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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Six Communication Skills Every Child Should Know

“I was at a party the other night and I got trapped in the corner by a man who just talked and talked and talked. I tried to give him the signals to end the conversation, but he didn’t pick up on them. What a bore.” 

Teaching children how to communicate politely and effectively is one of a parent’s most important tasks. Assuming that children will learn proper communication skills without parental guidance is a big mistake. Parents should begin teaching their children basic communication skills at birth and continue to hone their child’s skills as the child matures. Communicating well with others is a basic tenet of society. 

Daily conversations with children are an excellent way for parents to model basic communication skills. Deliberate conversations with children, using polite conversational skills, help lay a foundation for good communication later in life. The parent’s ultimate goal is to raise a person who converses courteously, who listens to what others say, and who is able to clearly express his or her own thoughts, ideas and opinions.  

On page 195 of her book, Emily Post’s Etiquette, Peggy Post lists six basics of communication that parents should teach to their kids.  First, she advises, make eye contact. It is important that children be taught to establish eye contact with the person with whom they are speaking. Looking directly at the other person in the conversation shows interest and gives respect. Children need to be taught that looking away is a sign of disinterest and is not good manners 

Second, speak clearly and correctly. Using good pronunciation, not rushing speech and using good grammar are all aspects of communication that parents should model for children. Parents should pay attention to how their children are speaking and gently correct without embarrassing. There is no need to correct mistakes in front of others, doing so may cause children to feel self-conscious, inhibiting their speech in public. 

Third, take turns and don’t interrupt. Children must be trained not to jump into a conversation just because they feel like talking. It is important that parents curb this behavior and teach children self-control. When a child interrupts, the parent should stop their conversation, firmly tell the interrupting child to wait their turn, and then pick-up the conversation where they left off. 

Fourth, pay attention and respond appropriately. Modeling good listening skills to children is the best way to teach good listening. When conversing with children, parents should listen attentively and repeat key phrases back to the child so that the child feels heard. Ask appropriate questions of the child and allow the child to respond. Show interest in what the child has to say. The best conversationalists are those who listen well. 

Fifth, enter conversations politely. There is a correct way to join a conversation that uses good manners. If parents consistently demonstrate how to politely enter a conversation, overtime, children will learn the practice. Parents should show children how to approach the group quietly, smile to those in conversation, listen to what people are saying, and wait until they are spoken to before speaking.  

It is also important for parents to teach children how to behave politely when someone joins an active conversation. Those in the group should smile and nod to recognize the person joining them, when the speaker finishes, the group can greet the newcomer and make introductions. 

Finally, Post notes that one should end conversations pleasantly. Walking away from a conversation with good manners is a crucial skill to possess and one that parents should work hard at teaching to their children. Parents should encourage children to leave a conversation saying some pleasantry such as, “I promised my cousin that I would throw the ball with him and so I need to go now, but it was really nice talking to you.”  

Other important skills that parents should focus on when teaching children basic communicational skills are controlling volume, not using “potty talk” and keeping private matters private.  

Parents should also help children to understand nonverbal communication and cues. Rude facial expressions like eye rolling and grimaces as well as yawning at a speaker, hair twisting, turning one’s back to the speaker, finger nail picking and checking one’s watch, are all bad manners. Children need to learn that their nonverbal actions and behaviors can make people feel badly.

Learning to read other people’s nonverbal cues is an important lesson too, and with time, children will begin to understand when to end conversations, finish a story or change a subject.  

Being an adept communicator is a necessary skill in today’s world. Children need guidance from their parents to learn how to communicate effectively and politely. Good listening skills, self-control, use of good grammar, and sensitivity are all skills that are learned. If parents start modeling conversation skills early, they will help their children develop refined and sophisticated communication behaviors that will benefit them greatly in adulthood.   

