They are so polite…
Who doesn’t love hearing that their children are polite or well mannered? I sure do! And, full disclaimer, this is something we have worked actively on with each child.
I’ve always put extra emphasis on this area with my kids, and I believe they have reaped the benefits. However, when my oldest started working at the grocery store around the corner, boy did the feedback really start rolling in! Because I have to keep it real, I can tell you that he is not always Mr. Charming at home, (he is 16, enough said). But boy, does he ever turn it on when he clocks in as a bagger. I get several text messages on any given weekend about what a gentleman he is, and my Mommy heart couldn’t be prouder. All that training didn’t go to waste. I’ve spent a lifetime telling him how his manners and respectfulness would make him likable- and that alone will open up more opportunities than he could imagine.
Was this always the case? Were they born like that? Not really. I remember watching my oldest as a little guy: the future charmer (as described above) would walk away as people were talking to him, avoid eye contact, answer in incomplete sentences, and not inquire about the other person at all. He wasn’t abnormal, in fact, he was quite typical. All the other little kids did the exact same thing…but it didn’t sit right with me. I pictured his behavior in a teenager or an adult and it would be considered rude, or antisocial, or overly timid. So, when or where do kids learn how to be likable, courteous, respectful big kids or adults? You already know my answer… NOW! When they are little!
My basic premise for my rule with my kids’ manners is this: “if it would be considered rude or odd for a grown person, its odd for you, baby”. If I (as a grown up) when asked a question, stared at you with giant eyes and shrugged my shoulders and then hid in my husband’s coat, you would think that was odd. Even if I felt incredibly bashful, intimidated or unsure, I would still maintain eye contact and answer to the best of my ability. Now I’m not militant, honestly. I have had my own 3 and 4-year-olds hide their faces in bashfulness. No one gets in trouble for that. However, I have used it as a teaching opportunity to have a conversation about how we interact with other people respectfully.
I’m constantly adding to the manners and thoughtfulness protocol. When they have mastered one skill, I add another layer. I firmly believe that what you may lack in talent you can often make up for in charm and likeability. And if you are smart and talented AND you’re kind and well mannered, well baby there is just no stopping you.
Here are the basic instructions we start with the preschoolers in my house:
- When an adult is speaking to you, answer in complete sentences. If the conversation calls for it, ask them questions about themselves or their day. Rather than “how was your day?” “GOOD” try “It was good, how was your day?” (because other people matter, it’s important to show that we care).
- Make eye contact when speaking, whether it’s with Mom or Grandma, or the kinda scary cashier at the store, make eye contact. (If you’re very shy, stare between their eyes or at their nose- they won’t notice.) I will correct my youngers on this often “Please look at Ms. Smith’s face when you speak to her”. Sometimes the adult will say “oh its ok!” and it is, but since they are learning – I remind them!
- At the end of the school day or sports practice, find your teacher or coach and personally say goodbye. Is it necessary? No. Is it polite and considerate? Absolutely. Other people matter and their time is valuable, thank them for it.
- Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! When in doubt, acknowledge and say thank you! “Thank you” when your preschool teacher passes out snack. “Thank you” when the yard duty holds open the door. “Thank you for inviting me.” “Thank you for having us over.” “Thank you for coming.” I want them to practice generally acknowledging other people and expressing appreciation for whatever they have done.
For some people this training is obvious. For others, this is over the top. For me, it is common sense. “Train up a child in the way that he should go and when he is old will not depart from it.” (Prov 22:6) My goal has never changed. I hope to raise others-orientated kids. The kind of people that genuinely make other people feel SEEN, noticed and important. Society is about self and human nature is self-serving. We have to intentionally train our kids to SEE people, to value their time, to respect them with eye contact.
As I’ve mentioned before, it’s never too late to change something you don’t like in your home or parenting style. <Read Here> After all, it was Abe Lincoln that taught us “the best way to predict your future is to create it.”
I’m looking into your eyes and telling you, we’ve got this.