As soon as they placed an 8 pound bald little human with huge dark brown eyes in my arms, I quickly became aware of the weight that is present to protect and raise a well-adjusted, functioning, polite, kind, strong, smart, and confident little person.
I find myself laying in bed each night rehashing the day and wondering if I was a good mom. Sure, my kid was fed, well hydrated, sheltered, clothed, bathed, and played to her little heart’s content. But, what did I teach her? What did she learn from me? Was I kind? Did I yell? Did she feel loved? Did she go to sleep happy?
While I’m not a child behavior expert and I’ve not read any “How To” books on raising my child, here are two ways in which I am teaching manners to our 3 year old (that is working…so far):
My dad is your typical middle-class, blue collar farmer. Stoic, hard working, and strong. He instilled a distinct work ethic and respect in my siblings and I from an early age. He didn’t beat it into our heads or have to tell us day in and day out to use our manners.
He simply led by example.
We watched him treat the land we lived on, the animals we raised, and the people we met with kindness and respect. What made an even bigger impact than watching how he carried himself, was watching how people reacted to him. He was and still is a very well-respected man in our small rural community. As a child, you already think that your Daddy hangs the moon. But to witness every person you meet hold him in the same regard left a monumental mark on our lives.
We were involved in 4H growing up (it’s where I met my husband!). We raised and showed livestock, mostly cattle. If my dad came down to the barn and we forgot to feed our animals, we didn’t get dinner that night. If their water was empty or dirty, we didn’t get to drink the rest of the evening. If their pen was messy or we forgot to put down straw, you guessed it. We got to sleep on the floor that night.
My husband and I do our very best each and every day to carry out our lives in a manner that we would want our daughter to.
We are not perfect. I have a potty mouth. I’m completely guilty of calling a driver a not-so-PG name when they pull out in front of me.
But I’ve learned, at least in our experience, that our daughter listens with her eyes a whole heck of a lot more than her ears.
My father-in-law often uses a phrase that makes me cringe. “Do as I say, not as I do.” It is meant to be a light-hearted and nonchalant expression, but I wonder how often he used it when my husband was young and how confusing it must have been.
As parents, we are charged with teaching and preparing our children for the world. The foundation of their disposition and personality begins with us the moment they are born. How can I tell my daughter that a certain behavior or action is not the right/moral/healthy/etc. thing to do when I do it myself?
This does not mean that we coddle, cave, or don’t ever tell our daughter no. It simply means that we treat our daughter the way we would want her to treat her friends, family, and strangers. By using words like please, thank you, and you’re welcome with her as part of our daily conversations, these words are instilled in her vocabulary and become mainstays.
Rather than saying, “Little Daisy, pick up your toys.”, we say something like, “Little Daisy, will you please pick up your toys?”. Or, “Will you please help me feed the dogs?” instead of “Come help me, now!”.
As adults, we respond more positively to someone that uses manners with us. Why would it be different for a toddler?
Remember what I said about toddlers listening with their eyes instead of their ears?
It makes using your manners with toddlers difficult at times, and it takes a great deal of patience. Something that I do not have a great deal of. If I am in another room, I find it more effective to call her name first in order to get her attention and ask her to please come here. Then proceed to say what I was going to say. In our household, hollering orders across rooms does not work so well.
Getting down to eye level with her, being calm and treating her with respect is what she reacts to.
At least most of the time. She’s a toddler. And I’m hoping every day that all of this doesn’t fly out the window when she is a raging hormonal 13 year old Belieber or whatever it will be in 10 years.
Here are some books that are in our home library about manners (click the title to be taken to a description):
I am attempting to grow this blog and foster a community of like-minded individuals that will engage in fun and enlightening conversation.
If you would share this blog post over social media, it would be much appreciated! 🙂