Friday, July 03, 2009

How Children Learn Manners

This article has some interesting food for thought.

I remember hearing, quite some time ago, that the best way to teach children to allow others to go first is not by forcing them to let everyone else go first all the time, but by seeing others model the "after you" attitude. I think of our family gatherings . . . The youngest children are almost always served first, followed by the oldest people in the gathering (i.e. grandma).

It seems that as the children grow older, they naturally gravitate from being the one stepped aside for, to stepping aside for others. Sometimes, though, they do get some reminders or encouragement.

The thought about it not being polite to tell others what to say has me thinking. I do think that, as parents, it is our job to coach our children and instruct them. But I do also think that kids naturally tend to reflect the tones and attitudes that are used toward them, and this is definitely something worth being aware of.

Right now we're dealing with the issue of our kids correcting others or telling them what to do a lot. I realized last night that when one of my kids is rude and judgemental toward someone, my responding in a rude and judgemental tone is not exactly helpful. So, I've been working on my response to this.

If I respond by saying something like, "[Child's first and middle name], that is NOT the way you talk to someone! How rude!" then I'm really modeling exactly the type of behavior I am trying to correct--harsh, rude and shaming.

Instead, I'm trying to come up with an approach that is instructive while modeling the respectful, polite tones that I want them to learn--something like, "Oops, that didn't come across very politely. Can you think of a kinder way to say that?" And then helping them with some ideas to rephrase it.

I'm also realizing that I need to teach my children not to interrupt and to listen politely when someone else is talking not just by instructing them in those skills. I also need to make a concerted effort to give them my full attention and listen politely without interrupting when they are talking.

What do you all think, and how do/would you approach these kinds of issues?


purple_kangaroo said...

Just to clarify, I don't agree with everything in the article. I think some of it was a little over-the-top, especially the part about being told what to do causing major self-esteem issues.

I also disagree with the implication that one should never do or say anything that doesn't fit with their emotions at the moment. I strongly believe that our emotions cannot always determine our actions. I think there's a balance between not saying things that are untruthful or insincere, which is fine, but also not allowing ourselves to do or say things that are hurtful to others just because we are in a bad mood or whatever.

I don't force my kids to say "I'm sorry" if they don't want to, but I do require them to make restitution if they hurt or destroy someone or something.

I don't make my kids talk to people when they're uncomfortable, and I think it's very important not to pressure kids to do things like hug someone they're uncomfortable with.

But I do require my kids to take turns and treat people kindly even when they don't feel like it. I think that in order to make society function smoothly we need to treat each other with kindness and respect whether we "feel like it" or not.

I'm often telling my kids that it's OK to be angry, but it's not OK to hurt themselves or other people or destroy things in their anger.

We also strongly discourage the use of the word "hate" in most situations at our home. It's OK if used toward sin, but not toward people.

I handle this by explaining to my kids that the word "hate" means that they want to destroy something.

Normally, if I talk it through with them, they will admit that they don't really want to destroy all broccoli in the world so that it no longer exists. They just don't like the taste. And they don't want to destroy their sister, they are just mad at her at the moment.

So I work with them on finding more accurate and appropriate ways to describe their feelings.

MamasBoy said...

I like the idea of showing respect to your children and working to understand them and not being rude, but I'm also uncomfortable with the focus on feelings in the article, or even the child's wishes to some extent. To pick an example from the article, I'm not going to focus on my kid's shyness by stating that "Johnny doesn't want to talk to you today." That seems rude to me and unduly focused on the child's immature whims. I'd rather just answer basic questions about my kid (without their permission) and let them chime in if they feel like it. If the question isn't a rude or unduly invasive, I'd rather just answer for them, even if my kid is being shy or would say he/she doesn't want me to answer (if given the choice). In my experience, they will chime in to add something half the time. Giving them the option of simply clamming up strikes me as rude, and I'd rather model good behavior than teach them that choosing to be rude is an OK choice.

To take it further, IMHO, parents can go awry when they forget the true nature of family and turn it into a democratic republic. As my dad used to say, "This family isn't a democracy. It is a benevolent dictatorship." He also had a similar paraphrase of Laurence of Arabia, along a similar vein, "I could be rich, but I am not. And why? Because I am a river to my people!"

I think kids can see right through the mask of democracy. When it comes down to what they really want, kids want their parents together more than just about anything. As the out-of-wedlock birth, divorce and remarriage rates show, when it comes right down to it, most parents are going to do what they want no matter what their kids will think. No amount of freedom/choice in bedtimes, clothes or even friends can disguise for the fundamental structure of the family as dictatorship highlighted by their lack of choice in living with both parents. Parents can try to give the illusion of democracy and choice, but it only shows what they consider important enough to enforce.

Does it show that I've sat through one to many private and state-sponsored spanking is bad, respect your kids and give them choices so everything will be better parenting classes?

King MamasBoy

purple_kangaroo said...

I agree with you about answering for the child instead of saying something like, "Johnny doesn't want to talk to you today." I usually handle such situations by encouraging the child to answer, and then telling the person that the child is feeling a bit shy and answering the question for them.

I don't think it's necessarily healthy to teach children that they should just do anything that any adult wants, or answer any question an adult asks.

My parents never, for instance, made us hug someone we were uncomfortable with as children. To me, that's very healthy and even important--I don't think we should be working to get our kids used to allowing touch or other invasions of personal space that make them uncomfortable, and I think they should be used to having a say over such things. Those limit-setting and personal boundary-keeping skills will be important to them throughout their lives.

You lost me with the rest of it. I think we can lovingly set limits with children where necessary while also allowing them to have feelings, and also allow children choices within reason.

Mark and I have chosen not to use spanking as a parenting tool with our kids, and we try to treat them with Biblical respect, grace and love (even when we have to set limits, speak truth, and allow consequences), but it doesn't follow that we are therefore going to get divorced and inflict a broken family on our children. :)

purple_kangaroo said...

Oh, and we don't see our family as a democracy. We tend to take the view that our job as parents is to guide, teach, instruct and train up our children--and that punitive punishments usually aren't the most effective way to do that.

MamasBoy said...


I must not have been clear. I didn't mean to say that your parenting style leads to divorce. I meant to say that "democratic" family structures where kids opinions are equally valued are a farce. This is evident to kids, the majority of whom do not live with their mother and father.

As an aside, there is a big difference in my mind as well between making conversation with/about a kid and coercing affection.

I would try to explain how this all ties into the article's example of a mother talking to someone about her child, but I'm not sure I'd do a good job, so I'll leave off here.


purple_kangaroo said...

MB, I think we largely agree. :)