Raising a Child With Good Manners
When he was 2, my son Drew was charming in his own toddlerish way, although his charm did not often include the phrase "Thank you." His lack of social graces seemed, to me, perfectly excusable in a shy little boy who clung to my leg. So I was caught by surprise last year when, at 5, my shy guy became a miniature tyrant, unwilling to sit still at the table, refusing to converse with guests, and demanding "Breakfast now!" and "Tie my shoes!" We corrected him, we issued counterdemands, but sadly, we also started to tune out. Then, at my friend Roxanne's house, he held out his cup and ordered her to refill it, as if he were speaking to a lowly 'droid.
She turned and flashed me a "You put up with this?" look.
I never meant to -- a polite child like one of the von Trapp offspring in The Sound of Music was what I had in mind. But in that moment I knew my efforts had failed. Part of the problem was I didn't know what was reasonable to expect at my son's age. Well-behaved at school, he usually saved his rudeness for home. Was he tired and cranky? Restless? Just being a kid?
As it turns out, I was tolerating bad manners when I shouldn't have. After talking to other parents and a few experts, I learned that every child, even a shy, tired, cranky, and defiant one, is capable of age-appropriate good manners. Not perfect manners and not all the time, but a general habit of polite behavior at the table, on the playground, at school, and even when Mom's on the phone. Good manners show respect and caring; bad manners hurt people's feelings. Or, to put it in terms my son would understand: "How would you feel if someone used bad manners with you?"
It's never too late to teach your child to be polite, but it's smart to start early.
Contributing editor Jane Meredith Adams, a mom of two, also writes for Health.