Manners are social skills

boy dances with girlIn a New York Times article this past year the pediatrician Perri Klass addressed the issue of rude kids and manners.  Dr. Klass makes some excellent points, including the notion that another phrase for manners is “social skills.”  She also cites “Miss Manners” as her fave parenting book (for the article see: http://tiny.cc/vfO2B).

So, while most parents would agree that manners are important, we come up against a number of obstacles when it comes to imparting them.

Firstly, we must time our expectations to fall into line with our children’s developmental capacity.  Obviously newborns are not expected to say please and thank you, but when a four-year-old is parented as if they were a newborn that child is being potentially handicapped by lack of teaching.  Respect and reciprocity and important, and we parents need to keep teaching, modeling and expecting this—while still keeping in mind that the brain develops much better capacity for empathy around six or seven years of age.

Another issue is autism spectrum disorders in which eye contact and reciprocal interactions are hard to instill or evoke.  Still, we seem to be living in a virtual age of autism, and our screen-addicted kids may be sometimes slipping through the cracks and manners going uncultivated.  As for actual spectrum kids, it’s our job as parents to try to socialize and civilize them (i.e. not to control them like “big brother,” but to help prepare them for happy lives as participants in the great and terrible group that we all comprise).  If our good efforts utterly fail, this could be a sign that our child needs some sort of specialized training to evoke manners/social skills early on, while the developmental window is still open.

Another thing to consider when children are “rude” is whether they might be expressing our own aggression, frustration or depression/anxiety?  For example, if the pediatrician keeps us waiting an hour, and we are “acting” polite while our child throws a fit, perhaps we secretly agree with our kid’s acting out.  Now, I think it might be healthier to say something to the effect, “I know you’re busy but my time is valuable too.”  And while this probably won’t go over as politically correct with many a doctor, the doctor you really want is likely to at least validate your feeling and respect you as a human being.  As Dr. Klass says, you don’t have to like everyone—your feelings are a private matter—but you do have to behave with courtesy.  It can be consistent with good manners to appropriately express feelings, just not to yell, physically aggress or blatantly disrespect others, even if they show poor manners towards ourselves or our children.

Thus if our kids are acting rudely, it serves to ask ourselves if we personally are feeling reasonably good self-esteem and self-respect, if we not only treat others with manners, but feel that we are treated with decent manners in return—or at least are able to not take it personally when others are rude.

Excepting neurologically based issues, children and adults alike tend to be kind and well mannered if they feel generally good about themselves.  In this regard, we are well-served to encounter rudeness through the filter of “that person is not feeling good about themselves.”  We are also serving our children’s self-esteem by expecting, and reinforcing, good manners.

Finally, some of the “rudest” children I have known were also some of the most wounded—abused, neglected, abandoned.  So, let’s dedicate today to having compassion and good manners—in the service of all our collective children. 

Namaste, Bruce

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3 Responses to “Manners are social skills”

  1. Laurie Says:

    I also think in this age of children getting so much they do not appreciate the little things. When volunteering on the lunch line at my son’s school the lack of thank yous is huge.

  2. A.N. Says:

    What a wonderful photograph

  3. Beth Kirk Says:

    I second what Laurie said. Many of our children take getting what they need, and a lot of what they want, for granted.
    This post brought up an issue for me about my shy, introverted son not making eye contact. He often looks away from the person he’s speaking to and talks very quietly. This happens mostly when he’s speaking to adults. Sometimes I remind him (in front of the other adult) to speak up and make eye contact, and he does. Is there a better way to handle this? At this point we don’t want to have him tested for potential “disorders.”

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