for food can be expensive, but many campgrounds have small “general stores” to buy food from. Obviously, one of the most important things to bring is water. There are several options for water supply for a camping trip. You can bring bottled water, but there will be a lot of trash and weight. There are water-purifying bottles, but these can be very pricey. There are survival-style items, such as iodine tabs, that can be used, but most folks aren’t this into camping. There are pros and cons to each of these options. Be sure to choose the one that’s right for you.

Where camping tends to get expensive is in all the outdoors activities there are to do while camping. Typically, the price goes up with the intensity level of the activity. For example, bird-watching is only as expensive as a set of binoculars, but zip lining can be very expensive. It’s not a bad thing to spend money on things that will bring you and your family closer to each other, but you have to ensure that the things you purchase are worth the price.

ATVs, for example, aren’t exactly cheap, but they can supply 10+ years of fun for you and your family. They can bring an experience that not much else will give your family. Plus, there is a cheaper alternative; trail-worthy go karts! While not as inexpensive as a pair of binoculars, go karts will offer so much more, in terms of excitement and thrill. To top it all off, they are probably cheaper than you’d think. A good quality go kart can sell for as low as $564.77 with a company like Killer Motorsports. Just be sure to do your online shopping to find those companies that offer good products at a great price.

Remember, though, that the best part of camping is not what you bring along; it’s how you use the things you bring to create opportunities for family bonding. Kids and parents can come together, around a warm campfire, and truly learn about each other in ways that sitting in separate rooms throughout the house just can’t offer. Camping is a time that the family will cherish and remember for the rest of their lives.

Changing the Stories We Live By

Timothy Wilson, author of Redirect.
Topic:
Changing the stories we live by.
Issues: Why so many self-help programs, drug use prevention programs; teen pregnancy prevention programs, and crime reduction programs (like “scared straight”), don’t work—and may even do more harm than good; how, by making small changes to the narratives we tell ourselves, we can create lasting, positive change.

The Gold Standard of Childcare + Redirecting Our Personal Narratives

Tammy Gold, author of Secrets of the Nanny Whisperer.
Topic:
Finding and achieving the gold standard of care for your child.
Issues: The truth about nannies—what they do and how they think; identifying your family’s needs; conducting interviews, reference checks, trial periods, and work agreements; understanding “nanny speak”; troubleshooting to avoid drama, resolve problems, and handle any issues.



Timothy Wilson, author of Redirect.
Topic:
Changing the stories we live by.
Issues: Why so many self-help programs, drug use prevention programs; teen pregnancy prevention programs, and crime reduction programs (like “scared straight”), don’t work—and may even do more harm than good; how, by making small changes to the narratives we tell ourselves, we can create lasting, positive change.