14 Table Manners that Your Child Should Know

After interviewing for an exciting employment opportunity, the young candidate was rejected, “When I asked for real feedback, the interviewer told me that although my job skills and education were a good fit, some of my table manners raised a red flag. The position entails many client dinners and I guess I had a few bad habits that they saw at meals during the interview process.” The candidate continued, “I would have loved to have been taught proper table manners by my parents. I feel at a real disadvantage, and I am quite frankly, embarrassed by my lack of manners.”

Sadly the situation the interviewee faced above is not uncommon. Competition is fierce for good jobs and seats in good universities. There are many more highly qualified applicants than positions. Polished table skills are a needed asset and social skill in this competitive culture.

Every parent wants to launch their children into the world with the skills they need to succeed. Equipping children with good table manners is an important lesson that all parents should want to give to their children. Using good table manners allows the focus to be placed on the conversation not on the act of eating. Having good table manners gives people the confidence to participate in any dining situation with ease.

Start introducing manners lessons slowly to very young children and add more refined lessons as the child matures. Consistency and repetition are very important when teaching children. Parents will have to reinforce the rules time and time again until good practices become habit. Remind children whenever a slip in manners occurs but don’t scold or nag.

Practicing good manners daily will eventually lead to mastery and manners will become second nature. As children develop fine motor skills, their use of utensils and glassware will improve. With constant repetition, by the early teen years, kids will have built up a comprehensive collection of manners which parents need only fine-tune for teens to be capable of attending the most formal of occasions.

For the well being of the children, even busy families should find the time to sit down together each evening for a meal. The most simple of meals, including take-out fare, are fine choices. Make sure that the food is transferred and/or served in serving dishes and that the family uses dinnerware. If dinner is impossible on certain evenings, families can sit down later in the evening for dessert; make sure to set the table and use dinnerware and utensils.

Teaching children the proper way to set the table is a perfect start for introducing the use of utensils, plates and glasses. Explain where each utensil is placed, what it is for, when it is used, and the correct way to hold it. Young children love being given a responsibility and will happily and proudly set the table each evening. Put placemats, napkins, silverware, plates, cups and bowls within reach of children to facilitate easy table setting. A good idea in homes with small children is to purchase nice quality melamine dishes so when plates drop they will not break.

Children do not learn proper table manners overnight. It takes years of repetition and consistent training to refine their skills. Parents have eighteen years to help shape their child’s table manners so there is plenty of time to patiently work with them. Expect lots of errors and missteps, use gentle guidance, never scold or embarrass, just kindly correct and continue eating.

If parents begin teaching manners when their children are toddlers, by the time the kids are in kindergarten they will have mastery of the basics.

The following is a list of table manners that your child should have a good grasp of by age six.

  • Wash their hands and face before sitting down to the table.
  • Sit down in their proper seat and put their napkin in their lap.
  • Wait to begin eating until everyone is seated and has been served. Many families wait until an adult gives permission to start eating.
  • Stay seated in their seats without wiggling in their chairs, going under the table, or getting up and down.
  • Say, “Excuse Me,” and ask permission to leave the table.
  • Elbows do not belong on the table.
  • Mouths should stay closed while chewing and pieces should be bite sized.
  •  “May I please” and “Thank you” should be used when children would like food and never reach across the table.
  • Participate in the conversation during dinner and no interruptions when other people are talking.
  • Slurping, burping, squealing, singing, humming are all sounds that are not to be made at the table.
  • It is never kind or polite to make negative comments about what is being served for dinner.
  • Before getting up at the end of the meal say, “May I please be excused?”
  • Ask if adults would like them to clear their dinner plate.
  • Thank the cook.

Preparing children for adulthood starts the moment the baby is placed in the arms of the mother. Teaching children to use good table manners is a wonderful gift that will serve them well throughout their entire lives. Parents will be proud that their children are using the good manners that they have taught them, and more importantly children will be polished and refined and capable of being comfortable in any situation.

