Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Manners, manners.

I went over to Katherine's blog to get some poetry recommendations and came away with this -

"All that bratty childish selfish bullying competitive starving obnoxious avoidant behavior that our society seems to think is normal for young children no longer looks normal to me. Of course, we will all have our human moments of bad behavior, and children are as human as any one. But that stereotype of children - that siblings always fight, boys are mean, boys against girls, bitchy girls....you know - the ways we expect kids to act. All of that has become normalised in our society.

I've come to see that as social construct. Kids are as human as all of us. They act as they are expected to act. They are as polite as they are required to be, just like all of us. I'm not saying that homeschool kids are different so much as I'm saying that homeschoolers have different expectations for their kids. So what used to look like normal behavior to me, now looks like social construct. Children are lovely people. If your child is over the age of two and isn't fairly good company, you probably need a parenting class. Likely, you need to learn to say no effectively. Beyond that, school does a poor job of socialising most young children. Because, school was never designed to socialise children. In fact, it would be most accurate to say, left in school, young children socialise each other. This has happened enough generations that the results look normal. We seem to have collectively forgotten that results arrive from choices and decisions."

Now maybe it's because I'm perusing blogs late at night after two days of an unusual, splitting headache, but I want to run with this. It's been more and more noticeable to me over the last few months that this is true, that adults *expect* children to have "bratty childish selfish bullying competitive starving obnoxious avoidant" behaviors, and to see it spelled out so clearly was a breath of fresh air.

Kids *are* as human as all of us - they are as polite, not only as they are required to be, but as is demonstrated to them. I've been working on a post about manners that ties into this. When our first was just a babe - 10 months old - we started prompting manners. "Say thank you", "Say please", maybe trying to prove to others that we were good parents, that we knew how to raise a polite child.

When she was around 14 months old, we decided to stop prompting altogether and just start being more polite ourselves - allow her to learn by example, as it were. We started doing what we should have been doing from the beginning - thanking people for her, in front of her. Thanking each other. Asking each other politely for things. Saying "You're welcome". Our relationship improved. It took a few months for our daughter to start saying 'please' and 'thank you' regularly. But she did. And when she says thank you and please now, you know she means it, it's not prompted.

Where we've really seen this pay off is with our second born. She's never been prompted by us and we guard against prompting by others. She is, at a mere 27 months, partly by nurture, partly by nature, one of the politest kids I've ever met. 'Tanks' was one of her first words. 'Tanks, Momma' is a phrase I hear at least ten times daily. Melts my heart every time. 'Peeaaase' features prominently in her vocabulary as does 'Welc!'. She hears it from us, and from her sister. Her brother will hear it from his sisters and from his parents.

Little gets my husband aggravated faster than holding something out of his children's reach and chanting 'say please' or 'say thank you'. Do they say please and thank you every time it's appropriate? Of course not. Neither do most adults I know, yet most adults expect more politeness from children than they are willing to give either to their children, their spouses, or even strangers - all in the name of teaching them how to be proper adults. Do we model for our kids, or sometimes point social niceties out to our oldest daughter in private? Of course. We're not negligent, just respectful of our children's feelings - as respectful as we are of other adults.

That's just one small point I pulled out of the worthy quote above.

The other that jumped out at me was this "If your child is over the age of two and isn't fairly good company, you probably need a parenting class. Likely, you need to learn to say no effectively."

There is no doubt that at times I have relationship snags with my children, but they are just that - snags. They are not constant or persistent. They are, for the most part, either age-appropriate issues to work through, issues relating to eating/sleeping/stimulus, or simply relationship "static" of the same sort that afflicts my relationship with my husband or used to afflict roommate and sibling relationships - the kind of static that happens when any two humans live in constant contact with each other. The kind of static that my children have with each other occasionally. It's not pleasant when it happens, not pleasant at all. I've learned that apologizing for temper flares goes a long way in smoothing both adult and child relationships. I've learned that explaining *why* my temper flared helps my daughter pinpoint in herself why she's getting cranky. I've learned that finding a 'yes' acceptable to all of us is almost always an option, that it was hard to break the automatic 'no' habit that I was raised with, and that saying 'no' *effectively* is much easier when the majority of their life is made up of 'yes'es.

It makes me really sad when I see children and parents in constant conflict, or who would rather not be around each other. It makes me really sad when I see siblings constantly beating up on each other, verbally or physically. It doesn't need to be that way, though it unfortunately does appear normal these days. Both my husband and myself love to be around our children. They are very good company - bright, sparkly little humans.

It makes me breathe a little easier to hear parents of children older than mine, who parent in a similar fashion, saying these things since I often hold back because "maybe it's just because mine are so young. Maybe as they get older, it will all fall apart." Maybe it won't.

But now I need to go back and get those poetry recommendations...


Annie said...


Damn, is that a lame comment? But really- you said so much there isn't much more to say. The whole manners thing really gets to me too. I also feel sad for parents that feel that consistent separation will help their struggling relationship.

Sarah said...

Thanks, Annie.

"I also feel sad for parents that feel that consistent separation will help their struggling relationship."

I agree.

Katey said...

Great post, Sarah.

SabrinaT said...

Wonderful post!!

Simpson Home said...

whooo girl - you were up late sharing a gem with us! I agree that example is the best teacher. I also find that children who treat each other nicely as babes, are good friends as adults. It's a sweet thing. Thanks for the thought provoking post. Kathy

katharine said...

I wrote a fantastic comment to this, laborious and long but blogger ate it. the gist of it was:

Wouldn't it be great if people saw other people when they looked at their kids and not 'just kids'? Wouldn't it be great if they showed their children the same respect they're asking for by not condescending (prompting them for politeness) but rather trusting them to grow and learn and come to an understanding of how we treat each other like they inevitably will.

Wouldn't it be nice if people saw their kids as the people they are?

Sarah said...

Katharine -

"Wouldn't it be great if people saw other people when they looked at their kids and not 'just kids'?"

Yes, yes it would. I'm so glad to see you 'around'! Don't be a stranger.