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.
Don’t Forget Your Manners series
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.
We let them know that what they think matters and help them cope with difficult 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.
Pam Baker says
I have a question. Why can’t they be both polite and have internalized values? Why can’t you teach them when they may not have full consciousness of the whole idea?
Are you polite? Do you have manners? How do you think you got them? Do you think you suddenly came into consciousness….say when you entered the 6th grade? Maybe high school? And poof…you were polite and kind and generous?
No, your parent’s, teachers, religious figures, other adults, modeled them for you as well as instructed you.
Is it important for your child to not stick their hand on the stove? Of course it is. Do you think when you told them “no” for the first time they completely understood the entire ramifications of your fear for their safety, the consequences of injury, protecting the self, etc.?
I love that you are so thoughtful about what you are teaching your children. That you want to raise, healthy, well-rounded good people. It is the most important job on the planet. And so difficult today, in so many numerous ways…too numerous to count.
But there are a lot of things your children take in without knowing the why’s and how’s. It’s called trust.
Teach them that manners are a way of making other’s comfortable and welcomed. And that it’s okay to make mistakes. And that social situations are often complicated and can be uncomfortable.
I know this probably won’t stay up….or even get posted. And it isn’t meant as a harangue. It’s meant to show you that some things are important…important enough to work hard at. It saddens me to see how manners and politeness have fallen away.
Try watching the first five seasons of The Walton’s or The Andy Griffith Show. You might like what you see. There are treasures there to take away. Respect, manners, kindness, ethics, morals, and some good times. Please accept this comment in the spirit it was intended. To plead for basic human kindness in the form of manners and politeness.
One old woman, tired of being run off the sidewalk by self absorbed people under 40,
I just read your advise & will impliment your ideas. Athoritative parenting is easier in the moment, but I want my daughter to have interalized my values (kindness, truthfulness, politeness) so she has them in her heart.
I really like this blog and have been thinking about this a lot recently, in fact i’ve written about it too. However the reason we use please and thank you is really more to teach to ask nicely. So for me the actually ‘please’ isn’t whats important it’s more the way i’m asked that matters. I don’t like being shouted at for instance by adult or child to get me a drink. It’s horrible. So if this were my son i’d explain that being asked for a drink like that upsets me and i’d rather he asks nicely? Does that make sense? I think genuine gratitude is something that is formed over time especially with the help of showing gratitude to them as you say.
Amy @ Around the Thicket says
We’ve not been forcing manners, and it has been so fun to watch our two year old pick up on things like ‘Thank you’ and ‘sorry’ on his own, just from watching us. I love the idea of reading about manners, too – we’ll have to pick up some books on the topic!
Interesting post, and I appreciate the reasoning behind it, but I don’t necessarily agree. While I definitely think that children need to learn the reason behind things (you will never hear “because I said so” coming from my husband or I) and that apologies, affection, etc., are wonderful when they come spontaneously from someone who has real feeling behind them, I still think that learned and habitual manners have an important place. I think it is valuable to learn that everything you do shouldn’t be based just on how you feel in any given moment. For example, “thank you” should be said whenever someone gives you a gift, whether you feel thankful or not – there are many valid reasons why someone might not feel thankful in any given moment, but it is important to acknowledge that a gift was given, usually at some cost (of time, money, thought, etc.) to the giver.
I have to agree with Sarah. Social niceties aren’t just important when you want to use them or deeply feel them, they are helpful to get around in society. In teaching my kids that they have autonomy to decide things like who they hug or let touch them I have stressed the need to do so politely and usually instead of hurt family members grumbling at them they are given positive feedback thanking them for being so nice. It allows them to be strong individuals without being punished for breaking with the expected norms. I do not punish them for not using polite forms but will usually find some silly way to remind them. If I hear “I want X” from them I respond with an I want statement of my own, like “I want to be a butterfly”.
You see, personally, I question deeper on the ‘why’ of the fact it’s expected regardless. I hope for more authenticity than niceties.
Marie Houck says
Mostly I agree. In particular, I absolutely hate it when someone forces a child to apologize. However, some things are just forms we use to make getting around in the world easier. Things like saying please and thank you at the dinner table are, for me, in the same category as teaching that the forks go on the left when setting a table. I taught the for, without necessarily expecting any particular feeling. Now, I didn’t insist upon it, and would say please and thank you for them if they weren’t ready to do it themselves–there were no punitive consequences–and we modeled proper table manners–but I also didn’t expect anything beyond learning the proper forms. As young adults, they have actually thanked us for that particular thing, as they are more comfortable than many of their peers in more formal situations.
This is so timely…Just this afternoon I made my 3-year old daughter apologize to her cousin for hitting, and my husband had a struggle with her over removing her t-shirt in the tub and listening to daddy. We try to be respectful and empathetic parents, but it can be so hard sometimes to get out of your head and not fall into that expectation of simplistic child obedience. I totally agree with you: we all worry about our children, but strict obedience and manners often seem more for the (immediate, short-term) benefit of the parent!
Love the blog, thanks for the insight and encouragement!
Intresting article…. and I agree in part….
Im a older mum with 2 young kids. (8 and 4) and i belive manners are very important.. not.only for me as a mum…but for my kids.
Its polite to say thankyou for a gift…or offering help…..makes the other person feel they are doing something good……a.concept we have taught them….just like saying sorry… if my kids understand WHY we say sorry….and the effect on the other person.. it helps them understand how thier actions have consequences…
As a mum.. if my kids ask for a drink..or a snak….saying please and thankyou is a given.. manners in my house ..is rule #1..
Intrssting article. Thanks for sharing rach
I so appreciate this post. We do largely the same thing (although I do sometimes give cues like “Wow, what a thoughtful gift. It would be nice to say thank you”). How do you handle situations where people (read: grandparents) try to force please-and-thank-yous? Do you confront the adult about it? Or explain to the child later? Something else? We are about to spend a week with both sets of grandparents. I’m sure it will be wonderful, but we will definitely be facing this issue!
I totally agree, kids copy their peers. My almost 3 year old started thanking me for different things, but the most strange one is when she thanks for our home… I love her :)
Thank you for this. I’m currently spending the summer at my MIL’s house: 3 months with my 4.5-year-old and 16-month old (7 weeks of it without my husband). It is hard, day in and day out, having someone giving the judgmental looks and making comments about how her kids how to do such-and-such and not to do X, Y, or Z.
Today, I realized I had been slipping into a trap of trying to conform because I’m starting to feel like a bad parent. And that trying to conform IS making me a bad parent because it makes me snappy and irritable. :(
Your article reminded me of why my husband and I parent how we do and why it is important to stick to our guns…come hell, high water, or disapproval from in-laws.
Totally agree! Great advice for cultivating authentic interaction and empathy x