     

  

           

Porn Stars Do Not Make Good Role Models

There is an audible groan from two mothers pushing their little children in strollers through the mall, as they are passed by a scantily clad group of teenage girls. “What parent would let her daughter leave the house like that?” she says referring to the group of girls in matching short shorts and tight, midriff baring shirts. 

Girls dressing in “Ho” costumes on Halloween, little girl t-shirts with sexual innuendo emblazoned across the chests, reality television that shows little girls expertly utilizing a stripper pole, musical lyrics that are sexually explicit and degrading to women, the demise of dating and the rise of “hooking up” are all appalling topics to parents of underage children.

Books like Prude: How the Sex-Obsessed Culture Damages Girls (and America, Too!) and Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture discuss in detail the detrimental effect that the highly sexual content on television, in music lyrics, in books, and on the internet has on today’s youth.  Sadly, girls are buying the false bill of goods that the media is selling them; that boys only want them for sex and their promiscuity leads to raised social status. They have also been led to believe that the only way to empowerment and equality is to be sexually aggressive like men (what men?). Their role models are “stars” like Pamela Anderson, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and porn star Jenna Jameson. Not exactly the women parents would hand pick to shape their innocent little girls.

Although the findings in the above mentioned books are disappointing and depressing it is probably not shocking to parents to learn that pornography has gone mainstream. One need just turn on the television to bare witness. Eighty three year old Hugh Hefner has a popular reality show glorifying his bizarre sexual relationship with three women, the youngest of whom celebrated her twenty first birthday while taping and wishes she were a pimp. MTV glorifies bawdy dress and behavior on shows like The Real World.

Lewd behavior and exposure to overtly sexual stuff is not what parents want for their kids. Parents know that objectifying little girls is not good for their moral, emotional, physical or spiritual welfare. Putting aside the frightening risk of pregnancy or catching an STD, moms and dads don’t want their girls getting used and degraded and they don’t want their boys to view the female half of the population as sexual objects begging them for sex.

A very loving and conservative mother recounts a story that horrified her. “I look hot!” her four year old said modeling a little two-piece bathing suit. “Over my dead body!” mumbled the mother to herself as she gently removed the suit from her little one and chucked it in the trash. “No way am I letting her go down that road!” the mother adamantly declared. She proudly continued, “I had the first of many talks that I will have with my daughter about dignity, self-respect and real power.”

Acts like this simple one the above mother displayed, exemplify the kind of guidance that parents must give to their children starting when the children are very young. As the many media outlets bombard kids with inappropriate sexual content it is important that parents stand strong, be positive role models and enforce the standards of conduct and dress that they know is correct.

Another simple act parents can take is to stop giving hard earned money over to stores that sell sexually explicit material and clothing targeted to children. On page 244, of  her insightful book Prude, Carol Platt Liebau notes, “Every time anyone makes it clear that over-the-top sexual dialogue or images aren’t acceptable for public consumption, she strikes a small but meaningful blow for a cleaner, more wholesome culture.”

It is not only girls that are being affected by today’s highly charged sexual climate, boys suffer too. Boys shouldn’t be seen as sexual troglodytes incapable of being kind and caring and only out for their own selfish needs. Like girls they are complex, sensitive and loving and need to be taught that being a man means having honor and decency.

 “Eliminate dating and replace it with ‘friends with benefits?’” scoffs a dedicated husband and father of two little boys. “I would never want to raise boys who treat girls like that. How are they going to learn to relate to the opposite sex if they use them like that?” He continues, “I want my boys to experience the kind of deep love and happiness that I have with my wife.”

For some reason it is difficult for some parents of underage children to fully embrace the role of parent. They are under the misconception that they can be buddies with their children, or “parenting partners”. It has become almost a cliché now, “children don’t need their parents to be their friends, they have enough friends, parents need to parent.” It is not necessary or prudent to be the “cool mom” or the “cool dad”. Level headed, thinking grown ups know and celebrate the fact that they are not on the same level playing field with their underage children. Let the kids have their turn at being kids; parents: it is time to let go of childhood and delight in the role of parent.

As sophisticated as children today seem, they are not miniature adults. Children desperately need and wish for their parents to guide them through the tough stages of childhood. Using wisdom, intellect, established values and adult problem solving skills parents can help lead the way to a bright and terrific future. If parents abdicate their authority in the hopes of being their children’s friend, parents shouldn’t be surprised when Jenna Jameson takes over their role.

     

Insensitive Parenting Advice from a Leading Radio Talk Show Host

Recently, a well-known, national, conservative, radio talk show host had a discussion about parenting coaches. (A parenting coach is a consultant who is hired to discuss and advise parents about how to deal with the many challenges that parents face as they guide their children through childhood.)

Far from being supportive, this radio talk show host suggested that parents were resorting to using parenting coaches because they did not want to spend enough time with their children. She hypothesized that parents wanted a parenting shortcut so that their children could take a back seat to their careers. “Back in the day,” she stated, parents just raised their children and their children listened and developed into great people. It was clear from her disparaging comments and her insensitive insights that she is not a mother facing today’s challenges.

This commentator, although not particularly sensitive to the feelings of parents, did make one interesting point.  Parenting coaches and other supports are a new phenomenon that past generations of parents did not have as a resource.  

Why do parents today feel the need for outside assistance?

In an informal survey completed by parents, mothers and fathers expressed great concern about making parenting mistakes.

§         “If I don’t parent correctly I will cause irreparable damage to my children.”

§         “If I make the wrong parenting decisions my child will end up on drugs.”

§         “If I lose my temper my child will never forget it, and hate me forever.”

§         “If I discipline too harshly I will damage my child psychologically.”

Today, with the huge amount of information available to parents, even discussing pediatric health concerns before conception, parents feel an overwhelming responsibility that parents of yesteryear were not burdened with. With access to the internet parents are bombarded with data. From ADHD to potty training, parents are overly informed about all of the issues of parenting. Any small symptom that a child exhibits can be dissected and attributed to a terrible malady.

The massive amount of information that parents take in, much of it contradictory, undermines parent confidence and causes them to second guess their decisions. Parents can feel an undo amount of stress and anxiety resulting from the vast amount of research they now do on parenting issues. Far from looking for shortcuts as the talk show host surmised, parents are hyper-vigilant about getting the parenting job done perfectly and raising happy and successful children. Every decision made is a crucial one that will have a lasting effect on their child.

One mother wrote about how frightened she was for her unborn baby when the ultrasound showed a “low normal” reading of her amniotic fluid. Another mother-to-be was told that one of her baby’s kidneys was (although within normal range) slightly larger than the other. Both babies were born completely normal but their mothers started their parenting journeys “on-alert”. Before their babies were even born, these poor moms spent countless hours on the internet researching all of the potential problems that their babies could face.

Parents choose to use parenting tools, parenting aids, parenting coaches, family counselors and parenting books because they feel enormously committed to and responsible for raising the next generation of adults and fearful that they could make a terrible mistake and hurt the precious life to whom they are responsible.

With the advent of the informational-technology age, parents have been barraged with parenting content. Many well informed parents, parent self-consciously and without confidence, worried that any slip-up will do irrevocable damage to their kids. One mother in the survey, apologized repeatedly to her child after yelling at him to stop hitting the dog with a toy, she wrote that she was very worried that she had broken her son’s trust in her.

Do parents have cause for alarm? If a kind and caring parent makes some parenting missteps will the child suffer irreparable harm?

One father answers with insight, “As parents we have to have faith that our child rearing instincts are right on. Will we make parenting mistakes? Of course, but our children are resilient and will be fine.”

Contrary to what the radio personality believes, it is not a bad thing for parents to use the resources that are available to them. From behavioral products and parenting aids, to parenting coaches and parenting websites, there are terrific resources available to support parents in their goal to raise great people.

