Why Good Manners Matter

“…the principle of civil reciprocity is a solid one, for which reason it is occasion for total, staggering dismay that it appears to be on its way out.” Lynne Truss fumes in her wonderfully, hotheaded bestseller, Talk to the Hand  #?*! The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay at Home and Bolt the Door.

 

“Shut up Mom!” hollers a three year old from her perch in the grocery cart. “Is this all there is?” a six year old questions, as he unhappily chooses a lollipop from the reward bag his teacher has just handed him. “I was going to invite my friend Jordan, but he couldn’t make it, so I had to invite you…” laments a 13 year old boy to a classmate, as he chews an enormous bite of a sandwich…with his mouth open…

 

“I don’t want to prepare her for a cotillion, maybe I could just get her to look up at me and stop ‘texting’ for a moment, when I ask her about her day?” says the dad of sixth grade Stephanie.

 

People are mourning the loss of etiquette. The search term that brings the highest number of people to my parenting blog, day after day, year after year is “children’s manners”. Parents want their children to be well mannered and they themselves would like to be treated with dignity and respect…maybe even a little deference.

 

Kids are kids and expected to say outrageous things from time to time. The days of “children should be seen and not heard” are long gone. However, children need to be trained to not only place their napkins in their laps, but to be aware that they are members of a large global society. As the credit card commercial says, “Membership has its privileges”. Membership also has its responsibilities, the biggest responsibility, valuing the other members.

 

If kids aren’t displaying good manners, it is not a big stretch to assume that parents aren’t teaching and/or modeling good manners. A father, who demonstrates boorish manners, gives the green light to his child to use boorish manners; dad might even think it is funny when his child acts out in public. The problem is we (instructors, teachers, coaches, admissions officers, and bosses) don’t find the child’s behavior funny, and we (instructors, teachers, coaches, admissions officers, and bosses) quickly pass him over. Sadly, the ill-mannered child never had a chance; his father chose his behavior, and the consequences of that behavior, for him.

 

Why aren’t parents teaching manners if they would like their children to use good manners, and they know that their children must exhibit good manners to succeed?

 

It does seem, from the many parents that I interview, that parents today are not too keen on being the “bad guys” to their children. Parents want their children to have manners, but cringe at correcting their children’s bad behavior. “I hate to come home from work after not seeing my kids all day and have to start disciplining their behavior; I would rather just goof around with them.”

 

Other parents didn’t receive manners training themselves, so teaching manners to their children is not an option. “I feel at a huge disadvantage. I wasn’t taught manners as a child and I am very uncomfortable in certain social situations. I struggle at business events because, I hate to admit it, I don’t have a lot of tact, sometimes, I inadvertently blurt out some inane and completely inappropriate comment.  I just do not even know where to begin to teach him a better way to behave.”

 

It is not uncommon to hear parents today say that their children are “gifted”, “brilliant”, “testing for genius”, or possessing “perfect pitch”. Perhaps these parents are so busy pointing out the great, it is difficult to see the not-so-great? Maybe these parents are fearful if they say anything deemed negative or judgmental, they will damage their children’s psyches? Maybe pointing out a child’s “not-so-great” behavior makes the parent look “not-so-great”?

 

Many people hypothesize the reasons behind (per the sub-title in Lynn Truss’ book), “The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today.” Maybe the trend is a consequence of high divorce rates, increasing single parent homes, the great number of two working parents, political correctness, video games, The Media, The Internet, the pornification of society…maybe a combination of the list? But is the question even relevant? None of these “possible causes” are going away any time soon.

 

So it becomes our job as parents to accept the culture as it is today, and teach our children good manners. Arming our children with manners and values allows them the opportunity to make good choices when faced with the curve balls, “the world” will inevitably throw at them.

 

Respecting and valuing others, developing high integrity and making others feel at ease, are probably the key reasons that society practices good manners. Manners put us at ease with those people that we know. Manners make us feel safe around complete strangers.

 

It would be anxiety provoking, to say the least, if there were no rules of social etiquette. What if, when browsing through a dress rack at the mall, it was perfectly acceptable for the stranger browsing alongside us, coveting the discounted blouse we got to first, to pop us one in the jaw and wrestle us to the floor for the garment? How often would we go to the mall?

 

It is okay that social standards have relaxed over the past 75 years. Rigidity and strict rules don’t fit today’s world. Pinafores, cotillions, white gloves, dessert spoons, sipping tea from the saucer, and pillbox hats seem out of place in most social circles. But the basic tenets of etiquette still hold strong and true.

 

Proper table manners, pleasant conversational skills, appropriate dress and the use of tact are social graces that make interacting with others easy and agreeable. Etiquette rules that embrace the goals of respecting and valuing others, having high integrity and putting others at ease, make living side by side easy. It is hard to argue the merit of good etiquette.

