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Somewhere amid the tangle of video game controllers and muddy sneakers, there’s a nice boy. And somewhere within that nice boy is a gentleman just waiting to emerge. For at least eighteen years, you’ll have the pleasure of coaxing him out, little by little. You’ll make sure he knows how to act at a formal dinner, and you’ll explain to him that answering a telephone should never involve the words “yeah” or “hang on.” And eventually, you’ll be confident that he can react maturely when his team loses in overtime or ...
Somewhere amid the tangle of video game controllers and muddy sneakers, there’s a nice boy. And somewhere within that nice boy is a gentleman just waiting to emerge. For at least eighteen years, you’ll have the pleasure of coaxing him out, little by little. You’ll make sure he knows how to act at a formal dinner, and you’ll explain to him that answering a telephone should never involve the words “yeah” or “hang on.” And eventually, you’ll be confident that he can react maturely when his team loses in overtime or when he meets a girl he likes. He’ll know which fork to use, how to dress on an airplane, and when it’s appropriate to speak up for himself and others. Let Kay
West guide you through his transformation from boy to gentleman, and watch his young life flourish.
After "Mama" and "Papa," the very next word in your son's vocabulary will likely be "no." In the early stages using the word "no" typically does not indicate rudeness but rather a self-satisfied delight in finding a means to communicate displeasure other than crying, screaming, or squalling. It is also an easier word for tiny mouths to form than the more agreeable and pleasant "yes." As your boy's vocabulary expands, he will begin to communicate his wants and needs. This is the time to introduce the two magic words: "please" and "thank you."
As with most mannerly conduct, the best way to promote its practice is by example. Children want to emulate the adults in their lives and fit in with the rest of the family. If the words "please" and "thank you" are used without exception in your home, your budding young gentleman will follow suit. Using "please" and "thank you" yourself is also an opportunity to reward and promote other courteous behavior. "Thank you for using your fork instead of your fingers." "Please don't leave your shoes in the middle of the floor."
Except in the case of an emergency, encourage the use of the word "please" by not responding to a request until the word is employed. Do not expect a three-year-old to deliver lengthy sentences such as "May I please have a cookie?" but help him see the difference between a request and a demand. "Cookie!" is a demand that grates on the nerves and will go unheeded. "Cookie, please?" is a request so agreeable to the adult ear that it is likely to be met with the cheerful bestowal of the coveted item. (There are exceptions of course: cookies before meals is a no-no in my house, but I try to recognize the mannerly request by saying, "Because that was such a nice way to ask, it's hard to say no, but not before dinner. Maybe afterward.)"
When your son's request is granted, he then responds by saying, "Thank you." Adults should, in turn, respond to this seminal display of civility with a modest expression of approval. A smile or quick hug is fine; rewards are not necessary for behavior that is eventually expected to be a matter of course, with the possible exception of potty training. In that taxing endeavor, the reward system is encouraged. Reserve your applause for accomplishments that deserve it, like an excellent report card, a four-minute mile, or a full scholarship to college.
It is one small but impressive step from "please" and "thank you" to "yes, please" and "no, thank you," but one not to be expected until the child has mastered the former and uses them as habit. By then, "Would you like a cookie?" has two appropriate responses: "Yes, please" or "No, thank you."
The next phrase central to a young man's socially correct lexicon is "excuse me." The opportunities for its use will present themselves again and again:
If a young man inadvertently burps aloud or passes gas in the company of others, the minor offense will be easily forgiven if it is immediately followed by a polite "Excuse me."
* * *
If a young man accidentally jostles another person or steps on toes, the appropriate way to make amends is simply by saying, "Excuse me."
* * *
A young gentleman does not interrupt adults when they are engaged in conversation—in person or on the telephone—but if the conversation is a lengthy one, and he has a pressing need that must be promptly attended to, then he might say, "Excuse me, Daddy. I really need to go to the bathroom now!" An attentive daddy will stop discussing last night's hockey game and attend to his son's request.
* * *
Should a young man need to have something repeated to him because it was unclear or he was unable to hear, he says, "Excuse me?" He does not say, "What?" or even worse, "Huh?"
You Know You Are Raising a Gentleman If ...
He uses "please," "thank you," and "excuse me" on a consistent basis.
He speaks when spoken to.
He does not point out other children's lack of manners.
When he doesn't understand something, he simply says, "Excuse me?" or "Would you repeat that?"
Use "please," "thank you," and "excuse me" in all encounters.
Say "please" when making a request of your son.
Say "thank you" to your son after he fulfills that
Say "excuse me" if you must interrupt him, even if it's something as aggravating as a scene-by-scene recounting of a Batman movie.
Occasionally note your son's developing sense of good manners.
Compliment your son's friends on their good manners—but do not reprove them for a lack thereof.
