Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Manners - Are they important to any one else?

Over the past two years, I've observed the interaction of
parents with their toddlers regarding manners. When a child acts out, or does something to cross the boundary of another child, I wait to see if the parents will involve themselves. Yes, we need to give children the time to resolve a conflict/speak up for themselves, but there are also times when we need to step in.

Today in music class, a little girl slammed right into Ava while dancing, and Ava stopped stunned. It was an accident, but completely the other toddlers fault, and I waited for a moment to see what her parents would do. The Mom started laughing and riled up her child more, so I looked to the Dad, and he too encouraged his little girl to keep on dancing. This was a perfect opportunity for either parent to quietly crouch down and ask the girl to say sorry - but neither person acknowledged Ava.

By pretending that nothing happened, and continuing to laugh and clap, her parents were letting a teaching moment pass by, and this girl will continue to push others around. (Last week she started pulling Ava's hand and hit her feet several times. She also did this to other children.) As this girl is several months younger than Ava, and it's not my place to parent her, I just reached for Ava's hand and quietly said, "Just say, excuse me", and I pulled her around the other girl. (Ava's very aware of her boundaries, but she gets quiet when she feels bullied.) I told Ava that it was an accident and then I smiled and encouraged her to dance again. As the class continued I watched the girls' parents, and they continually encouraged her in her misbehavior - calling everything she did "cute" and doting on her. Yes, she's a toddler, and toddlers can't be expected to "behave" all of the time, but at what point do we start instilling manners and politeness - age 5?

(I watched all of the parents interact with their children and most of them were doing the same thing - praising every move regardless if it was appropriate. I caught some of them watching me too, and I knew that they were wondering how I was able to keep Ava sitting in her chair, following what the Teacher was doing, without speaking to her.)

I'm not blaming these small children for their actions, nor am I saying that they should be expected to act like adults. I'm just observing how some adults who lack manners are raising some children who lack manners, and some adults who have no children are lacking manners in public too. Perhaps most people are always in a rush and don't think to take a moment to be courteous. Perhaps some people just don't think beyond themselves.

When I was 6 months pregnant, I slipped and fell on slick tile - I caught myself on a sandwich board and prevented landing on my tummy. I was right beside a very crowded bus stop and no one came over to help me up or to ask if I was ok (I hit my knees so hard on the tiles that I couldn't get up for a few minutes.) Not a single person - they all looked away, and I even heard laughter from some male teenagers.

When I was 7 & 8 months pregnant, I rode the bus frequently and I can't remember a single time when someone offered me their seat. Many times while walking in crowds this pregnant, people bumped/elbowed my tummy because they were in a hurry and not paying attention. Once Ava was born the same thing happened except people bumped into her stroller.

One time, I opened a door for Ava (in her stroller) and myself, and a man squeezed through from behind and walked in - because I was obviously holding the door for him.

I get frustrated that basic courtesies have been lost by enough people that these things happen frequently. I secretly smile when Ava says, "Excuse me" to an adult because they squeezed passed us without saying it. (She started doing this on her own before she was 2.)

Maybe I can change the world one polite moment at a time. If this is too daunting, at least I know Ava will think about other people.

(The other day I was struggling to open a door with Ava in the stroller and a woman [walking by] came over to hold it for me. Moments like this make me feel good.)

(On dates I've walked up to a door [and paused] and the men walked past me to open it, and kept on walking through. None of these men had a second date.... I have no interest in teaching politeness to grown men; perhaps their Mothers should speak to them.... Besides, if they don't do something small like this, I have to wonder what other kinds of things do they not give attention to?)

PS. I'm a Feminist and I like to have a door opened for me.


  1. This is a great reminder to parents. I agree and was speaking to my child as early as two. Just last week my adult daughter offered her seat on the bus to a woman with a baby in a frontal snugly.Moments later the bus driver hit the brakes too fast, causing patrons to lurch forward, some lost balance and fell. The Mother yelled out a thanks to my daughter in front of all the other rude riders, explaining how she could have fallen on her baby had she not been seated. I never taught her that, she also says thank-you to the bus driver each time she exits. It's all about kindness....those small lesson of manners carry on to adulthood. Good for you! Maybe another parent will read this post and get it!!

    Peace Giggles

  2. Thanks - I hope that many parents read this and get it. (Teaching manners doesn't require nagging - parents just need to gently guide their children when the opportunities arise.)