First things first, I don’t have children because I chose not to. When I was young on the family farm one of my summer jobs was spraying blackberry and gorse with a herbicide. The herbicide choice of my dad was stuff called 245-T. Now revealed to be an incredibly toxic poison banned in most countries as it appeared to have a tendency to cause people to get terminal illnesses and/or have children with birth defects. It was one of the principal ingredients of Agent Orange, the controversial defoliant used by the USA in the Vietnam War. I decided that I would have no chance of having any kids without birth defects so I felt best not to have any, simple!
That aside I have met some children and was also one myself. I have been told I am very good with kids because I treat them as little adults. I don’t talk down to them because I remember when I was little I liked to be listened to as though I knew what I was talking about. Of course I knew, I was a kid and kids know everything. I’ve been very lucky to have been exposed to a huge range of environments and social situations in my life. I am also very lucky that my mum took care when we were little to make sure that despite the limited, nay zero, exposure we had to the wider world we would at least know how to behave properly. What I am going to do here is pass on some of the benefit of my observations and experiences to young mums and dad’s to help them maybe instil just a small handful of things that should be second nature in every little boy. I am not going to talk about little girls as I knew nothing about them. I still don’t.
Walking around in rompers or nappies today will be the world leaders of tomorrow. Also the most notorious axe murders and terrorists of their time to come. The very best and very worst of society are currently little chaps throwing their food to the floor from a high chair. You can do much but also little really to influence what a child turns out like as an adult. Many social workers and parental guide books will probably tell you that how you treat your child and interact with them will directly influence how a boy grows up. My view is yes and no but you can only lay the foundations. I bet Mr & Mrs Hitler thought little Adolph to be a delightful child but they were strict disciplinarians. His school teachers probably thought he was a bright if a bit bossy little boy. Joe Stalin was probably a really well behaved kid. Osama Bin Laden would have wanted for little in his house as his family were very rich. I understand serial killer Ted Bundy was very charming with a winning personality. Little Nelson Mandela would have had a pretty impoverished and deprived childhood.
Much is made of violence, abuse or alcoholism in family homes affecting how kids grow up. Of course it does but that is not what I am going to talk about. You deal with your own home rules and regulations. You are the parent and you do what you feel is right as you know your kid better than me, but equip them with the following as second nature when they go out into the world. All other things being equal these are little things that matter because this is what people notice and only a parent or family can tell this stuff to a little boy, it would be wrong if it came from anyone else. Some may seem obvious and if it does, great, but it takes all sorts.
1) From the day your boy starts greeting people and being introduced. Teach him to shake hands properly, firmly. No-one likes a limp handshake. If that is not addressed it could cost him respect, a job, something important when he grows up. It seems trivial but there is no justification for a weak handshake. Practice it with him. Learn not to crush girl’s hands. Bone crushing handshakes are for the sports field not a family gathering. A boy should have pride in his manly handshake.
2) When he is shaking hands, tell him to look at the person he is greeting in the eye and smile. The only place for a grim face with a handshake is a funeral. When shaking multiple hands move your hand with your eyes, it’s disrespectful to shake the hand of the next person in line while still looking at and talking to previous people. You will see politicians and film stars do this. You would never see the Queen do it.
3) Look people in the eye when you address them. Don’t stare at them; you can glance away from time to time but look at people when you talk to them. Look them in the eye. Teach him that when adults talk to him, he must look at them. Let other people’s children look like they have ADHD. Teach yours to look at who is talking to them.
4) Make him hold his knife and fork properly. One day when he has graduated with a double 1st from Oxford and has to go to meet the great and the good for supper he will be exposed as a philistine if he holds his knife and fork like a pair of drum sticks. There is only one proper way of holding a knife and fork, knowing it matters. You may have the best cut glass accent, the most qualifications, the best wardrobe and more money than Croesus but if you can’t hold a knife and fork properly people will only see that when they eat with you and will judge you on the basis of it. It’s important, learn it and teach it.
5) Teach him to walk between a female companion and the road when walking on a footpath. It’s something from history to do with splashes from carriages or something like that but is a little bit of gentlemanly behaviour which no girl is going to mind if she thinks her chap is being a bit chivalrous.
6) Stand up when a woman in particular or adult in general enters the room, at the very least stand up to greet people if standing every time someone enters is not practical. Never stay seated when introduced to anyone unless you cannot physically stand because you have lost the use of your legs.
7) Wait until the host of any meal says you can start eating it. Don’t just tuck in. Also when called to any dining table at a gathering it’s best to stand until the hostess tells you to sit. She may well have a particular view on who sits where and with whom.
Nearly there, as we don’t want to give the little chap a brain explosion.
8) Never hit girls. It is never ok under any circumstance ever to hit a girl. They must understand this and be told it specifically from day one. There is actually no need to hit anyone but he must never strike a girl no matter what.
9) Teach him to write to people to thank them for what he has been given, be it a gift or hospitality. One thing that upsets people more than just about anything else is lack of gratitude for, or even acknowledgement of something they have done for you. It’s called manners. Never let anyone be able to say your son has no manners.
10) Always teach him that rational argument is more powerful than physical violence. It’s good for boys to be boys with plenty or rough and tumble but fighting is not allowed. I’ve only ever raised my fists in anger twice in my entire life, both times in my teens. Equip your son with a vocabulary, teach him how to use it and he should never have to thump anyone to get his point across. You may think that is easy to say and it is but it worked for me and I’ve been around a bit. Reason is better than violence. Any boy will feel better about himself if he has outwitted a foe rather than beaten them to a pulp. You do this by teaching your boy to read.
Literature and art are what set us apart from savages was probably a quote once but it’s true. I was taught to read from a very early age and thanks to my mum making sure I could and that I had a constant supply of what I liked to read, I learned how to learn. When I learned that it meant I could learn anything and if I can anyone can. Learn what matters. The little things that you can instil in your son to at least give him a head start when he decides what route his life takes. Some things need to be second nature, these have been a few of them.
Good luck and can I come to the winning ceremony, party or inauguration?
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