Sunday, February 17, 2013

Mom and Pop Etiquette

I have noticed a lot of comments recently about making excuses for one’s unruly and rude children. Discussions and questions about this topic have always puzzled us on this seemingly inescapable reality. Nothing could be simpler to understand and we need not search far for the answer to this mystery. And, I have mentioned this on numerous occasions in various blog posts and news articles – including here in this column.

In its simplest form the fact is that children learn mostly from their parents. They watch and they listen and then they mimic. The rub comes from parents who either have bad manners themselves or who are “too busy” to be responsible. Perhaps they should have thought about this before bringing children into the world. The task of raising children is enormous and not to be taken lightly. Parenting means being in a relationship with your child for a lifetime. There is no divorce proceeding if the relationship is not what you thought it was going to be. As the saying goes, anyone can make a baby, but raising a child is quite another matter.

There are other ways in which children learn their behaviors and develop social skills. Schools are the most obvious and most influential source. After all, the majority of a child’s waking hours are usually spent at school rather than at home. Teachers have an enormous influence on children. This realization is one very real reason why parents would do themselves and their children a great service by being involved in their children’s schools. It needs to be a priority, and not shoved aside as inconvenient or the ever so easy not enough time excuse. If one looks at this investment of time as one does a bank account, my advice is to be sure to keep a healthy balance.

Extracurricular activities such as sports, scouts, or arts groups are another great source where children develop skills in civil behavior, self-confidence, and communication skills. These activities, although ancillary to schooling and at-home experiences, they should not be considered substitutions for good parenting. Children may come home on some days with more questions than answers and it is the responsibility of their parents to guide them through this morass of confusion.

Making friends and connecting with other children is foremost in the minds of children. This is a basic human need and continues throughout our lives. Learning to do this skillfully from the very start is critical to developing a healthy position in society in general and in their communities specifically. Parents need to make the time to guide children through this complicated maze. Setting a good example at home is the most successful way to being a good guide. Where coaches on the hockey field may explain the rules of the game and basic sportsmanship, the parents demonstrate how these important values play out off the ice, so to speak.

We too often forget or do not consider to begin with that the children we raise today are tomorrow’s parents and community leaders. This is clearly proven with the increase of such behaviors as bullying and making poor choices, which are both dangerous, and in many cases, illegal. Turning a blind eye to children who exhibit inappropriate behaviors is a real disservice to them and quite frankly, to all of us.

The old Mom and Pop etiquette of encouraging children to excel in ways where they naturally resonate is a fine place to begin. Engaging in this process with them helps them to build healthy confidence in themselves and in those of us who are parents or guardians. Tuning in to children’s fears and frustrations and listening to them can also make it possible to guide children to make good decisions. And showing them just exactly how The Golden Rule works can serve as a great piece of instruction for navigating life’s challenges.

Make family dinners a priority. Here children should learn good table manners, respectful communication skills, and camaraderie. Using these tools repeatedly enable children to succeed in the world. Without them, they are at a great disadvantage. Parents hold this incredible power in their hands. When people ask me about making excuses for their children or wondering where these behaviors were learned, my answer is always simple. Become aware of and take full responsibility for your own behaviour and your children will follow suit. This dynamic will happen no matter whether your actions are appropriate or not – make sure they reflect the values you want to pass on to the next generation.