Sunday, July 22, 2012

Can We Raise Polite Children?

Perhaps this is a symptom of “school’s out for Summer!”, but I have been asked a thunderous number of questions about teaching children manners. Even more importantly though, is the fact that parents are beginning to seek advice on how to actually teach their children. Sadly, an entire generation (or more) was raised with such flexible guidelines and without boundaries that they have no real idea how to impart good manners to their children. And because the parents don’t know right from wrong themselves, it makes teaching decent, socially acceptable behaviour to their children very difficult.

Children are like sponges when it comes to in-taking information they glean from those closest to them – their parents. From the moment they are born, they instinctively acept that what their parents do is the correct way of doing things. Nothing escapes their attention, both good and bad. We are becoming more and more aware of the real need for parents to set much better examples for their children. They also need to actually take responsibility for their children’s upbringing, safety, and actions!

Setting a good example begins and ends at home. I understand my own parents did not always agree on any number of things, just like the rest of us; however, they never raised their voices to one another in front of my sister or me. As a result, neither of us tends toward raising our voices in order to make a point. We were rarely criticized or corrected in public; that was always clearly accomplished in private. Hence, we don’t tend to criticize others in public. There are just as many breaches of etiquette that occurred as we grew up, and for those, I at least, am still in the process of fully understanding.

I don’t think it’s necessary to overthink the process of teaching good manners. They really are not that complicated in their most basic form. Learning to understand The Golden Rule and realizing the consequences of our actions teach most of us many important life lessons. Learning to show respect for one’s elders can be understood at a very early age. For instance, children need to be taught to stand when an adult enters a room; they won’t have inherited this as an instinct. So either one explains this concept to them as the way things are done, or they will learn by following the parent’s example.  Children must learn that they are not the center of the universe and be made aware of the many others they encounter at school, in public places, etc.

Teaching table manners can seem a daunting task, especially if several children of varying ages are in the mix. As we would treat adults, we would also want to treat our children – with respect and kindness. As parents, it lies with you to give direction and instruction, mainly to keep your children safe. But good manners also make it far easier to make friends, make better grades and make fewer unwise choices. Even gaining acceptance into one’s college of choice or getting a better job placement can all result from having a good set of manners as a second nature part of your personality.

Simple etiquette courses could even be part of children’s educational curriculum. It is not secret that schools are short of both time and money. It takes a relatively short amount of time and money to set up such a program, but unfortunately good manners are obviously not a priority. As a result, the faculty is saddled with epidemic outbreaks of bullying, declining academic performances, and a weakened workforce for the future.

There has been no more important time to turn things around. Frankly, if incivility and rudeness infiltrate the fabric of society to a much greater extent, we may very well be dealing with an unsustainable society, as we know it today. Parents need to make good manners a high priority at home. Children must learn these simple soft skills at home first. Home needs to provide a supportive and safe environment for children in which to thrive and fully develop their highest potential.

Schools need to support good manners. But we cannot place the burden of responsibility for teaching our children how to behave properly on school faculty. Teachers are not trained to properly take on such a responsibility. Tasking them with this is inappropriate and totally unfair. Rather, the school setting ought to benefit from the proper behavior of students and rely on parental guidance to teach the basics of good conduct and civility.

Yes, it is very possible and actually very easy to raise well-mannered children. Clear communication, compassion, and a lot of love, respect and positive feedback will go a long way to make the whole learning process more effective and more pleasant. By setting a good and constant example is one’s greatest tool. By bringing the importance of good manners into sharper focus, tomorrow’s adults will suddenly emerge with greater self-esteem and greater respect for themselves and those around them.