How to Raise a Gentleman

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Hudson, rollin’ with his gentleman cousin, Eli

I wrote a version of this post a while back, and it was published on Daily Mom. I’m glad to share a beefed up version of it here on Ruffles and Trains! My mini-man, Hudson, is just shy of two years old, and like all moms, I have high hopes for my little man. While I don’t know what he’ll end up doing for a living, what types of hobbies he’ll have, what friends he’ll make, and places his little toddler feet will take him once they grow to fill shoes much bigger than mine, I’m working hard now to lay the groundwork for him to grow into a gentleman.

Who’s that guy?

He’s the guy opening the door for you, the one helping a stranger change a flat tire on the side of the road in the rain. He knew to give your mom flowers on Mother’s Day without you dropping the hint. He plays fair in relationships because he knows the value in honesty. He respects your opinions even if he disagrees with you. Before becoming prince charming, he was the boy who stood up for the underdog in gym class, the kid who had the courage to lead, not follow – the one who said “please” and “thank you” at the right times without an adult reminding him. Odds are, he had a mom who knew how to raise a gentleman.

Teach him to lead, not follow

No one raises a child to be one of “the sheep,” following the crowd without a thought. This becomes especially touchy when older preteens and teens flex their independent muscles. Start your son with strong roots. Give him safe opportunities to make decisions and learn from their outcome. Allow him the room within the arms of your family to become an independent, confident thinker. “Juice or milk today?” Give him small choices while he’s little, and as he grows, he’ll develop the backbone to make the big ones.

Be a good sport

Although we’d all like to, we don’t win every game. Teach your little man to be a gracious winner, and (as difficult as it may be,) to view a loss as a learning experience. Encourage him to express and channel his disappointment appropriately. Help him to learn from mistakes, and urge him to use them to improve and win the next game, both life lessons useful on and off the field. As he matures, he will have the groundwork to know how to learn from situations that didn’t go his way.

Teach him respect

As he grows, your little gentleman will learn that the world is full of opinions, and those opinions won’t necessarily jive with the family values that you have instilled in him. His beliefs will be challenged; his opinions will be tried. Let him know that it is OK to respectfully disagree with someone’s viewpoint and at the same time, have the fortitude and finesse to stand up for his own.

Demonstrate social graces

Your little guy’s social graces will grow with him. Start small, but aim high! Teach simple but relevant phrases such as “hello,” “goodbye,” “please,” “thank you,” “you’re welcome,” “how are you,” and “good morning” when appropriate. Graduate to more mature social situations: look others in the eye when speaking, shake hands when the situation calls for it, be present when interacting with others.  Social graces are small and simple ways to convey a big meaning – your son has impeccable manners, as every gentleman must.

Give him an outlet for his energy

We all need a way to channel our stress and so do our children – girls or boys. Give your little man an outlet to blow off steam based on his age and interests. As he matures, your son will likely continue to find healthy ways to channel his stress and clear his mind. Good habits form early!

Be honest

Let your mini-man know the importance of telling the truth and respecting confidences. Teach him the difference between keeping a dangerous secret (a friend is being physically abused) versus small confidences that mean a BIG deal to another (keeping quiet when his best friend tells him not to tell anyone about his crush on Abigail in their fifth grade class).

Be generous

Show him that generosity doesn’t have to be monetary. Maybe his little sister could use some help with soccer drills, or grandpa would love a hand cleaning out the garage. Get creative but keep it simple – have your two and a half year old “help” you carry the mail. Give your little gentleman chances to feel pride in a good deed, and teach him how his time can mean more to someone than any dollar amount.

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Eli, not Hudson!



  1. That’s a good list! You know you’ve done it right when they’re old enough to begin taking care of you and demonstrating these gentleman characteristics without your direction. My little gentleman is 12 now. He makes me lunch when I’m stuck in my hole all day writing papers (doctoral student). He comes in to greet me with a kiss and “good morning” when he wakes up, asks me how my day was every evening when I come in from work, and looks for me for a good night kiss every night before bed. He always checks in on me when I’m working and asks if I need anything. He keeps his 2-year-old sister occupied and treats her like a princess. He’s the peacemaker when others are arguing or fighting and takes up for kids who are picked on at school. These behaviors are so important to acknowledge when kids become adolescents but more imperative to instill at the toddler, preschool, and early elementary stages. So, perfection in a topic for the little ones!

