“Manners are the basic building blocks of civil society.”
– Alexander McCall Smith
My kids are exceedingly polite and well-mannered. I don’t say that to boast or exaggerate, I say it as simple fact. It’s not luck of the draw or accidental, either. They got that way because my wife and I relentlessly hammer home manners and follow through on punishments should they forget their manners or act rudely in public.
Simply put, MJ and I are “Manner Nazis” when it comes to our kids. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’m not sure how or why stressing good manners is controversial, but it is. Television star Mayim Bialik says she doesn’t force manners on her kids or correct them when they forget. Bloggers like this one feel forcing your kids to say “I’m sorry” is bad, because it’s not authentic. Even some of my fellow friends and dad bloggers have disagreed with me on this, saying it’s pointless to force kids to say “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry” at a young age because they’re too immature to know the meaning of those terms.
That last part is true, they are too young to completely understand the concept. But guess what? That doesn’t matter.
Getting kids into good habits, even when they don’t fully understand them yet, is a positive thing. Both Will and Sam learned how to sign please and thank you around their first birthdays. Did they know exactly what the term meant? Of course not. But they knew they had to say it first to get what they wanted, and they learned they had to sign “thank you” afterward to show appreciation. Now, at 22 months, Sam says please routinely when he needs something, and thank you (really it’s more like “Chinch Choo”) after he receives it.
Will, who is 7, also has impeccable manners because we’ve made it a priority.
When he enters a conversation, it’s always with an “excuse me.” If he’s done something wrong, he apologizes. When he was younger, it started with a simple “I’m sorry.” But as he got older and could comprehend more, we’d always have a conversation about what went wrong and we’d explore the reason he’s sorry. Now when he’s done something to offend, he not only apologizes but he tells you why he’s sorry and what he could have done differently.
Unfortunately, parents making it a priority to raise well-mannered kids are in the minority these days.
I know I’m going to sound like the old guy complaining about the damn kids on his lawn, but take a trip out to a store or restaurant and you’ll see what I mean. Kids standing on the seats and even the tables. Older kids throwing food and not picking it up. Children shouting their orders at the waiter instead of asking nicely, with no correction from mom or dad. And then, not surprisingly, I watch mom and dad treat the waitstaff with the same dismissive contempt. Go figure.
Meanwhile, if our kids do make a mess while out to eat, we make them pick it up. If it’s Sam, who is still very young, then either MJ or I gets down on the floor and collects all the food he dropped. One time, a nearby restaurant patron said “Why are you doing that? They’re paid to do it.” I responded with a very simple “Because I’m not a jerk.”
Instilling good manners and politeness in your kids has very little to do with being seen as a good parent, or having your kids reflect well upon you. It’s about much more than that.
Unfortunately, good manners are so rare they are now the exception. That means Will is routinely praised by everyone from his bus driver to random strangers in restaurants who are impressed with how he handles himself. If he keeps this up, that ability to impress will extend to his future teachers, bosses, clients, and even his romantic partners.
It’s learning how to behave and thrive in mixed company, and how to make everyone feel welcome. It’s learning to treat people with respect. It’s knowing if you’re seen as someone who respects others, everything you say will carry that much more weight and value. If he’s up against an equally qualified candidate during a job interview or going for a promotion, perhaps it’ll be his “soft skills” and how he conducts himself that gives him the extra edge.
My main job as a parent is to love and raise quality human beings who contribute something positive to society. As far as I’m concerned, that starts with teaching them good manners.
It starts by parents modeling good manners at home and out in public, and stressing them at every turn. Are my kids perfect? No. Do they occasionally forget their manners? Absolutely. Mistakes happen, and if they’re contrite then no harm no foul. But if they keep being punks after they’ve been warned, then there are consequences.
It sucks to punish your kids, but we do it because otherwise they don’t learn anything. So an “I want ice cream!” one time earns a warning, but a second offense immediately after that means he’s going home with no dessert. Otherwise, if we give in to demands instead of making polite requests the norm, I truly believe we’re contributing to an entitlement problem that already plagues too high a percentage of this generation of kids.
Some will dismiss this entire piece as just another crotchety, holier-than-thou parent humble-bragging about how his kids are flippin’ wonderful. And others will continue to tell MJ and me we’re too strict with the boys when it comes to manners, and we need to relax. At least that’s what I think they said. Truthfully, it was hard to hear them over their kids running around being brats.
But the bottom line is manners matter. It’s not only good for society as a whole, but it’ll benefit your children as they grow up as well. Raising polite human beings is important, and the world desperately needs more of them.