Pass along to other parents what lovely manners their sons have. There is nothing a parent likes to hear more about their son than "Harry has such wonderful manners."
Try This at Home
My sister is convinced that the moment a parent gets on the phone or goes into the bathroom there is an alarm that goes off, audible only to children, that inspires an immediate and pressing need for a parent's attention. My own experience has proven her correct. To discourage telephone interruptions from my son, I simply hold my hand up in front of his little face like a policeman stopping traffic or turn my back altogether. Unless it is an emergency, I do not stop my conversation until its natural conclusion. When in the bathroom, I lock the door to discourage walk-ins.
Some Good Advice
When I was six years old and apparently quite smug about my superior manners, I pointed out to a friend lunching with me that she had not thanked my mother for her grilled cheese sandwich. My mother called me to the kitchen and pointed out to me that by making my friend feel badly, I had exhibited far worse manners than she. Always remember that the core of good manners is not steadfast attendance to the rules of etiquette, but kindness, respect, and consideration for others.
People who live in the South often consider a Yankee's typical straightforwardness as discourteous. Conversely, many Yankees take a southerner's love for idle chitchat with complete strangers as an unwelcome and extremely annoying intrusion. Without question there is a perception that Yankees are rude and southerners well mannered. But having lived both north and south of the Mason-Dixon line, I have found plenty of examples of Yankee hospitality and southern chill.
Generally, southerners routinely embellish conversations with elaborate compliments, a practice Yankees consider a waste of time and phony. When I first moved to the South, I was leaving a small market and heard the proprietor say, "Come back soon!" I was stymied. I knew I would never be in again, so I began to explain that I didn't live in the neighborhood and probably wouldn't be back. The cashier looked at me as if I were an alien, which in a sense, I was.
Nowhere are the cultural divides more clearly drawn than in the use of "Sir" and "Ma'am." There is one school of thought that believes children should be taught to use the titles "Sir" and "Ma'am" whenever they interact with an adult. Young men who attend military academies will also be expected to employ this form of address, and its omission can be cause for a strong reprimand.
Otherwise, "Yes, Ma'am" and "No, Sir" are forms of courtesy that are rarely heard in the Northeast or on the west coast. In the South, however, and in parts of the Midwest, such as Kansas and Oklahoma, they are deep-rooted customs.
Growing up in the Northeast, the only opportunity I had to hear children my own age use the words "Yes, Ma'am" and "No, Sir" was when watching The Waltons. For the most part, life in the Waltons' home was harmonious. It would have been unthinkable for John-Boy to respond to his mother, Olivia, without saying, "Yes, Ma'am" or "No, Ma'am."
When I moved to the South, I was amazed to find that this habit was not a television fabrication but was standard for many families, though not taught or practiced as frequently or as stringently as it once was.
Teaching your son to use "Sir" and "Ma'am" is a matter of personal taste, with some guidance necessary for its use. If you choose to require it from your son, do it consistently. It is confusing to require the titles for distant members of the family rarely seen but not for Uncle Ted who drops by the house once or twice a week, or to use one practice for close friends of the family and another for professional acquaintances. It is not up to the child to assess the level of the relationship. The measures for the usage of "Ma'am" and "Sir" are quite simple: age and status, with age being the primary consideration. As adults are always older than children, then "Sir" and "Ma'am" are used in conjunction with "Yes," "No," or "Excuse me" whenever your son speaks to an adult, including his parents. This is true even if your twelve-year-old financial whiz kid has accumulated millions in the stock market and could buy and sell every adult in the room. By virtue of their years, they are still his superiors, and he should treat them accordingly.
For some adults the policy governing the use of "Ma'am" and "Sir" is not so grounded in tradition or formalities as it is a means to eliminate such grating responses as "Huh," "Yeah," or "Nah." If your son attends a school where proper deportment is a part of the curriculum, his teachers may require the use of "Sir" and "Ma'am" in the classroom. Even if that is inconsistent with your habits at home, teacher rules always take precedence in the classroom.
You Know You Are Raising a Gentleman If ...
He routinely uses "Sir" and "Ma'am" if it is a practice in your family.
He doesn't remark unkindly on another's accent, unfamiliarity with English, or regional or cultural speech patterns.
He does not tell another child that using "ain't" is bad grammar. It is bad grammar, but it is not up to your son to point that out.
He follows without hesitation the practices and rules of conduct when visiting someone else's home, such as removing shoes before entering or not feeding the dog from the table.
He does not make disparaging remarks about the customs or practices of people unlike himself.
Use "Sir" and "Ma'am" in appropriate situations if you require its use from your son.
Do not require the use of "Sir" and "Ma'am" from anyone other than your own son if other children are not in the habit of using it.