 

Fail to teach children manners and fail them. Without proper manners training, children will run into awkward situations as they mature that will probably limit their options for success. We want our kids to be participatory members of a thriving and exciting, civil society. The last thing that parents want for their children is for them to have to “Stay home and bolt the door.”

 

 

 

 

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Family Time Should Not Include Video Games

As the mom of two little boys and the designer and manufacturer of a line of games, toys and parenting tools I have a unique perspective on children’s toys, games, and products. I also have attended Toy Fair every year in New York where all of the new toys are introduced to the trade before they hit the stores.

I am pro toy. I love creative board games, building blocks, puppets, books, puzzles, science projects, sports equipment and crafts. I seek toys, products and games that engage, challenge, educate, encourage movement and that are fun. I especially love toys that encourage family time. And am thrilled when a birthday invitation arrives and I get to take my kids to a toy store to buy a gift.

Unlike the average lay person who strolls the toy aisles with casual interest, I painstakingly study each shelf, taking detailed notes about the designs, age appropriateness, quality of packaging, attention to detail, and overall toy concept. “What is the mark up on this item?” “Did the manufacturer have an inspector in the manufacturing plant assuring the use of safe products?” “How much damage is this wasteful packaging going to do to the planet in my child’s lifetime?” “What kind of a hit is this toy maker going to take when smart and thoughtful moms and dads say, ‘No Way!’ to this doll that looks like a prostitute?”

I ask myself questions with my mom hat on, “Would a child lose interest after 15 minutes and leave this toy discarded on the family room floor?” and “How many pieces will get sucked up in the vacuum, roll under the couch, get eaten by the dog, or get flushed down the potty while dinner is being prepared?…Will it be fun for mom and dad to play too?”

I make it a point to get children’s perspectives on toys. I teach Tae Kwon Do to a wide age range of children and interrogate them after class about their varying interests. I volunteer in my six year old child’s classroom very often and have in-depth discussions with the children about what they enjoy doing and playing with and I get down on the floor and play with my three year old and his friends and watch them delight over things that roll.

A recurring theme repeats itself over and over to me, “Will you play with me?” “Watch me do this!” “Mom, check this out, check this out!” “Do you want me to make one for you?” “I am going to dress up as a pirate; can you dress up as Wonder Woman!” The resounding theme is: be with me, play with me, connect with me, and share yourself with me!

As I hear the welcoming and joyful invitations to play from the many kids I have the honor and privilege of being around, I can’t believe the rotten choices we are given in retail stores for juvenile products.

Of all the choices, I find video games to be the most rotten and scary. Children are begging us to give them our time and attention, and we are handing them insipid tech toys that isolate them from us, their siblings and their peers. As if it weren’t bad enough to immobilize a child in front of the television or computer at home for hour after hour, manufacturers have scaled the units down so that kids can play video games in the car, instead of speaking with us; play video games on the playground, instead of hanging on the monkey bars; and even play video games at the dinner table, instead of eating with the family.

Video games, computer games, DVD players and ipods discourage face to face interaction, requiring the user to stare sedately at a screen, or tune people out with earphones. These devices also discourage creativity, imagination and activity. We have all heard the frightening reports of increasing childhood obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes; however we continue to offer toy choices that limit mobility.

There isn’t a lack of creative toy design. There are many wildly clever toy designers that figure ingenuity, originality and inventiveness into their products. The problem is lack of interest from the masses. Small toy stores that once offered interesting choices have been pushed out by the enormous box stores that, due to their large size, can offer toys at lower prices. The risk is too high for most independent manufacturers to sell to the box stores. For instance, if a box store orders a huge amount, 100,000 units perhaps, and those units don’t sell, the small manufacturer is often required to buy back the inventory, and can be bankrupted with one terrible phone call. The result: kids get slim pickings. Video games sell, so stores offer more and more video games.

With envy, I have watched children burst out of classrooms into the sunlight and run screaming onto the playground desperate to blow off their pent up energy. I try to remember what it feels like to want to run until I fall down. It has been my pleasure to work side by side with kids for hours as they enthusiastically learn how to tie dye t-shirts, make soap, knead dough, construct cities with blocks, and kick or punch through boards. I marvel at their creative energy, their willingness to take on new things, and their social ease and intelligence. After years of teaching kids, I have never had a single child say to me, “I think that instead of cracking these eggs into this cake batter we are making together, I would rather play a video game, alone, in my room.”

After watching kids playing merrily on the playground or grinning from ear to ear as they run all day on a beach, how could any parent opt to instead sit their children in front of a television for hours of passive, inactive, button pushing. If I were a kid and I knew everything that I know now, I would revolt.

I guess it is our job, as caring, loving parents, to revolt for them.

Let’s stand up for our children’s right to actively experience childhood, and stop handing them devices that discourage running, jumping, imagining, reading, growing, learning, and moving? Let’s encourage face to face interaction and give our kids the attention that they need and crave and that we promised them the first time we held them. Let’s limit the amount of video monitors that we expose our children to, in favor of games, toys and crafts that appeal to their energized, smart, clever and funny nature. Let’s choose to put down what we are doing in favor of being with our kids. There will be plenty of time to do what we want when we blink and our kids are grown.

Family Time: Instant Protection Against Dangerous Influences

Moms on Edge LogoFamily time is a necessity for those wishing to build happy and healthy families. Parents that take time out to eat as a family, play, read, and talk together, teach children that they matter, that relationships are worth nurturing, and that strong family bonds breed success. 

Setting aside blocks allocated for family time can be very difficult for busy families. By the time everyone is home from work, school, sports, and other outside activities people are tired, playing a board game seems like the least important item on the to-do list. However, playing a board game, metaphorically, is the most important item to cross off of the list.  

Family time is valuable time when parents can take time out to observe their children, follow their children, hug and kiss them, encourage, guide, and laugh. Family time is when children feel comfortable opening up to their parents; this is a time when the mood is relaxed and children feel supported, valued and loved. 

Eat together

Studies have shown that the family activity with the greatest positive impact on children, is sitting down together to dinner each evening. Benefits for children include learning patience, (family members should wait for everyone to be served before eating and remain at the table until everyone is through), sitting quietly and calmly to eat, and listening attentively and participating in the conversation. If an evening meal is impossible to schedule, families can find a different meal to gather, a fun idea is to set the table later in the evening when everyone is home, and have dessert together.  

Children should be included in meal preparation, setting the table, and clean-up. Although table manners must be taught and reinforced, mealtime should be a pleasant experience with a focus on togetherness. Quick behavioral reminders will reinforce good manners and then conversation can be resumed. Parents should choose to be in a good mood and not let the day’s issues weigh down the meal. After all, this is family time! 

Creative planning can make the evening meal easier to put on the table and clean up afterwards. Simple meals, and meals prepared in advance and frozen, are good ways to ease the evening scramble and help keep the focus on family time, not on cooking and cleanup. Instead of spending an hour cleaning the kitchen after the meal, simple meals free up some time in the evening for togetherness. 

Shut off the television and the computer

Shutting off the television in the evening helps to place the focus on the people in the house instead of the strangers on the screen. The evening hours spent interacting as a family instead of staring at the television will benefit everyone greatly and will help create warm and lasting memories.  Shutting off the television and the computer eliminates the risk that children will be exposed to damaging levels of violence and sexual content. Experts claim that violence and sexual imagery negatively change the brain chemistry of children, resulting in permanent changes in the brain’s wiring.   

Set a relaxed mood

Bathe young children and put them in their pajamas. Put on some light music that isn’t jarring or offensive, this often cues a little impromptu dancing from children, always good for a laugh. No arguing, bickering, or crabbiness. Family time should be warm, joyful and happy. Parents should be demonstrative and giving, snuggle, hug, and kiss the kids and each other. Family time like this is ideal for modeling loving, kind behavior. 

Find fun games and activities

The nature of children is to be fun loving and flexible and open to many ideas. Coloring, board games, guessing games, acting, playing with dolls or cars, and reading are all fun things to do together. Allow children to help set the evening agenda. One idea based on the Montessori principal of learning suggests observing the child and leading by following the child.  

There are other opportunities during the day for family time

The evening is not the only option for family time. Parents should seek out other times to be together. Take the kids on the morning and afternoon dog walk, invite them to join in on gardening, ask them to help wash the car or help with the laundry. It is probably true that activities will be completed slower with kids as helpers, but their happiness far outweighs the inconvenience. 

Parents who zone out each evening in front of the television or computer for hours and hours rob children of the necessary family time that they need. It is stingy of parents to choose to channel or web surf over spending time with their kids. In a blink of an eye the kids will be up and out of the house and parents will have the rest of their lives to stare blankly at a screen, alone.  

Making a conscious effort to spend quality family time together is vital to the health and welfare of children. Children do not thrive if parents don’t interact with them daily. When parents choose to have kids, they automatically choose to sacrifice their time to raise their kids. Family time is a parenting tool which helps to regulate the content that children are exposed to and introduce healthier activities. Developing strong relationships with children also will build bonds that last a lifetime.   

“Must Use” Parenting Tool: Nine Point Checklist for Proper Phone Etiquette

moe-logo.jpg Parents learn quickly that telephones are like magnets to children. With multiple cell phones and land lines ringing, children have greater access to phone communication than ever before, and are more fascinated than ever with their use.  

Per Spiderman’s creed, “With great power comes great responsibility,” children need to be taught early that the telephone is not a toy and that proper behavior is a must for anyone who uses the phone. Parents should always model courteous phone etiquette.  

The check list below is a good parenting tool to ensure that children use the phone properly. 

Ask to use the phone

To maintain boundaries, it is a good idea to require children to ask before using the phone. Very small children can be tempted to hit the redial button over and over, annoying the person on the receiving end. Older children can while away hours chatting, before parents become aware.  

Answer the phone properly

Parents should equip children with a polite greeting for answering the phone. “Hello, may I help you?” or “Hello, who is this speaking please?” are polite salutations and not abrupt like, “Yeah? Who’s this?” Unless the child knows who is calling, he should refrain from identifying himself. If the child knows the caller, (the phone is handed to him, or he recognizes the number displayed on the caller I.D. feature) he should say politely, “Hello, this is “Dan”.” 

When a child answers the phone and it is for someone else, he should politely say, for example, “Yes my mom is here, one moment please while I get her,” and always hand the phone to the requested person. Yelling, “MOM, PHONE!” is disrespectful to caller and call recipient and should be curbed immediately. Suspending phone privileges is an effective method of reinforcing ground rules; time out from phone use gives kids an appreciation for the privilege. 

Responding to a wrong number appropriately is crucial. Kids should never give personal information of any kind to unknown callers, including their own names or the names of others in the household. A respectful and smart response to a wrong number is, “I am sorry you have the wrong number,” and hang up.  

Conversing with a stranger over the phone is dangerous. People who prey on children know how to manipulate them into giving personal information. Parents should teach kids to hang up immediately and without saying, “goodbye,” if the caller makes them feel even remotely uncomfortable. After hanging up, the child should alert a parent immediately. 

Older children, home alone, should never let a strange caller know. Parents can train children to have an excuse ready, “I am sorry but my father is busy and can’t come to the phone right now. Goodbye.” The child should hang up immediately without further discussion. Screening calls is an even safer idea, kids can pick up only those calls where they recognize the caller’s I.D. 

Use a polite salutation when placing a call

A child placing a call should identify himself using his full name, “Hello, this is John Jones, is Miranda at home?” is a polite greeting. 

Speak so the listener can understand

Kids should be told to use an “indoor voice,” and encouraged to speak into the receiver clearly, without mumbling or yelling. Very young children sometimes go silent or trail off when on the phone, so parents should be ready to encourage the conversation or take over. Parents should make sure that the caller is amenable to speaking to a small child, as adorable as kids are, not everyone responds positively to teaching kids to use the phone. 

Establish time limits

Phone use is a privilege and parents need to set clear boundaries. Most families don’t allow calls to go out or come in between 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning and 9:00 at night.  

Set a reasonable amount of time for children to be on the phone. Preschoolers up through elementary age children are easy to limit, but parents need to be very clear and consistent with time limits for preteens and teens. It is appropriate to take a time out from the phone during the homework block, while eating dinner or during family time. Cell phone use and text messaging should be monitored to ensure activity doesn’t get out of hand.  

Finish the call politely

Little children should be taught to say, “goodbye,” at the end of the call, not to just toss the phone down or hang up. As children mature they should finish all phone calls with a polite remark such as, “It was great speaking with you,  Grandma.”  The phone should always be returned to its designated home by the person who used the phone last. 

Be respectful when others are using the phone

Eavesdropping, creating background noise, and speaking to or distracting a person who is on the phone, are all impolite behaviors that should not be tolerated. In addition, pushing phone buttons, playing with the cord, picking up an extension and grabbing at the phone are off limits behaviors that should be “nipped in the bud.” 

It is difficult for very small children to understand that they must be quiet when a parent is taking a call. Cutting calls short or planning important calls when children are napping, occupied by the other parent, or engaged in an activity, helps ensure less stressful phone calls. Parents can let older children know beforehand that they need quiet while they are on the phone.  

Take a message please

Children of about age eight and up can take a basic message. Paper and pens should be placed near phones and kids can be coached to ask for whom the call is for, who is calling, and the telephone number where the person can be reached. The child should read the information back to the caller to ensure accurate content. 

Leave a clear message

Even small children can be taught to leave a clear and concise message with their name and telephone number.  

The increase in telephone usage over the past decade has magnified the need for good telephone skills. Most people have a telephone on their person at all times. In addition, predators have gotten very adept at infiltrating homes and communicating with children. Completing the above checklist will assure parents that their children are politely and safely using the phone.