If you’re like most moms I know, you make a lot of jokes about being a “boy mom.” Boys’ intense love for their moms is wonderful, and sometimes their noisiness, messes, and troublemaking can also drive you crazy.
But most moms I know also want to be sure that as their boys grow up, they are becoming the gentleman we all want our sons to be. But how do you turn your crazy ball of energy and dirt into a gentleman?
Raising a gentleman is a process that will last throughout your son’s childhood. You’ll need to teach him to exhibit empathy and compassion, to demonstrate good manners in a variety of settings, to practice good hygiene and a cleanly appearance, and to be a good citizen.
What is a Gentleman?
It might seem obvious, but before you can determine how to raise a gentleman, you need to define for yourself what you mean by gentleman. What kind of person do you want your son to become? How do you want him to treat others? What sorts of manners are important for him to know and use? What values do you want your son to hold?
Once you have answered these questions, you’ll be able to target specific approaches to teaching your son the values and behaviors you have identified as important to you and your family.
Teach Empathy and Compassion
One key trait every gentleman must demonstrate is having empathy and compassion for others. Some people have a natural disposition to be empathetic and compassionate, while others need much more coaching to learn these skills. Either way, you can help your son develop in these areas.
Empathy means being able to see things from someone else’s perspective. It means thinking about a situation from another point of view in order to better understand how they may be feeling. You can help a child learn empathy by discussing it and modeling how to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.
For example, if your son and another child get into an argument on the playground, take your son aside and talk to him about how the other child may have seen the situation, and help him understand that his own point of view is not the only way to see things.
You can even use your child’s favorite TV shows, books, or movies to find opportunities to discuss empathy. Pick out a character your child does not identify with and talk about how that character might be feeling and how those feelings might explain the character’s actions in the story.
Compassion comes naturally in the actions of an empathetic person, but there is always room to model compassion for your son as well. Consider volunteering as a family, using your actions to show your son that you truly value compassion.
In addition, find opportunities to talk about the importance of being kind to others. When your son shares stories about school that reveal other children (or your son himself!) not acting with compassion, be sure that you help your son think about ways that the children could have been kinder in that situation.
Demonstrate and Consistently Reinforce Manners
One of the most important elements of being a gentleman is being polite and using good manners in all settings. You can teach your son politeness and good manners, first and foremost, by modeling it in your own behavior. The way that you interact with staff at stores, with neighbors, with work colleagues, and with friends all show your son how to behave, and he’ll pay attention to what you do far more than what you say.
In addition to your own modeling, identify examples of good manners and polite behavior, or lack thereof, that you encounter in daily life. If you see someone behaving very well, point it out to your child, and be explicit about what it is about the behavior that you want to praise.
You can also point out examples of bad behavior and have your child help you think about what the person could have done better in that situation.
This type of discussion is also a good opportunity to remind your son to use the empathy skills he has been learning; help him think about why that person may not have done their best in that situation (they are not feeling well, they are having a bad day, they were confused about what to do, etc.).
A few types of manners to think about working on with your son include:
- A firm handshake with eye contact
- Table manners
- Remembering gratitude and saying please and thank you
- Helping people around you (for example, opening/holding doors, carrying some of a neighbor’s groceries, shoveling some extra sidewalk to ease someone else’s burden)
- Listening attentively when others are speaking (including, for older kids, not getting distracted by your cell phone!)
- Making polite and friendly small talk
- For older kids, being careful to avoid swearing or other rude talk
- Good sportsmanship
When your son does not live up to the standards you hope to see in this area, correct him gently, in private, to help him do better the next time. Your calm handling of the situation in itself offers him another model for gentlemanly behavior.
Show How to Maintain Gentlemanly Hygiene and Appearance
As your son gets older and is responsible for his own hygiene and appearance, it will become important to help him understand how his appearance sets a tone for his interactions with others.
Good hygiene practices, including bathing, shaving, cleaned and styled hair, brushing and flossing teeth, and using deodorant will all be things you’ll probably need to teach and reinforce with your son. Often, you’ll leave many of these conversations for a man-to-man talk with dad, but even if you are a single mother, you can teach your son all of these key skills and help him put his best foot forward.
You’ll also want to emphasize the importance of a neat appearance in your son’s clothing. Depending on your point of view and your son’s age, you may or may not want to emphasize things like tucked-in shirts or always wearing a belt. But at the least, you can teach your son to choose his clothing carefully and to keep his clothing neat in his room so that he does not end up wearing wrinkly or dirty clothes that look messy.
Teach Good Citizenship
A gentleman takes care of the people and things around him. If you want to raise a gentleman, you’ll want to be sure that your son learns a few key skills in this area.
Teach your son to take care of his belongings, including using them properly (showing he values them and the people who provided them to him) as well as cleaning up his belongings and living spaces regularly.
Relatedly, you should also teach him to treat others’ belongings and spaces with care. Visits to grandma’s house, playdates, and school experiences are all chances to observe how your child interacts with other people’s belongings and to guide him in new behaviors when necessary.
Taking care of the things around us also applies beyond individual people’s homes and belongings. Teaching your son ways he can care for the community and the planet, such as planting trees, helping gather and process recycling, or picking up litter with a community group are all great ways to encourage a sense of good citizenship in your son.
A Gentleman Always Looks to Take Care of the People Around Him.
Consider how you can encourage your son to look out for the underdog, stand up for others who are being teased or excluded, or help another child who is struggling to share his point of view with a group. As with learning any of the other sorts of manners we have discussed in this article, you can look for real-life examples and discuss them, or use examples from books and movies to talk through what a gentleman would do when faced with meanness, bullying, etc.
Finally, one of the most important things a gentleman can do is to admit when he is wrong and to apologize. This can be a hard lesson for kids to learn, and it takes practice, but a boy who can learn to do this will go very far in life, so it’s well worth the time and effort to teach it to your son! You can start to teach your son this skill from a very early age by admitting when you do something wrong and showing him what a good apology looks like.
A Few Extra Tips for Raising a Gentleman
As you get ready to try some new strategies for making sure you’re raising your son to be a gentleman, here are a few additional things to keep in mind:
- Remember your son’s age. Be sure that what you are asking of him is appropriate for his age. Whether you are considering which chores to assign or what kind of standards to have for his manners, figure out what he can really handle at his age, and plan to raise your expectations as he gets older.
- Keep in mind that it takes time to learn even simple manners, and traits like empathy and compassion take even longer. Be patient and understand that raising your son to be a gentleman is something you’ll work on throughout his childhood and adolescence.
- Don’t forget to have a sense of humor. Raising kids is hard, and neither you nor your son, is going to be perfect. Take it one day at a time, try to laugh when things go wrong, and start again tomorrow.