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3 simple rules to encourage respectful ‘good’ behaviour in our kids

As we struggle to understand how some world leaders can show disrespect and bad behaviour, Maggie Dent suggests ways to encourage respectful, ‘good’ behaviour using three simple rules

The three rules:

Please try not to hurt

  1. yourself
  2. others
  3. things in the world around us.

I encourage families to use these three rules that matter as often as possible for all our children, but particularly for our boys.

We need to explain endlessly that hurting any of these three things is not OK – whether through words or actions! If we are able to embed these three rules deeply into our boys’ psyches from as early as possible, particularly that hurting others is not okay, then, possibly, we may be able to contribute to the much–needed cultural change around the thinking that it’s OK for men to molest, rape and murder women. Maybe if all homes used these simple rules as a guideline then even our girls would stop being so mean to other girls as well.

We then need to explain that there is a really big difference between accidentally hurting ourselves, others and things in the world around us and doing it intentionally. Of course, there are some children who have learned that hurting others is acceptable, or who have been seriously wronged in the past, who choose to deliberately hurt others, however, I have found this to be uncommon. Commonly, there is a reason for their behaviour that I often found had a positive intention attached to it. Sometimes, for example, your boy who was caught fighting may have been trying to defend a friend or to stop someone attacking his sense of fairness. Indeed, in my classrooms and in my counselling rooms, I have often found the boys who deliberately hurt others had often experienced significant trauma early in their boyhood and were projecting that hurt outwards towards others.

So, next time you notice a behaviour or event that displeases you, pause and ask yourself, ‘What is he really trying to say?’

Respectful societal choices

While we strive to understand and sympathise with our boys, we can still encourage them to behave with respect towards others.

Manners are a good first step.

  • First big message for all boys – excuse yourself when you burp, sneeze, blow your nose, or perform some other bodily function outside of your bedroom. Teach your sons to use basic manners – excuse me, pardon, please, thank you and may I? Ensure you model the same!
  • Teach your sons welcoming and farewelling behaviours. When being introduced to adults, offer them a firm handshake (besides when practising social distancing due to global pandemics!), look them in the eye and say ‘nice to meet you’ or something similar. Please practise with your son so it becomes comfortable.
  • Aim to treat the elderly with respect and offer them a seat on public transport.
  • Always offer pregnant women and people with physical disabilities help as well as your seat. Do it with a smile.
  • Teach your sons that it is never acceptable to verbally abuse or hit women or children. Avoid doing the same to boys and men.
  • Teach your sons to thank bus drivers, taxi drivers and rideshare drivers.
  • Teach your sons to thank shop assistants, hospitality staff and anyone who offers a service of any kind.
  • Have conversations around the more traditional expectations of male to female behaviour such as opening doors, pulling out chairs, and standing when a woman enters the room. Warn him that some younger women may find these gestures unacceptable while older women see it as a sign of respect!
  • Teach your son to thank and maybe compliment the person who has made food for him.
  • Ask to be excused at the end of the meal after everyone else has finished eating.
  • Have your phone out of sight during mealtimes and avoid answering or responding to alerts during mealtime.
  • Remind your son about phone etiquette and encourage him to not look at his phone while having a conversation with someone.
  • Teach your son to apologise quickly if he may have caused someone some emotional pain – regardless of whether he intended to or not.
  • Teach your son to congratulate winners, especially when he is the loser.
  • Teach your son to be on the lookout for people who may need some help and to step up quickly and offer.
  • Encourage your son to be patient in queues.

Low res image FROM BOYS TO MEN


From Boys to Men by Maggie Dent, published by Macmillan Australia. RRP $34.99

Maggie Dent’s media has a wealth of information and resources for parents, teachers and carers:

YouTube Channel

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