Do not discourage its use from boys who do, even if your own son does not. It is not appropriate to respond to a young man's reply of "Yes, Ma'am" with a shudder, an admonishment that you are not his grandmother, and an order not to do it again.
Deliver a reminder, when needed, in a quiet and subtle manner. Veteran users of "Sir" and "Ma'am" report that once mastered, it becomes a lifelong habit.
Try This at Home
If your son has not yet traveled outside of his hometown, he may not realize that other people talk differently than he does and have expressions of speech unique to their region of the country. If he was born and raised in Boston, and your college roommate from Birmingham, Alabama, is coming to visit with her young son, it would be a good idea to prep him a little bit on different accents from different parts of the county so he doesn't laugh if Carter says, "What are y'all fixin' to do?" Remind your son that it is not right or polite to make fun of another person's accent, even if it sounds strange to his ear, and be sure he understands that to Carter, a Boston brogue sounds just as odd and unfamiliar as a Southern drawl does to your son.
Some Good Advice
Before I moved to Nashville, I often traveled there on business. I was amazed by the extravagant displays of Southern hospitality and invitations extended by people I barely knew to come by and see them the next time I was in town. When I moved here and bumped into these same people—people who had given me the impression that they were my future best friends—they were pleasant and welcoming, but none went so far as to extend a formal invitation for dinner. I finally asked a born-and-bred Southern woman why Southern hospitality had suddenly turned so inhospitable. She drawled with a laugh, "Why, Honey, we just love y'all until we find out you're stayin'!" She was being a tad facetious, but I learned not to interpret an unfamiliar culture using only my frame of reference.
First impressions count, and the great majority of first impressions take place during introductions. More than once we have heard the advisory: you never get another chance to make a first impression.
Young children are often given the benefit of the doubt, and even a terrible introductory meeting can be forgiven if the parent apologizes for his son's refusal to come out from behind his father's legs and take his thumb out of his mouth by explaining that Dylan missed his afternoon nap or hasn't had his dinner.
Even for grown-ups introductions can be tricky to navigate and easy to bumble. For children, particularly young or shy children, they can be extremely uncomfortable. In introducing your son to the practice of polite introductions, always keep his age and level of introversion or extroversion in mind.
Children do have another advantage over grownups when meeting someone for the first time: simply by not appearing sullen, young boys can be regarded as cute. A boy who does nothing more than smile and venture a shy "hello" might even be regarded as charming and well mannered. A parent can expect little more than that from their three- to five-year-old. Once a boy enters the school system, where he will encounter more grown-ups and authority figures than before, he should know that a little more is expected of him. And by the time he is approaching double-digit years and his social circle has widened, he should have mastered the basics of responding to and making introductions.
Even the youngest of children can be exposed to the rituals and practices of proper introductions, but a fumbling introduction is better than none at all. It is extremely rude, when in a group of people, to encounter an acquaintance or colleague and not perform some type of introduction. If you have completely forgotten a name, you might forewarn the people you are with and hope that they can help you by introducing themselves first, prompting the one whose name you have forgotten to introduce himself or herself as well. If that doesn't work, you may as well come clean and admit to your malfunctioning memory. If your son sees you practicing this basic form of social inclusion without exception, no matter how awkwardly executed it may be, he will come to see that it is normal and courteous behavior.
Very young boys can and should be introduced but not expected to do anything more than stand quietly while pleasantries are exchanged among the grown-ups. Keep in mind the minimal attention span of a very young boy, and do not expect that he maintain this demeanor while grown-ups discuss a protracted business deal or counsel each other on their midlife crises.
Excerpted from HOW TO RAISE A GENTLEMAN by KAY WEST Copyright © 2012 by Kay West. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted June 20, 2006
My 60s something father gave me this book. I am a 45-year-old middle-class man with a 6-year-old son. I don't understand for whom this book is written. It is full of painfully obvious advice such as 'Don't play with your food' or 'Do not throw golf clubs... in anger.' Anyone raised in America (presuming that is the author¿s intended audience) who doesn't already understand these things and take them to heart isn't going to be interested in reading about them in a book, if they can even read. Chapter 15 deals with Staring and differences where the author admonishes: 'Do not repeat racist, sexist or ethnic jokes or tolerate them in your presence.¿ If you were not a racist you would obviously already understand and agree with this. If you are, this book isn¿t going to change your attitude and you would probably want to burn it. I found this book useless for any reasonably sophisticated person unless you happen to be from a third world country or another planet. If the book was intended to teach good manners to the unsophisticated, dream on! I think the author has a Professor Henry Higgins Jones. I am also concerned about my father¿s opinion of me, I mean ¿Do not expect a child to endure a lengthy shopping trip unless it is to a toy or candy store.¿ Duh!
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Posted September 17, 2010
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