Manners Mean Much More than Using the Right Fork!

Years ago, I was talking to an acquaintance who told me about someone who, “didn’t know the difference between one fish fork and the other” at a dinner. He ended by adding, “Can you imagine such a thing?” Not only could I image such a “thing”, I realized that I was never inviting him over to my house for dinner. I only knew about one fish fork, the tiny one used for shellfish.

While he may have taken table manners to an extreme, it’s true that people are judged by their manners. To prove the point, I made a judgment about him when he made that statement. That he was the one with bad manners. And even worse, he seemed clueless about the kind of manners that are much more valuable than proper silverware usage. He lacked the critically important manners that provide us with the “how to” guide for interacting thoughtfully, respectfully, and empathically with others in almost every personal and professional situation imaginable on a daily basis.

And please, don’t make the mistake of thinking that the more educated, wealthy, or worldly have better manners. I’ve been in places overflowing with highly paid professionals who hold positions of great authority, only to be shocked when they rush into an opening elevator with the speed and agility of an NFL lineman, nearly tackling anyone blocking their way.  And I’ve been in public places with tough looking teenagers who were not only street smart, but apparently manners smart, too. They took the few extra seconds to hold a door open for someone, leaving me smiling and feeling much more positive about the future of America’s youth.

What is clear is that manners really do matter, and children should be learning them at home and school right alongside reading, writing, math and all the other essential subjects needed for living a productive and satisfying life.

Just how important are manners? It’s a topic that receives serious attention from experts as diverse as Pier Forni, PhD, co-founder of the Civility Project at Johns Hopkins University, which examines the significance of civility, manners, and politeness in contemporary society; and Dr. Berry Brazelton, noted pediatrician, author, and director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Forni states, “The rules of good manners are the traffic lights of human interaction. They make it so that we don’t crash into one another in everyday behavior.

Our distant ancestors developed behaviors to show others respect, fairness and kindness. Those have evolved into today’s manners “You cannot have any kind of community if there are not some rules,” Forni said.

Brazelton echoes Forni’s comments adding that, “In past generations, teaching a child manners was an important part of early training.” He also says, “manners still matter, but children today may be cheated of the opportunities to think generously about others. We are in a hurry, and most families are stressed. Manners may be left out or forgotten. This is unfortunate. I always urge parents to start in early childhood to teach manners and to demonstrate respect for each other.”

Brazelton is right, children and parents alike are over-booked, over-burdened, constantly rushing from one place to another – school, work, and all the “extras”: sports, dance, music, religious school. How can families possibly add one more thing to their “to do lists?”  It’s easier than you think.

Learning Manners Starts at Home

  • Just like most important life lessons; children learn best by example, by observing and listening to the adults in their in their lives. You don’t need a copy of the latest Emily Post book to teach this, but you do need to mind your own manners. Expect respect
  • The root of good manners is respect for another person.Start young
  • Even two-year-olds can get into the habit of saying, “please” and “thank you.”Model good manners
  • Let your child hear you using polite words and see you demonstrating consideration for others during your daily interactions. Simple exchanges like thanking the cashier when given your change at the market or leaving your table at a self-serve restaurant clean and ready for the next diner teaches them that manners count in their family, that they are expected, and valued. Manners are a two way street
  • Treat your child with the same politeness you do an adult. Let them experience the good feelings of being on the receiving side of courtesy, respect and appreciation. Practice doesn’t make perfect
  • Expect manners meltdowns. There will be times when even the most polite child forgets her manners, or even worst is downright rude. This is especially true as the child becomes older and more independent. Correct them privately and calmly, but firmly. Turn it into a learning experience and not an opportunity to humiliate. Most of all, remember unlike that “extra” fish fork; manners shouldn’t be reserved only for company or special occasions. Manners should be part of every single day.

Steps for a Saner School Year

The new school-year is just a few days old and many parents are already stressed out. They’re physically and mentally exhausted, and it’s just the beginning. They’re dreading all the lunches that need to be shopped for and packed, all the back-to-to school meetings and conferences to attend, the early morning battles of getting the kids off to school on time, and the late nights studying for tests and working on those special projects.

The kids are stressed too. They still have lots of questions and very few answers yet. Will their teachers be hard, easy, inspirational, or boring? Will they be able to do the all the work that’s required and get good grades? Will they make the basketball team, jazz band, and at the top of their worry list, any new friends?

Once upon a time both parents and children looked forward to the start of school. That was when summer vacation meant long days of unscheduled unstructured time trying to find things to do. Usually it meant riding bikes, playing ball with the kids in the neighborhood or going “back to school” for a few hours each day to do craft projects and meet up with other kids at city sponsored day camps held in school playgrounds.

That was before two-parent working families became the norm and school districts had to scale back on all types of services. Suddenly there were no kids left to ride bikes with or community camps to attend. It was also before big business stepped in to fill the gap with all types of specialized camps which guaranteed they would not only keep children safe and occupied during the summer months, but give them a step-up when they returned to school in the fall.

So now, instead of starting the new school-year rested, relaxed, and rearing to go; most parents and kids are already worn out from a summer that that was jammed with places to be, things to do, and hoping the thousands of dollars spent on enrichment programs and sports camps really do translate into better grades and a place on the team.

This is certainly not the best way to begin the new school year – but is there anything parents can do?

There sure is, but it takes the commitment to make some major lifestyle changes and the courage to actually go through with them.

This is the perfect time to start a new family tradition by beginning the school year with a special family celebration honoring the countless hours you put into raising your children and the work and effort they put into school and extracurricular activities.

And perhaps the best gift you can give at this celebration is making a family commitment to spend more time focusing on the lessons families can teach better than anyone else – building character, instilling family values, learning how to love and appreciate who they and others are; talents and flaws included.

Steps for a Saner School Year

Get organized so rather than frantically running round and always playing catch-up you’ll have time to stop and replenish yourself

  • Find a big calendar and hang it in the kitchen (the closer to the refrigerator the better) and down all important dates and deadlines.
  • Establish an evening routine to make sure all homework is done and projects on schedule, all forms and permission slips are completed, lunches are packed – and just when that next bake sale will be. It’s no fun running out to the 24 hour supermarket getting the ingredients you’ll need to spend the next two hours baking cupcakes. (That’s actually another parenting lesson altogether and rates a blog of its own).

Steps for a Richer Life

  • Smaller Lists – Richer Lives Cut back. Fewer activities mean more pleasure and benefits from the ones you choose.
  • Set realistic goals based on each child’s unique needs, talents, and abilities based on what’s best for them and not to fulfill your dreams.
  • Keep perspective Your kids aren’t doomed to a lifetime of failure if they get a detention, fail a test, or cut from the team. Sure those things make them sad and cause you embarrassment but knowing they can survive setbacks and come back even stronger is a life lesson that is priceless.
  • Plan family times that enhance your lives and fit naturally into your daily routines. Stay away from “mandatory” attendance and a set schedule of special events. Every member of your family is already over-burdened with those kinds of demands.
  • Take a few minutes each day to touch base privately with your children. It can be as simple as a knock on a door letting them know you love them and asking how their day went or cuddling together while reading a story. Most important – you’re sending the message that you’re always there for them no matter what.
  • In this crazy world all children deserve people who will love and support them unconditionally, where they are safe, unjudged, and accepted no matter what.