To teach or not to teach . . . manners

Yesterday (Saturday) I posted the paragraph below on Facebook:

The other night Shonnie and I were talking about manners, whether we should try to teach Gracelyn to say “please” and “thank you,” etc. or merely model these behaviors or do nothing at all in this regard. Personally I think manners can be automatic reactions to certain social situations that hamper authentic responses such as gratitude or appreciation. What do you think?

I got almost 20 thoughtful and perceptive comments, including the following:

Teach your kid to be polite, there is enough bad behavior out there. Being polite doesn’t mean being inauthentic, it means being considerate. –R.

please and thank you were automatically taught in my family. i don’t have children so haven’t thought about i much…until now. i’ve def seen a lot of stress around the ‘teaching’. as in when a child asks for something or receives something, there’s this ‘teaching moment’ of ‘say please, say thank you’…which feels kind of shaming. as an adult, i don’t think i use please all the time when i ask for things. –L.

Interesting topic! I remember as a kid being forced to say “Thank you” felt awful and I faked it a lot. Being forced to say “please” always made me feel like I was begging. I kind of wonder about the etymology of “please”, if it’s intended to be subjective or objective. In French, s’il vous plait literally means “if it is pleasing to you” (which is rather nice) and I think in English when we say “please” we are generally implying that it would please *me* if you do this / give me that / etc. Which when you think about it, isn’t really that polite at all. –S

Teach with kindness and compassion. Yes, be a role model! I was in the grocery store the other day a a mother punished and shamed a child for not saying “No thank you” to an offer of a store sticker from the cashier. I thought that was odd to expect from a 3 year old. While manners are important, they cannot be forced. –J.

As you can see, my Facebook friends provided a lot for me and Shonnie to consider. This morning we were having one of our occasional family meetings during which we read our marriage vows to one another and then our commitments to Gracelyn. And as Shonnie was reading those commitments, because of the online conversation I’d been having, this one stood out for me:

“We (Shonnie & Bruce ) will introduce you (Gracelyn) to many different ways of being, doing and living and provide you opportunities to make your own choices so that you can ultimately find the beliefs, habits and life path that fit for you.”

So, I’m on board with introducing Gracelyn to “manners” as well as some of the other beliefs and customs of our culture (and other cultures), but I won’t compel her to say “please” or “thank you” or anything else, for that matter. She’ll get to make those choices on her own.

Regarding teaching manners so our kids will treat others well, I believe that infants come into the world infused with an abundance of natural compassion, love and empathy. Thus, if we want our children to respect other people (as well as other animals, plants, the Earth), all we parents need to do is nurture those attributes and, hopefully, model them ourselves. Our experience so far with Gracelyn has certainly shown this to be true.


3 thoughts on “To teach or not to teach . . . manners

  1. Kali

    WOW…I have such hope for our future knowing there are concious parents like you two rearing children. Now, how about teaching it to a few billion parents? 🙂

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