Parents should not let the large amounts of parenting information intimidate them. While some information can be helpful and empowering, too much information can be scary and can take the joy out of parenting.

Resources like parenting coaches should be used as a support not a crutch that usurps their own ideas and parenting styles. Similarly parents should remember that these resources are aids and should not be used to replace time parenting. Parents should listen to their internal voice and be confident that the decisions that they make will most likely be good ones and that parenting with love and intellect will help them in their quest to raise kind and caring adults.

         

Are You Raising a Callous Child?

em·pa·thy  /ˈɛm θi/ Pronunciation Key – [em-puh-thee] –noun

1. the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.  

A three year old boy declares from his car seat in the back seat of their SUV, “Mom, we have to be very careful of that motorcycle, right? If we hit him he’ll bet hurt, right mom, and that would hurt.”

In contrast,  another small child of five, laughs, as her team mate trips over the ball and limps off the field crying into the arms of mommy. The laughing child then gets angry that the game must be stopped to tend to the hurt child, “but I want to play now!”

What makes these two children so different in their abilities to be empathetic? Why does the child of five show less empathy than the three year old?

  1. It is crucial to a child’s moral development to be taught empathy by parents.
  2. Empathy must be taught to children; it is not developed without training.
  3. Empathy training must start at infancy.

It is pretty clear from the reactions of the children in the two different situations that one child has had ongoing empathy training from birth, while the other child has not had the same training. Lack of training about empathy can lead to callous, self-centered and narcissistic adults.

Modeling empathy

It is well known that children learn from example. Therefore, demonstrating empathy is a crucial way to teach children to be empathetic. There are many different ways of modeling empathy.

Parent with compassion.

Patience, kindness and thoughtful interaction with children contribute to raising kind, empathetic, and compassionate people. Taking the time to listen and really focusing on what a child is saying is the start of teaching empathy.

Kneel when giving directions, listen closely to what the child is saying and repeat their words, and read their emotions: These are all ways to show children what it is like to have someone try to experience what they are feeling. Parents should not forget to model compassion outside of the home too. Treating people with dignity and respect teaches children to treat people with dignity and respect.  

Help children experience empathy firsthand.

Bring children to a local animal shelter, donate used items to a homeless shelter, and visit assisted living facilities. These and other acts of kindness put children in close proximity to those in need.

Expose children to great humanitarians.

A trip to the library to research famous humanitarians can be a wonderful experience for parents eager to instill empathy in their children. Learning about great givers like Ghandi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and modern day Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aun San Suu Kyi, will expand the child’s world view, and teach them about people who have dedicated their lives to the betterment of others.

Label emotions so that children understand the normal feelings they are experiencing.

Children have the same feelings that adults do, including anxiety, sadness, frustration and anger. Parents can help them to identify their emotions by paying close attention and asking them what they are feeling. Helping a child get in touch with his feelings is an empathetic gesture and bonds parent and child. Parents can explain that everyone experiences feelings. For instance, the little girl sitting alone at lunch feels lonely. Similarly, the boy who had his name put on the blackboard for bad behavior probably felt ashamed and embarrassed.

Identify situations where empathy is appropriate.

The homeless, injured animals, crying children and sad family members are situations to which children come face to face. Being sensitive to age and maturity so as not to frighten children, parents can point out and discuss sad situations with children. Simple questions like, “How would you feel if…”, train children to put themselves in another’s shoes.

The goal in teaching empathy to children is to raise kind, caring adults. Living in a world that places enormous emphasis on fame, immediate gratification, and acquisition can retard children’s social development by placing all of the emphasis on “me”. Without the ability to shift focus away from “me” and onto others, people can not establish deep and lasting relationships as adults.

Parents should not underestimate their role in instilling empathy in their children. Empathy training happens at home from infancy.  By teaching children how to feel what others may be feeling, parents will raise loving and kind people.