Saturday, April 30, 2011

Mind Your Manners

When I was pregnant the first time, the one thing that blew me away in those pregnancy books I devoured was just how much teaching I would have to undertake. The one thing that really stuck out was that children do not even understand the difference between day and night until the parents teach them. That's when I got a little freaked out (OK, a LOT freaked out) at the prospect of teaching all of these basics to my kids.

One of the areas I knew I'd need to focus on was manners. My parents have told me so many horror stories about the poor behavior they've noticed in public places and how poorly the parents have handled those acts of transgression. They felt sorry for the kids who didn't know any better and frustrated with the parents who weren't teaching the children the lessons they needed to know. Important note: Most of these stories were about how my relatives had transgressed, so I also saw the chance to get family brownie points by addressing this oversight in my own parenting. And even though I'm an adult, I am still prone to bouts of sibling rivalry.

Now, I'm the first one to confess that my children are not polite all of the time. There are times I look at them and wonder in which cage they left their clubs and am amazed they're even walking upright when they act like such neanderthals. But then I get a compliment from a stranger on how well they're behaving, or my parents ask to join us when we go out to eat (they obviously don't mind being seen in public with my rascals!), and a sense of rightness comes back over our environment. And the little moments, like when my son asks for a tissue "please" or my son thanks me for bringing him a glass of water, make my heart soar. When they behave well in public, my husband and I have a much more enjoyable time ourselves.

So how did we get to this point of relative sanity? It certainly didn't happen overnight!

Set an example - I want to have polite children? Then I need to be polite. Most importantly, I need to be polite to them. They imitate me at so many times that I don't want them to, so they might as well see some behaviors I'd like for them to imitate. When I want them to get me something, I'll make sure I say please. When they do something they've been asked to do, I thank them and express my appreciation. Not only does this remind them of the behavior, they learn how good it feels to be on the receiving end.

Reinforce positive behavior - Kids love being caught doing stuff right. It's such a boost for them to do something well and get caught doing it. So when my children use their polite manners, or someone else passes along a compliment on their manners, I share it with them. I'll get a huge smile from them when they receive the praise, and I can tell that it's taking root inside them. My kids thrive on compliments, and while I don't want to give them the mistaken impression they're the most perfect creatures to have ever walked the earth, I do want to make sure they know what they do well.

It's so simple too - when one asks if he could have a tissue please, I smile when I give him the tissue and thank him for asking so politely. If his brother is in earshot, I might throw in a quick comment like "I'm so proud of having boys with such terrific manners" to use it as a teaching moment for his brother too.

And when I get a compliment from someone else, I make sure to pass it on. I picked up a son from a birthday party, and the host made a point of telling me how wonderful his manners had been during the party. I smiled and thanked her for the compliment. When we got to the car, I hugged my son and told him I had to share something with him. I passed along the compliment and praised him for behaving so well at someone else's house. He had had fun at the party, but he was even happier after being praised.

Use slips as teaching moments, not punishing - They're not perfect. While they use excellent manners a lot of the time, they have their moments. They are still kids, after all. But when we parents react well to those moments, we can make them fewer and farther between.

We went out to eat recently, and the waitress didn't leave straws for the boys. When she came back to the table, my older son told her "you didn't leave us straws". After the waitress left the table, I quietly leaned over to my son to tell him he had not behaved politely. I told him it would have been better to say "could i have a straw please" because that would have been more polite. I also reminded him that he usually uses such wonderful manners, so I was surprised he hadn't used his good manners, and I would appreciate him using his good manners for the rest of the meal. He did. And when the waitress dropped off the check at the end of the meal, she heaped praise on the boys for their terrific behavior.

Polite kids don't happen overnight, but the efforts definitely pay off. I enjoy myself so much more in public because I don't have to worry about them being rude. The best payoff is for the kids, though. Other parents like having my kids around their kids because of their behavior, which means they'll be included in playdates and parties, and that friendships are more likely to be encouraged with their kids. That means more opportunities for fun and strong relationships for them.

1 comment:

  1. Totally agree with this. My kids can be total ratfinks at times, but I am constantly told how polite they are when they go places without us. When they are with us, we'll go to a restaurant or something and they seem to enjoy showing the waitstaff that they are Adult Polite People. It's almost a game to them. What is funny is that so many people do tell me that my ratfinks are polite. It often makes me wonder what they are seeing from other kids (although some of my interactions from neighbor kids--like the one who routinely tells me when I say "Stop hitting with that stick" that I'm "not his mom"--are a good indication. I think we owe it to our kids to teach them these skills.

    Another good learning lesson that you might experience as they get older is dealing with adults who aren't polite back. For example, when your 13 year old holds the door and 3 adults walk through as though it is their right, without even thanking him, while he's trying to get away and follow me (who he'd originally intended to hold the door for). Makes for some interesting conversations. :)