How to raise a son: A mom and pediatrician tells it like it is

How to Raise a Son: A Mom and Pediatrician Tells It Like It Is

So I’m the oldest of five daughters—and my first two children were girls.

In labor and delivery, when our OB/GYN announced our third child—“It’s a boy!”—we were incredibly excited, but there was also this niggling thought in the back of my mind: I have absolutely no idea about boys!

But another son later, I can speak with the voice of experience. Gender differences may be real, but at the same time, they’re not as big of a deal as everyone makes them out to be.

Still, we all want to raise kind, respectful (and clean!) boys—so, moms, here are a few of my best tips:

How to: Talk to boys
With my daughters, we’ll go out to lunch and talk eye to eye about any number of serious or not-so-serious topics. With boys, it’s important to remember that they are non-confrontational. (That’s important to remember even with grown boys, aka husbands!) So if you want to have a talk with your son, go on a walk. Talk during a car ride when you’re sitting side by side. Or have a heart to heart while doing an activity like Putt-Putt or bowling. These kinds of informal conversations are a wonderful way to reveal what’s going on in your son’s life and what he may be thinking or worrying about. Another tip: Ask about what’s going on in their friends’ lives too. That’s another great way to gain insight on what they may be dealing with but may not feel comfortable coming to tell you about.

How to: Model kindness and courtesy
They say charity begins at home. Well, so do characteristics like kindness, respect and courtesy. As moms, we can and should teach our sons to treat others the way we want to be treated. And consider this: How your son treats you as a woman is a good way to know how he will one day treat his future wife. So train him to be a gentleman, not only with things like opening doors and helping to bring in the groceries, but also approaching everyone with kindness and gentleness. The best way to teach this? Model the behavior at home. Because when moms and dads say “please” and “thank you,” you can bet that even little ones will too.

How to: Deal with potty talk
“When Nature Calls: Bathrooms, Belching, Boogers, Gas, Spitting and Scratching”: That’s the wonderful chapter title of a book I recommend, How to Raise a Gentleman by Kay West. Because boys love—and I mean love—discussing the many varied and often disgusting variety of noises, scents and more that emanate from their bodies. And not just discussing them—they like to make those noises, and often loudly. But there’s a time and a place for that, and that place is called the bathroom. In our house, the joke is, “If you need to talk about that, then go into the bathroom.” Not that they literally go into the bathroom and have a serious discussion about farting, but my sons know that I mean that potty talk doesn’t belong at the table, in front of guests or at other social occasions.

How to: Handle the abundant energy
It’s a cliché that boys are more boisterous than girls, but as in most cases, the cliché is true more often than not. Boys just break things—they may not mean to be destructive, but all that additional testosterone just makes them more likely to create a little havoc from time to time. As moms, we need to teach them to own up when they break something (because face it, you know it’s going to happen), clean up after themselves and, of course, apologize and try to fix the damage.

How to: Teach self-sufficiency
We all want our children to be well-rounded at school, but being well-rounded in life skills is equally as important. When I send my sons off to college, I want them to be able to do laundry, cook a meal and clean up after themselves. So let’s not gender discriminate these kinds of chores at home. At the appropriate age and stage, boys can and should help out in the kitchen, sort and run their laundry, and help sweep and tidy up.

How to: Teach leadership
Most of us are working moms these days, which offers a wonderful model of leadership to our children. But I will say that I think it’s also very important for boys to bond with a positive male role model in their lives who can teach them about strength, leadership, confidence and respect from the male perspective. This could be a husband/father, relative, family friend, teacher, pastor or other trusted figure.

How to: Smell nice
There was a little period when I’d ask my boys to take a shower after sports practice, and they would tell me, “Oh, mom, I’m OK—I was playing in the shade.” Happily, they’ll take showers now, but many a boy is reluctant to get in a bath and get clean. I don’t necessarily recommend bribery, but a fun new product (just like dad’s) can help. But the stinky football pads and soccer cleats? If you want to save your nose, keep them outside in the garage or in a separate mudroom. Ditto for sweaty clothing: To keep your son’s room smelling fresh, put his laundry hamper in the laundry room. And make sure his dirty clothes make it there. (Believe me, you’ll thank me!)

Finally, my very best tip? Appreciate your sons for who they are individually. My oldest is our athlete, totally driven and self-motivated. My youngest is our talker and loves to cook with me in the kitchen. They’re both wonderful and challenging and playful and joyful, each in their own way. And my second best tip for moms of sons? Feed them, and feed them well!

The Children’s Hospital of Georgia has the largest team of general pediatricians, adolescent medicine physicians and pediatric specialists in the Augusta area. For more information about CHOG, please visit our website at or call 706-721-KIDS (5437).

About the author

Kathryn Strickler McLeod, MD

Kathryn Strickler McLeod, MD

Pediatric General and Adolescent Medicine