The Secret to Raising Kind, Smart, Creative Boys

by Michelle Lehnardt
Originally Published: 

The desire to be “normal,” or at least conform to some social parameter, impacts all of us. To some extent, these desires are healthy. They keep us from stealing cars and yelling at the slow person in front of us at the grocery store. Yet the drive to wear the right clothes, see the same movies, play the cool sports stifles individuals.

If you want to raise kind, smart, creative boys (and girls, for that matter), prepare to be very different. If you’re raising sons, I don’t need to show you the research detailing the toxic environment modern society offers boys. Over and over, when my boys were little, people told me I was turning my boys into wimps and nerds by racing to violin lessons after baseball practice, reading too many books and rejecting video games and cable TV. I ignored the naysayers because, for me, popularity was never the goal. Interestingly, my boys are extremely well-liked among their peers.

I’ll share a secret, and it’s a big one.

I believe my children are amazing.

And I believe your children are amazing.

Viewing my children as beings with limitless potential has helped me many, many times to sift through bad advice and temporary fads. We are aiming for integrity, not Facebook “likes.” I have no aspirations for my sons to hold titles or prestige, but I do want them to be good, moral men who spread light wherever they go.

I’m the first to admit we’ve made plenty of mistakes. Even so, we don’t regard unkindness as acceptable behavior. My boys learned young they’d better not make jokes about someone’s weight or race or education. We laugh almost constantly, but at life’s absurdities, not at other people.

Parents can teach kindness by example when showing courtesy to cashiers, waitpersons, bank tellers and others. Cruising through the McDonald’s drive-thru offers a perfect opportunity to talk to kids about how hard the employees work, the many tasks they juggle at once, how many employees work two or more jobs. By offering praise for good work and respect for every occupation, we teach our children empathy and compassion.

Too often, the phrase “boys will be boys” excuses bad behavior. Yes, mothers of boys need to understand boys will make enormous messes, turn any stick into a sword or gun and forget to use shampoo and toothpaste. However, in my house, we don’t have to accept fighting, objectifying women, crude words or behavior.

My friend Catherine parents twin boys who just turned 4. “They’ve started hitting each other and everyone,” she said. “How do I get them to stop?”

“Work on it every single day for the next 15 years,” I answered with only the very slightest tinge of sarcasm.

And it’s true. Just recently, my 21-year-old learned how to hold wrestling matches without anyone crying or needing stitches. Boys hit. They just do. Still, it’s our job as parents to help them control their tempers.

I am not a fan of the “let them fight it out” mentality. My husband and I both grew up with brothers who fought as children and caused lifelong resentment. Also, learning to control the desire to hit or lash out will be invaluable when boys become husbands and fathers.

Preparing for fatherhood begins in childhood. When one of my boys kicks the winning soccer goal or receives a perfect test score, I’m happy, but I’m much more proud when they soothe a fussy baby at church, take a pack of younger visitors out to play on the trampoline or consent to play tea party or princess games with their younger sister. As the adage goes, “A man never stands as tall as when he kneels to help a child.”

Crude jokes—especially anything objectifying women—have no place among real men. Neither does crude behavior.

When someone burps at our house, they say “excuse me.” Old-fashioned? Yes, but good manners never go out of style. I believe the old ways are the best ways—opening doors, shoveling sidewalks, giving up your seat on the bus.

Our sons should be acquainted with grief. This subject requires insight from parents, but I believe it is essential our children understand the heartaches and struggles in their own home, their neighborhood and the world. For some, it’s easier to talk about starving children than the fact Daddy just lost his job. Our children gain compassion and perspective when they know life isn’t easy for anyone. As Plato famously advised, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Finally, maintaining a sense of whimsy leads to kindness. As my son loves to say, “My life would be so boring if my parents weren’t so immature.”

I’ll confess to all kinds of immaturity. I think it would be a shame to outgrow or be too cool to make valentines, drive through mud puddles, throw pumpkins off the roof, watch Toy Story and hold water fights in the backyard.

Happiness and kindness walk hand in hand. The more I encourage laughter at home, the happier we become.

And we are, as I love to repeat, made for happiness.

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