The recent kerfuffle here at Child Perspective seems to beg for a discussion of manners. If you have been following along, you might think that I mean adults’ manners. But for consistency sake, I’ll stick to a discussion about kids. Although one could make the obvious (I hope) point that children learn from the adults around them.
I went to a rigorous school in manners. I dare say it’s among the most challenging in the world. It was a preschool classroom.
Imagine a classroom with 22 children (ages 3-6 yrs old). Now, like most Montessori classrooms, imagine only one of each activity for the children to use. These preschoolers, notorious for their “inability” to share, quickly learn to wait their turn and share with their classmates. Fortunately the older children model this behavior for the younger children, so in essence there are many teachers in the classroom.
Now imagine a playground with roughly 60-80 preschool aged children learning to play together.
Yes, it was rigorous training everyday. Every mishap was like a question on an exam that I would pass only if I could help all parties feel heard, understood, and respected. Every child became well-versed in the “magic words” (please, thank you, sorry, excuse me). Yet, these weren’t quite enough.
A robotic response of the customary magic words was quickly replaced with meaningful conversations. Why? Because the kids begged for it. They wanted to learn these social complexities. Hollow, robotic responses didn’t cut it.
Emily Post (aka Miss Manners) compares the robotic response to one that’s more heartfelt. She says that manners help children navigate a socially complex world. Miss Manners states that manners must be rooted in three important principles: honesty, respect, and consideration. Without these principles, the manners are hollow rules to be memorized and easily discounted.
It’s this potential hollowness that I would like to address in this post. It seems too many parents except a well-trained, yet hollow response.
I yearn for something a little more thoughtful and meaningful.
Teaching manners is just one piece of the puzzle in raising conscientious citizens of the world. The point of manners is to show respect, compassion and empathy. The question I would raise here is: does teaching your child to automatically say a “magic word” teach respect, compassion, or empathy?
Let’s bring some MAGIC back to the words!
For example, when your child does something that upsets another child, try engaging them both in a discussion. Don’t enter a blaming shaming game. This is an opportunity for two kids to have a supportive introduction into social complexities. Approach the situation with no assumptions, including what happened, why, who’s fault it is, or what will help the kids to feel better. Ask the offended child, “what will help you feel better?”
Sometimes they will want the other person to say sorry, but more often than not, they want a hug, or to play together, or a simple pat on the back.
Actually speaking to the other person and finding out their needs is a more valuable way to express empathy and compassion and respect than assuming one knows the answer.
Before you prompt your child with, “what do you saaay?”, consider spending more time to ensure that you are doing more than inviting a hollow response. Bring the meaning back to manners.