  2. Love it! I loved your article on DM and I love it even more here! Hudson is just too dang cute for his own good! If he nails the gentleman part, the ladies will be lining up! 🙂

  3. Ron Galardi says:

    Great article…dead on!! Thanks!

  4. Jeri says:

    I love the thoughts expressed in your piece, Erin. My “gentleman” is now 26, and when I was raising him, he was not an easy boy to raise (until fourth grade — when the light bulb went off for him). I often wondered what I was doing right or wrong, and how it would all turn out. Today, I could not be more proud. It is amazing to me now, when others tell me sincerely beautiful stories about the kindness in my son, and I was no where near him to prompt him. He is a real gentleman. He views women as humans, and not as objects. He is the guy in NYC who you can ask about directions, and he will stay with you and help you until you get it right. He is the guy who has always said, “Love You, Mom!” even in middle school when his friends were with him. I could go on and on, but he is a gentleman.

    Every one of your ideas are important, and much needed in our society to raise “gentlemen.” Respect is huge. Husbands who respect their wives stay married to them. The biggest problem with marriages is lack of respect of the team you create, and how the couple reacts to the lack of respect issue. I also think being honest is a big one. In our world, there are all sorts of situations happening around us, and it is our responsibility to teach our kids what they will need to know for their unpredictable future. As the saying goes, “the truth will set you free.” I always told my son the truth — sometimes in small dosages depending on the question, but I did not shelter him. At five, when he asked about a gay relative, I explained it — I did not hide it. He accepted it all; life goes on. At eight when he asked about the tragic death of someone close to us, I told the truth, even though is was a difficult story to tell. As the world gets bigger, and both media and social media keep everyone, including our young ones, aware of situations in our world, kids have to know they can turn to someone for the truth. For my son, I want that person to be me!

    Your list is great. It is a strong beginning, but I could think of about five more important items to add or items to twist a bit. Is it appropriate for me to do so? If so, I will! You are a young mom, looking ahead. I am that seasoned mom who sees what worked, and what did not, in the big picture. There’s a sort of wisdom gained in looking back. Let me know! I loved your post!

  5. Jeri says:

    Thank you Erin for letting me share my additional thoughts on this subject. I came up with six items. I am an English teacher, and more “wordy” than I need to be, so forgive me. Keep in mind; I am working in retrospect, so my perspective is different, but maybe it will help! If nothing else, it is something to think about and add to your “Mommy Toolkit.”

    Teach your son to stand up for himself and/or how to take for himself in difficult situations. As your son gets older, and well into school, we as moms, have to stop fighting their battles. Those battles come in all forms. When another child is giving your son a hard time, or bullying him, you need to teach your son the options to use to make it all go away. Those options do not always work, but before you just give in, you need to let your son try on his own. Nothing is harder than seeing your child suffer. So, keeping your distance for awhile, as your son finds his way through this maze, is very difficult. And, sometimes, depending on your son, you will still have to get involved, but you need to have the patience to wait it out. Taking this same idea from a different direction, when your son has trouble with a teacher or coach, or a particular grade on an assignment, he needs to find his own voice with that set of circumstances. You can guide him on what to say and how to say it, but especially as your son gets to the middle school age, he needs to learn how to respectfully express himself to a teacher, a coach, or the like. These coping skills are life skills. If you take the development of the skills away, you are making your son’s life harder for him when he gets older, and your are not as readily available to help.

    Avoid raising a mama’s boy. Show him how to be the man you would want him to be as a husband, a life partner. Teach him self-sufficiency. My son started his “chore” list from the time he was four. Yes, it was a daily battle, and for him, the pay was terrible (we laugh about it now), but from early on he learned to do all sorts of tasks in our home, from dusting, to emptying the dishwasher, to cleaning the toilet (yuk); from putting his laundry away, to taking the garbage out, to walking into town to get milk. As he grew to high school age, and we knew college was around the corner, we taught him to do laundry and cook a little bit. I am the least domestic person I know, so teaching him many of these skills was not in my own comfort zone, but we knew it was in his best interest to stick to our guns, and sometimes force the issue. He has lived on his own now since he was 18, with just short periods of time living with us. He lived in England for a year. He knows how to take care of himself, and I have no doubt he will be a “team” player when he finds his special someone.

