I think the biggest roadblock we face in parenting little humans is changing the mindset around how we think about children both individually and as a society. One of the most difficult boulders along the path is the concept of “control”. For years now we have received the message that we need to control children or get them under control and for most of us, this was the cornerstone of how we were dealt with as children ourselves.
The reality is that we shouldn’t desire to control anyone. It’s an incredibly disrespectful approach to human connection and relationships. Whilst some still may be fighting the urge to argue against this truth-bomb, the fact is that “controlled” children become “controllable” teens and compliant and pliable adults. Which is not a good thing and can in fact be quite dangerous.
We all find ourselves handing down and recycling the values which were given to us. This is another facet of parenting that makes life difficult because often we push a point purely because it’s the way things were done when we were younger. Often if you have the wisdom and insight to take a step back you may find that there’s no soul at the heart of your plea, so is it worth the break in connection?
One thing most parents find important is that their children at least appear to be decent human beings and one of the main ways in which parents hope their children demonstrate this (arguably ambiguous) trait is through being polite and courteous and displaying “good manners”. I often see parents pushing this point at an alarmingly early age.
I personally know the discomfort of your child receiving something and forgetting to say “thank you” or committing some transgression or another and refusing to say “sorry”. It can be mortifying. It can make you feel like the worst parent in the world. But what is it really bringing up for you? I know for me there’s a shame, there’s a guilt… there’s a little voice in my head that says “You can’t control your child!”
There it is again. That daily little message I have to keep stomping down because I am POSITIVE that is not what I want for my kids. I don’t want them to see me as a puppet-master. I want them to have freewill, I want them to feel empowered to make their own decisions. I want them to be strong-minded individuals who can stand up for what’s right for them, others and their environment even when I’m not around to guide them. I won’t get that by being a controlling force and I certainly won’t get two of the main outcomes I hope for as a parent which is a loving bond and a mutual respect.
But in society manners still do have a strong place and whilst I personally don’t mind the idea of anarchists balking against social norms, I know there are a lot of us who find manners to be a sticking point in which they need their child to be able to adhere to in some ways to function in the world.
The most important thing to realise about manners is they are far better modelled than taught. The same parent who demands their child “Say sorry!” will admonish that same child with “That did not sound like a real apology!” without realising the irony of what they are asking. An apology should be a heartfelt recognition of how your behaviour has impacted another person or at the very least a way of showing the other person that you are willing to acknowledge any pain you may have caused. How can we force such a thing? Especially when we all abhor an insincere apology.
I think it’s counterproductive to force children to apologise. I know I personally hate apologising and I believe that is wrapped up in the shame of having to admit I was wrong and takes me back to times I had to apologise without any actual understanding or responsibility for what I may or may not have done. Children will learn best how to apologise by your own free and warm modelling of apologies and repairs and admission of wrongdoing. This is a great model for an apology that I love using. I urge parents never to force an apology, they mean less than nothing and do more harm then good. In awkward social situations I just apologise myself “I’m sorry (my child) did that, that must have hurt!”
I think this is the best way forward to teach any form of manners.
Children learn best through your own modelling. Children under 3 have absolutely no impulse control and it develops slowly from there, with the latest research indicating that the full forming of logic, impulse control and reason could be somewhere around the mid-twenties (and then still needs to be applied). So teaching manners to young children seems an arduous and pointless task. Instead just use every opportunity to model manners yourself and be as specific as possible eg. “Thank you for helping me clean up that mess, it’s so much easier when we do it together!”.
I know from experience that this works. I was much greener on this journey with my first than my second and inherited values were still running strong. We spent a lot of time “teaching” manners before I found this information myself. Armed with new knowledge we modelled manners for my second child and it comes so much more naturally to them than to my first. I can also see that discomfort at times when my eldest knows they have to “do the right thing” and often it comes more from that arbitrary place than from a deep empathy and understanding of another human’s rights or feelings.
Parenting consciously can sometimes feel like a hard task, especially with all these old messages being handed down through the generations and a society at large that promotes childism and tells us to parent a certain way. That’s why it really does pay to have yourself listened to. Especially on a topic like this that may feel intensely important to you. Explore that with a loving Listener.
In your Listening Time ask yourself – Is it important? WHY is it important? What’s the worst thing that could happen? Would/could that really happen? What does defiance in this area make you feel? What does that feeling remind you of? What would have happened if you as a child refused to do/say … ?
I am here to listen,
Just Ask xx