I’m going to start out with two anecdotes:
- When my daughter was about two we were out at some sort of kids festival. A clown handed her a balloon dog, and I said to her “What’s the magic word?” and she looked at me quizzically and said “Abbracadabra?”
- One day I walked my dog. When we entered the lobby of our building, the doorman gave her a treat. I said to my dog “What do you say?”
Now, what do these things say, other than humor can be found in any situation?
Yes, I’m a bit of a nag, but more importantly, the value I place on saying Please and Thank You.
I have taught my daughter (and obviously dog) that when you want something you say please, and if someone gives you something you say thank you. And you do both with sincerity. Call me old fashioned, call me out of touch, call me a 50’s housewife. I don’t care. My daughter was going to be raised with manners.
When she was three, I bought a set of notecards. When she received birthday presents I let her draw a picture on the card and then I wrote a thank you note. When my daughter learned to write, she was responsible for writing her own thank you note. This was a rule: you were not allowed to use, spend or deposit a gift until the thank you note was written. End of discussion.
At this point in her life, she gives up her seat to people who are older, Moms with babies, pregnant women, those with crutches or canes, and anyone who appears to need the seat more than she does. She rushes to hold open doors to buildings she is not even entering if she thinks someone is struggling/about to struggle with going in. She doesn’t even think twice about doing these small acts of kindness: she just does them.
When she is in a classroom she treats her teachers with courtesy. She respects the rules of any place she goes. She tries to be considerate of those around her assuming no one is pushing her around. (for the record, when she went off to school I told her- Don’t you ever hit someone. But, if someone hits you, you slap them as hard as you can. I’ll deal with the consequences and back you up as long as I know you were not the aggressor. 12 years in the NYC public school system and we never had to worry about either scenario)
Now some of you may be thinking derogatory things about her- calling her a goody goody or something like that. But here’s the thing: she knows that there are reasons for rules and orders. She totally gets the meaning of anarchy. And she knows the consequences. And she knows the value of manners and civility.
But she didn’t learn these values on her own. She was taught these values. She was shown these values (I am actually quite well mannered. But don’t ever provoke me or give me reason to think otherwise)
Children need to be taught how to behave when they are in society. They have to learn what consideration is. This does not mean that they should be a martyr. It means that they need to have a basis that they are not the sun, and that things do not revolve around them. It is possible to have a child with self esteem and self respect who treats others with kindness and consideration. In fact, I’m going to say that if you have no respect for others, you have no respect for yourself.
Teach your children manners, consideration and respect. Then model the behavior. They don’t do what we say: they do what we do.