We don’t force manners. I recently had a couple of incidents with acquaintances and family trying to force my kids to say please/thank you/sorry. They were met with little confused faces.
What indeed is the magic word?
Of course, I feel the pressure in public. No one wants to appear rude. No one wants people thinking their children are impolite or that they are bad parents.
Personally, I know that any time I find myself thinking of forcing manners, it’s purely for my comfort. I think forced manners are generally for the parents benefit. Because really, the words are meaningless without genuine thought from the child.
A whispered ‘what do we say?‘ may save face in the moment but is the child really displaying gratitude? Often not. On the occasions where I used to try to force my eldest, I think I saved myself momentary embarrassment but Cam was merely learning that he didn’t know what to say in social situations and needed to be controlled.
Do we want to create habits?
Some say it’s a matter of creating good habits. When they are toddlers, they’re more ego-centric, so manners often isn’t as meaningful when forced at that age. So should they be forced so that it ‘creates a habit’? Does it indeed create a habit of thankfulness and genuine apology?
I think forcing manners for these superficial reasons belittles the child’s abilities in the long run. Children aren’t stupid. I feel like deep down this forced politeness teaches the child that manners are empty and the words have low worth.
Personally, I don’t want to create habits, but instead build genuine emotional empathy that leads naturally to the use of manners.
So what do we do?
We model manners.
We apologise to them when we’ve done wrong by them. We thank them. We ask things of them politely. We discuss gratitude as a whole. We talk about times we have been sorry.
What do we expect a child to learn when we tell him: “Say thank you to your friend”? Most parents believe that the child will learn to be grateful, and to express her sense of gratitude. But do children learn these things by being told to do them? How did we feel as children when told to say “thank you”? When did we really develop a sincere sense of gratitude? Did saying “thank you” before we had the feeling to match the words make us grateful? Or did we develop a sense of gratitude later on in no regard to those instructions? Is it possible that some of us feel resentful when needing to thank someone, share, or apologize, because as children we hated doing these things?
Maybe we are dealing with our inability to trust. Is it possible that gratitude is not likely to be felt by a child or at least not in the way adults feel and express it? Could it be that when childhood needs are fully satisfied, gratitude will naturally develop? Perhaps we need to allow children to observe gratitude, generosity and kindness, rather then teach these behaviors to them. – How Children Learn Manners.
We read about manners.
We focus on WHY.
I find that focusing on why we use manners is best. For example, when people would typically expect apologies, I actually ask “did you mean to do that?” I get down on their level and talk to them about it. How much more meaningful is that? Really exploring why, what went wrong, how they felt, what they wished happened and what to do next time.
When they are sorry, we explain how apologising can help the person feel better about whatever scenario has happened.
When they say “nope, not sorry!” we discuss why. After you get over the NO! (we have been raised to expect apology so it’s kinda funny when kids are unapologetically not sorry) I often find that there is meaning behind their lack of apology. Often they feel wronged and that caused whatever they did or said.
Often they will end up saying sorry to each other. Even if it’s a “Sorry I did X which made you do Y,” it’s a meaningful exchange which can prevent future problems. It’s so much better than a generic apology with no actual resolution to the underlying issue. Expecting apologies often robs them of this discovery and resolution.
We do this in many situations – not just apologies. By asking kids how they feel about the situation that unfolded and helping them communicate their genuine expressions, we find they use manners readily.
We focus on authentic emotions.
Please and thank yous are trickier because it’s just inherently expected (of kids in particular!). I find society has high standards for children and manners. Would you withhold something from an adult like “uh uh uh… What’s the magic word?” Hopefully not, ha! It’s so condescending. I find society expects a higher level of manners from children than of spouses/colleagues/etc.
I find that my kids – and other kids whose parents don’t force manners – use manners more than others who have had it force fed. And it’s authentic! Genuine thankfulness, genuine apology.
As a parent, how good is it when they actually come and say something and you know they mean it? “I love you” or “That made me so happy”. The same is for manners. My kids often say “thank you so much” (for seemingly insignificant tasks I help them with!) and “I’m really sorry” – and I know they mean it. I know that they are developing genuine emotional intelligence without forceful expectation. That, to me, is more significant.
What about you? How are manners handled in your home? Leave me a comment sharing your opinion! I’d love to read and discuss.