I just spent a week caring for my 22 month-old granddaughter while her parents took a much needed anniversary trip. As her Mumzi, I was thrilled to do this because I simply cannot contain my joy when I am with her. However, this week of being her one-and-only caregiver has also given me a much greater appreciation for her parents. At just 22 months old, she truly “gets” the concept of being polite.
I was raised in the South, in what some may call “the prehistoric era,” and my parents, extended family, neighbors, and teachers demanded good manners from every child, related or not. There was simply no room for negotiation on this topic in those days. As you might expect, I tried to raise my own children to be polite and considerate, as that was the expectation.
Having worked in various aspects of the US child welfare system for 25+ years, with children of all ages and their parents, my experience has unfortunately not been a positive one where courtesy was concerned. High demands, few or no expectations, lack of patience, constant interruptions, physical aggression, and poor hygiene were more often the norm. This week was my chance to see my little granddaughter flying her true colors on the SS Manners without being under the watchful eyes of Mama and Daddy. She didn’t disappoint.
To my delight and pride, she immediately, as in “faster than a speeding bullet” immediately, responded “bless you” to anyone or any animal within earshot if they sneezed. She’s great at saying “peeze” and “thank you” to people, although these sometimes come out of order. Nevertheless, the idea is there. She has learned to ask for something politely, although her sentences can just be two words. She is pretty clear about saying “all done” when she is finished eating, and generally sits patiently when reminded while others finish their meal (I will admit that a scoop of ice cream helps, if dinner is dragging on too long!) After playing, she willingly helps pick up her toys when asked. She shares with others to a fault, even when you don’t really want Mac and Cheese noodles hovering on your lips. Granted, the “terrible twos” are looming on the horizon, but it is clear to see that Mama and Daddy have quickly and calmly worked to help her learn to grasp the concepts of civility and treating others nicely. Mumzi is so proud!
I cannot tell you how nice it is to hear a child acting politely. Most of the time, I see children screaming “I want…” to their mothers in grocery stores, with Mom giving in just to curtail their outbursts. Unfortunately, this just reinforces the bad behavior. I see kids hitting their parents when they aren’t getting their way, or trying to shove others in their path, generally with no consequences for their actions. In public restrooms, so many children and adults exit without washing their hands, and in public places children sneeze openly- well, let’s just say I’ve been sprayed too many times! When conversations occur between adult friends or neighbors, some children will do most anything to interrupt so they can have their “needs” met immediately, and an “excuse me” is never uttered. Most adults just let this slide by. As we have become a society of amassing possessions, sharing is often “few and far between,” even among little ones.
So how can we, as parents and grandparents, the teachers of our children, help to instill and encourage good manners? The answer to this is relatively simple: model, observe and compliment. All kids emulate what they see and hear; as adults, we have an amazing influence on their behavior. If you stress “please” and “thank you” and demonstrate hand washing and good hygiene, your child will see this as an expectation and a way of life. When you see your child hold the door open for a stranger, or pick up something someone dropped and return it to them, load on the compliments! You’ll be seeing repeated good behaviors to come. If your little one shares her toys with a playmate or picks up her own toys after playing with them, sing her praises mightily, just as if she had won a Nobel Prize! Children love to hear their parents praise them. And if the occasional tantrum arises, calmly remove your child from the situation, go to a quiet spot, and in a low, calm voice help them understand what behavior is acceptable and why their behavior was not acceptable. Offer a “do over” so they can fix the problem and reset their mood. Praise them when they accomplish these things in a calm and polite manner.
When you treat children with respect, kindness, thoughtfulness, and politeness, good manners will begin to grow like weeds!