By Diane Gottsman
My son is 10 years old and his feet are always getting in the way of either his steps or his mouth. Try as he might to be sensitive, he seems to hurt his sister’s feelings even when his efforts are sincere – and he is not always interested in sparing his sister’s feelings.
Let’s be realistic, growing boys are often gangly little beings who enjoy digging in the dirt and eating cookie dough. They also don’t mind cleaning their hands on your new couch or running the water without getting their hands wet or using soap. They come in all shapes, colors and sizes and they have all kinds of interests and possess all kinds of attributes, some good and some not so great. They are also stinkier than girls and don’t care if they wear the same socks three or four days in a row. The historical role of a man is to protect the woman and, though that might now seem like a quaint anachronism, there is nothing wrong with teaching our boys to be respectful and protective of each other – and that does include girls!
1. Encourage whatever interest and ability your son enjoys. If he has an interest in learning to play the flute and you would rather he play football, perhaps you could strike a compromise. Football on Mondays and Wednesdays and flute lessons on Saturday morning.
2. Talk about the importance of showing respect to others. Give him examples, such as keeping his music low and including all his friends – rather than just the best players – in a backyard game of soccer.
3. Allow him to practice his social etiquette lessons by taking his grandpa or favorite aunt to a movie or out for ice cream. Allow him the experience of paying for someone else and the joy that comes with feeling in control.
4. Encourage family unity. Discuss the importance of standing up for what he believes and not letting anyone hurt or make fun of his little (or big) brother or sister. This does not have to turn into a physical scuffle; it simply means that he should not laugh at mean spirited jokes or unkind words. He should also let the other person know that he won’t be a part of this type of behavior.
5. Go over body language that sends the wrong message, such as slouched shoulders and hands in the pockets. Talk with him about how standing tall with chin raised gives the appearance of self-confidence.
Other etiquette reminders to review:
• Hold out your hand for a handshake when meeting or greeting someone.
• Take off your baseball cap in the house or restaurant.
• Offer to help others by carrying heavy packages.
• Hold the door for others – both girls and boys, women and men.
• Allow girls to enter through the door first.
• Look the other person in the eyes when speaking and listening.
• Help a girl or woman with her chair and her coat.
• Avoid using foul language, even if others are doing so.
• Keep your shoes off the furniture.
• Take responsibility for keeping your room clean.
• Be kind to siblings.
• Spend time with grandparents (if possible).
• Be a good sport – both when you lose and when you win.
• Pay attention to how you speak. Replace “hafta” with “have to,” “doncha” with “don’t you,” “gonna” with “going to,” etc. Avoid saying “like” every other word.
Little boys become teens and teens turn into men. Little things turn into big things and small, bad habits become less acceptable and more annoying as we age. Be consistent, yet loving and patient. Remember, boys listen to Mom and Dad more than they let on.
What about girls?
See Everyday Etiquette: Manners for Girls
Diane Gottsman is an etiquette and protocol expert who leads programs for children and adults. She is the author of Pearls to Polish: An Etiquette Guide for Today’s Busy Woman.