Even before I had children, I gave a considerable amount of thought to how I wanted to raise them. As a firm believer of structure and discipline, I was focused on raising well mannered, polite, respectful children. I wanted my children to be considerate of others, mindful of how their actions affect other people, and to truly treat other people how they, themselves, wanted to be treated. So far I think I’m doing an excellent job with accomplishing that goal. My four year old daughter is polite, compassionate and caring. She patiently waits for her turn in line, she raises her hand and waits to be acknowledged before speaking and she’s always the first to give up her toy to another child who asks for it – or simply takes it from her without asking… Her manners and demeanor would make any parent proud.
I’ve also noticed my well-mannered, well behaved little girl gets walked on and overlooked… a lot… by both other kids and many of the adult figures in her life. And it got me wondering if all this emphasis I’d put on manners and consideration for others had somehow been misguided in today’s society. Are her chances of being successful later on in life increased if I raise her to be a selfish brat? Are manners and politeness over rated?
I first noticed it a child’s birthday party. As the cake was being cut, the adult handing out pieces of cake told all the kids to get in line. My daughter excitedly stood up and walked over to second in line, right behind the birthday girl. She approached the table and asked for a piece of chocolate cake. She even said please. But about that time, all the other children arrived at the table and the loud chaotic chorus of “Me! Me! Me! I want chocolate! I want ice cream! I’m next! Me! Me! Please! Please!” began. My daughter was the last child to get a piece of birthday cake… And right on cue, she sad “thank you” when finally handed her cake.
And that was far from an isolated incident. Time and time again I see my polite, well-behaved child being passed over for children that I think need a lesson in manners and respect. My daughter’s preschool teacher asked us to work on teaching my daughter to raise her hand and be acknowledged instead of just speaking up. That’s a skill they ask all the parents to work on at this age. So we have made a conscious effort to work on that area, and my daughter has mastered that skill quite well. At the dinner table she raises her hand to speak. When I’m on the phone, she raises her hand and asks if she can speak to whomever I’m speaking to. But when I see classroom interactions, I notice the only kids being acknowledged by the teacher are the ones who just speak out. Not the ones, like my daughter, who are sitting there with their hands up.
I’m seeing more and more articles these days about the challenges of raising respectful, polite children in a society that doesn’t necessarily reward those attributes. I’ve heard about daycares and early childhood centers moving away from teaching the value of sharing, claiming it’s unnatural and unrealistic to teach children to give up something they have solely because someone else wants it. And that’s true – adults wouldn’t necessarily give up their possessions just because someone else said they wanted them.
So what’s a parent to do? How do you balance a desire to raise well-mannered, polite children with the age old saying that “nice guys finish last?”
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