My husband and I made an appointment at the bank recently to discuss options for refinancing our mortgage. Our children are 6, 8, and 11; do we get a babysitter for an hour-long meeting? Instead of arranging for a sitter, we had each child bring a couple of activities of their choice that they could do quietly and individually while we met with a bank officer. My two older kids brought a chapter book and summer math packet, and the youngest brought “The Peg Game”, a classic wooden peg and board solitaire game. They sat in comfy couch chairs in the center of the bank while we met with a bank officer in a cubicle space to the side.
After a half an hour, my husband checked in on them. They were happily occupied. We ended up being there for over an hour and received compliments about how polite and well-behaved our children were in the waiting area for so long, especially occupied with activities that do not involve an electronic screen. While I appreciated the kind words, it got me thinking: “When did the reaction to well-behaved children move from expectation to surprise?
When did hearing children say please and thank you become refreshing rather than the norm?
When did setting limits, expectations and non-negotiables go by the wayside in parenting?”
Sometimes I fear that with all of us so urgently paying attention to our respective screens for so long and so often, we forget how great it feels when someone acknowledges you with a smile or wave hello, or worse, we forget how to give people we care about the attention they need and deserve. Being seen, appreciated and cared for are amongst the basic emotional needs and wants for people of all ages. Consider the many financial benefits when these these needs are met; less instances of isolation and feelings of despair or depression are likely to occur thus making a person more productive and motivated. Beyond the emotional benefits of being able to relate to someone in person, the skill of looking someone in the eye, smiling and firmly shaking his or her hand is highly valued by potential employers. Manners and respect still matter.
Let’s restore hope for our nation’s future by redefining success to include teaching our children to value people and cultivating relationships over getting the latest stuff. This can only help them to become resilient, responsible and respectful adults.
Though please and thank you can begin as early as babyhood by modeling and teaching simple baby signs, it’s never too late to begin with your children and yourself. Instead of saying, “I’ll have…” consider modeling, “May I please have…”
Setting limits and expectations provide structure that children want and need until their brains are fully developed (which on average is at 25 years of age). For example, instead of banning screen-time (such as TV, computer, game console, tablet, or the latest iThing), allow for limited time daily and weekly.
Having non-negotiables conveys to your children that you care for their well-being. “Respond when I call you. It’s a matter of safety.” You are communicating that you are paying attention. You care. This is a more clear cut example versus listening to your child try to argue his or her way out of a direction that you give him or her. We live in an affluent town and permissive society where many children are raised with so much sense of entitlement that everything is a negotiation. It’s never too late to assert your authority and teach respect for your authority and that of others. Convey the fact that you have lived longer than your child has and he or she needs to trust your wisdom; you are paying attention. You care.
I don’t claim to have all the answers with regard to childrearing. I do my best to teach these skills without shaming my children into practicing their manners. What I do know for sure, in this regard, is that your children follow your lead. So, give them your best attention and lead.
Two of my Go-To Books: Discipline for Life, by Marilyn Swift and The Successful Child by William Sears, MD and Martha Sears, RN
- Motherlode Blog: Grounded? Thank Mom and Dad (parenting.blogs.nytimes.com)
- How to Raise Happy, Self-Confident Children (parentingpractically.wordpress.com)