    Create a routine to “talk.” Kids love to talk at night when you tuck them into bed. It is not always the easiest time to talk because as adults, we are likely trying to finalize our own items for the day, but this evening time is priceless. If you sit with your son, for a few minutes, and ask a few questions — and WAIT quietly. He will likely open up. It needs to be a peaceful time, no arguing, but rather a time to share those feelings. This time together does not need to be daily, but make the time to do it regularly. You will get to know the “old soul” in your son. It will teach him that it is okay to “have heart” and show that he has it. Additionally, create a special time/place to talk about serious topics or issues that need discussing. My son and I would go (in the car) and sit by the lake in our town. I would stop at the local deli and get a treat or two, and then pick him up from school. I would tell him that we needed to talk about something serious or important, and we were going to sit by the lake. It almost sounds creepy, but it so worked. Just sitting in that spot, talking about life’s ups and downs (while snacking of course), helped us to keep it all in perspective. Again, it offered him coping skills for his own future. In my own, young teen life, my dad took me to the inlet in Manasquan. It was very special to us. In both cases, the talks were not always easy, but giving those moments the special time that they need, helps to also express the seriousness or importance of the situation.

    Begin to let go early. It’s going to sound strange, but the time goes so fast especially once kids reach middle school age. When your son asks you to do something you think he may not be ready to do, like a sleep-away camp, really consider it carefully before you say “no.” My son went away for the first time when he was 13. He was gone for a week to a baseball camp four hours from home, and I was so sure he was going to call any minute asking to come home. When we picked him up six days later, he wanted to stay another week. It was his first taste of independence, and he rose to the occasion. Afterwards, he admitted that he struggled the first couple of days, but fought the feelings because he really wanted to enjoy the freedom and experience. It was the first of many “sleep-away” situations that well-prepared him for his freshman year of college. It was money well-spent.

    Remember that all boys are different. As parents, when students reach around fourth grade and moving forward, we watch our kids and worry. One of the worries is our son’s popularity or “normalcy.” Keep in mind that the popular kids in elementary school may also be the popular kids in high school. Sometimes, just sometimes, that group is the one you want your child to avoid in high school because the real trouble begins. Not all boys have tons of friends. Some boys are loners and like to do their own thing. Some boys have friends at school, but on the weekend, they stay home, and they are happy to do so. Some boys are wise. They may be avoiding other kids because they are aware of the negative influence that particular group might be. Remember; your boy might not want to tell you what everyone else in town is doing. Sometimes, you just have to trust that you have taught your child well, and he is a good person, and he is making his own decisions for a reason. So, urging him to go to a particular party because it would be good for his social life, might actually be a terrible idea. Accept who your young man is! All boys are different and they mature at their own pace — some like to read; some like sports; some like art; some like computers; some are social; some are introverts; some like it all. Let your son slowly learn to live his own life, and try hard not to force him, so you can live vicariously through him.

    Last, but so important, make him stick with his choice of the moment. As each new phase of your son’s life opens new doors, he will likely want to try something new — for example, a different sport; drum lessons, etc. It is human nature to dive right into the new activity, and within that first couple of months, give it up and stop going to the activity or lessons (my life and THE GYM). Before the new activity begins, set a reasonable time limit for how long your son has to stick with it before he gives it up. For a sport, maybe one season is a good idea. For Boy Scouts, maybe one year is reasonable. For music lessons, we chose six months. Yes, there were times in the six months that it was torture to take him to the lessons, but in the end, he stuck it out for five years. My son still happily plays in a band today. It is one of his favorite hobbies, and if we had not stuck it out, over and over again, through all the ups and downs, he would not have that wonderful outlet today.

    I am done! Thank you for reading.

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