How then will a child learn social manners? Can we trust the child to develop and mature in her own time, the way we trusted her to learn to walk and to talk? Why are we in a rush to have children behave like adults before they are adults?
When lovingly and respectfully treated, children will learn manners on their own simply because they want to live happily in this society. We can ensure this development by the following three approaches:
- To "teach" a child to be grateful, express your gratitude for her contribution to your life: "It is such a joy to spend the afternoon with you". It is how you treat your child that teaches her how to be. Telling a child what to say is not respectful. It is not the kind of manners you want her to learn. Thanking her for her help and being kind and generous toward her are really at the heart of your teaching tools.
- We can provide examples in our interactions with others by expressing gratitude, sharing generously, and treating others kindly. Our children will assimilate what they see, hear and experience around them.
- For your child to learn manners with pleasure, and enjoy behaving in pleasing ways, she needs to see you enjoying yourself through these expressions. She needs to see you being real, authentic, and fully present when you express gratitude and treat people kindly.
- We can provide ample freedom and opportunity to express painful feelings. Children, like adults, can best experience kind and giving feelings when they are not preoccupied with upsetting experiences. When a child tells me "I hate my sister", I validate his feelings and accept his emotional outburst - only then he can be free to love his sister. If hurtful and angry feelings are numbed, the loving and kind ones fall asleep with them. It's a package deal.
I find gratefulness to be a great tool for positive awareness, and the heart of manners. We can demonstrate it all through the day. I often say things like: I am so happy to have this wonderful house. I love this community. We are so lucky to live here. I am so grateful that Bach was born before me so I can enjoy his incredible music. I am amazed and thankful to be alive....have eyes, ears....and so on. Being grateful, sensitive and kind is not a lecture - but a demonstration.
Children become what they absorb around them. Be what you want them to become, and treat them the way you wish them to learn to be with others.
Maybe what we need is to develop our own manners of respect toward our children. It is not easy, but very simple: Children develop adult manners by the time they are adults.
This article has been adapted from Naomi's forthcoming book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves