Being a parent is one of the hardest jobs you'll ever have. While raising competent, responsible individuals capable of making sound decisions is every parents goal, creating a balance of nurture with freedom can be a difficult balance for a parent to achieve. In my opinion, being a good parent means providing a consistent framework of guidance and nurture while letting go of a little control so your child can confidently learn how to make good choices independently. Someone once told me, a good parent teaches independence and can let go. It's harder to be a good parent than a helicopter parent (a parent who manages every aspect of the child's life). We all have to let go sometime.
Here's a "Top 10" list (for school-age boys) to help you:
10) Don't just say "no", explain why in a easy and to-the-point manner. Don't lecture him. Speak to him as an adult. It's important to communicate why you said "no" so he understands the reasons behind this decision. There is nothing more annoying than being given a "no", and then being talked to/treated like a baby. Yes, he may still moan and whine "it's not fair~" but he will know that there are reasons as to why not. In addition, when he needs to make a decision of his own, he can use this thought process to help weigh his options.
9) Take him grocery shopping. If he can read, give him a list of things and let him lead the way (but feel free to help, if needed, because I know you want to get out of that store eventually). If he can't yet read, helping you find items can be a great reading exercise. A trip to a grocery store can be a fun treasure-hunting adventure!
8) Chores! Set up a chore chart. Don't punish them when they don't do their chores, but not reward them either. Set up a system where they receive a token (stickers, buttons, etc) for each chore they do, and at the end of the day, see how many tokens they have earned and if they get a privilege. For example, if they do their chores that day, they may stay up a little later and watch an extra 15 minutes of T.V. If they don't do their chores, then they miss out on that privilege. Another fun thing to do is to set short-term goals AND long-term goals - e.g. if they collect 15 tokens, they may earn doing a special activity with a parent, say going bowling or a movie or a small toy. The key is to make it a little bit challenging so the rewards are still special, but also achievable so they don't lose interest (note: for a long-term goal, maybe something they would be able to achieve at the end of the week, if they did their chores everyday). Try not to use food as a reward. Another key is to encourage them to make the 'right decision' and try not to pressure or chide them for not doing these chores - the point of the chart is that they get to make the decisions, not you. A good way to get your kid excited about this system, is to involve them in the process of deciding what chores go on the chart, and what privileges/rewards can be earned. Modify this system to better suit your family and your son's personality, just don't forget the key points and, very importantly, stick to it. Doing this with a wishy-washy attitude will only result in a system without credibility - and therefore, a failed system.
7) If your son asks for a pet (and if you are o.k. with having one), let him earn this privilege. Tell him he needs to prove himself to be responsible and capable of taking care of another living thing. For example, if he can do all his chores for a span of time (e.g. 1 month) without being reminded all the time, and with a good attitude, then he can prove that he will feed/clean his new pet. Another idea is, if you already have a pet, for him to feed/care for that pet for a while. The key here is to make it achievable for him, but also challenging enough so both you (and your son) are sure that he is serious about this decision.
6) Let him have a space of his own. This can be his bedroom, a crafts room, a corner of a room, any space that is his, and his only. He can decorate it any way he likes, and would be responsible for keeping it clean. Encourage him to use this space for whatever he wishes. Amidst school, after-school activities, play-dates, sports, lessons, siblings etc. he might enjoy a space where he can wind down and enjoy some alone time.
5) Encourage him to explore hobbies that might interest him. What kind of books does he like? Maybe he can start a collection? Does he like crafts such as painting or building? Does he like to write? The possibilities are endless - boys are sometimes boxed only into activities related to sports and competition, so it can be fun to explore some less competitive hobbies. And although it is important for you to show your interest and support, don't forget that it is his hobby, e.g. if he would like to add something to his collection, try to let him earn it.
4) Pocket money should be earned, and spent on whatever he chooses (with some ground rules, of course). With younger children, you can always limit their purchase options to a store (or a few stores) - for example: "You may spend your money on anything in this hobbies/sports cards/toys/etc. store"
3) Help your son do charity work or community service. Do some research with your son to find a charity that he is interested in and learn how he can help. My oldest loves hockey for example, so we've looked at volunteering for an organization that teaches hockey to underprivileged kids. This can be as simple as doing research and making a poster for the cause, to raising money, or actively participating. You may use this opportunity to teach your son about the world he lives in, and how to be a contributing citizen. You can empower him by showing him that he has the ability to help and to make the world a better place.
2) When your little one is playing with his friend, and a conflict arises - observe, but don't step in too quickly. You might be surprised at how soon the conflict will be resolved without your involvement. If you always step in and resolve your son's issues for him, he will not learn how to overcome them on his own.
1) Let your boy go on a bike ride, by himself or with a friend, around the neighborhood. (Note: this is obviously dependent on age, and your comfort level with safety). At the very least, let him walk by himself to a nearby friend's house or play outside without constant monitoring. Don't forget to sit down and go over the rules of the road and safety issues with your son. Your son will understand that he is responsible for himself and should know what he can do if there were an emergency - this can also build up his confidence.