The importance of manners

Not long ago I wrote (and by wrote I mean blog ranted) about, among other things, the fact that I find with-holding something from a child until they “say the magic word” demeaning and disrespectful.  I had a friend later ask me something about it which made me realize I may have come across wrong so I thought I’d explain what I meant.

My child needs to be polite to you.  And I am in no way against children saying please.  What I take issue with is treating kids like dogs that we’re training, all in the name of “teaching them manners”… a set of manner which won’t even be applicable to them in adulthood no less. 

How often do you really say please?  Probably not super often.  But how many times do you ask for things politely?  Hopefully on a regular basis.  My point is that being polite and having manners do not hinge on that one specific word, nor should they. 

If you’re eating a big bag of chips and I want some I’ll most likely ask you politely, “Hey, can I have some?”  Assuming you say yes I will not then continue to ask you every time I grab a subsequent chip, it’s not necessary, we’re sharing the chips now.  If anything I’ll make some twitchy motion that indicates I want you to point the opening of the bag back in my direction, but I definitely wouldn’t say “May I please have another chip?” every single time… because that would be really freaking weird.  While I didn’t say please I doubt anyone would find that interaction impolite or rude.

The situation I referenced in the other post was like the one above except it was my daughter asking for the chips from another adult.  Everything about her interaction with the adult was completely polite but instead of it unfolding like I described above every time she went in for another chip the adult would hold it just out of her reach and taunt say “Say Please.” 

I remember in elementary school a big kid holding a book just out of reach of a shorter kid.  We all just called him a bully.

Now, there have been plenty of situations where I’ve been the one holding the chip bag and a kid has come up demanding “I need that!”, “I want that!” or “Give me that!” and my response has been the same as it would be if anyone else regardless of their age said that to me, “Uh, no.  Try asking nicely.”  (Actually, if it was an adult my response would probably be “Go f— yourself.  Try asking not like a douchebag.” but admittedly some allowances do need to be made when talking to children.)

Kids don’t have the right to act like little monsters without us calling them out on it, but there is also no reason why they need to be held to a standard that we don’t hold ourselves or anyone else to.

You have the right to expect polite behavior from my child.  On that same note you have the right to expect polite behavior from me, and my husband, and your next door neighbor, and the guy with the weird emo haircut at the grocery store.  And we all have the right to expect the same from you.  Children need to be polite, not because they’re talking to adults but because people need to be polite when they’re talking to other people.  We, as adults, need to teach them to be polite so they can grow up to be decent people who treat others appropriately, not so they can perform some neat tricks that will impress people older than them right now.  And it’s going to be a lot easier for them to learn if they experience us treating them and witness us treating each other with that same respect and polite behavior we expect them to grow up and emulate.

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11 Comments Add yours

  1. Kimberly says:

    Well said. Love your insight!

  2. thebossymom says:

    Hilarious…and so true. Thanks for the new perspective. You’re right…I don’t say please every single time. And my kids are incredibly polite. Thumbs up!

  3. jcs says:

    While I agree with some for your blog/post I mostly disagree with the conclusion in your last paragraph. I say please and thank you at every chance that I get, daily. I model the manners/behavior that I want my children and the children of others to offer- those children that I interact with daily. If the opportunity arises 100x a day, I model please and thank you and other polite interactions, like sharing for the sake of being a friend. No one has the right to expect behavior from my child that I do not expect. That is unfair to my child. You have the right to expect my child to behave but in the manner that s/he has been taught. Not by what a friend/stranger demands.

    I have an issue with anyone “parenting” my child in my presence. If my child wanted a chip from someone that required a phrase (any phrase) for said chip, if my child was not willing/wanting to say the required phrase, then I would remove my child from the offending adult. My kiddos are polite, kind to their friends (well my daughter more than my son, he is 16m and still learning), I am happy with the people that they are becoming and do not need the intervention of others.

    1. jboring says:

      Please and thank you are great words, and if you’re using them all the live long day there is no doubt in my mind your kids will grow up to use them non-stop as well, epic parenting on your behalf. 🙂 (My daughter uses “thank you” non-stop as well, probably because I and the other grownups around her have said it to her a lot since day one.) And I agree that children behave in the manner that s/he has been taught, you have the right to expect polite behavior from my child not because you as a stranger expect it but because I expect polite behavior from my child.

      I hadn’t thought about it before you mentioned it but I think you hit the nail on the head with your last paragraph, my biggest issue was someoine else parenting my child in my presence.

  4. PRR says:

    It’s funny, we had this discussion in the car a couple of weeks ago when I was reminding my 5 year old to say please for something I was handing him. I realized at that moment that the manner in which he had asked for the item was perfectly polite, and that the formality of this one word was just that…a formality. I talked to him about it, admitted that WE don’t say please for every single thing, I apologized for trying to hold him to that “standard” and I wondered aloud whether I did it out of fear that others would think he didn’t know how to “be” polite.

    I used these examples on my FB page: “If someone asks me “Would you like me to get you a soda while I’m downstairs?” I might respond with a really happy, “Oh my gosh, that would be great! I really appreciate it!” Nowhere is there a please or a thank you (I’d probably say thank you once I got it). I don’t think the words make me more polite, nor do I think omitting them makes me less polite. If someone brings me something or does something for me, I might hug them tightly and say “Seriously, I love you. You totally rock my socks, babe” and then proceed to gush over how awesome the person is and how much I love what was done or given, etc. But in the moment, being caught up in emotions that are way bigger than the words “thank you”, I would hope that my sincere appreciation wouldn’t be dismissed merely because of those words not being used. I also don’t say “excuse me” every time I need someone’s attention. I might, if appropriate, place my hand lightly on their shoulder. My point is that I have my eye on more than just the formalities. Yes, maybe that’s the word I’m looking for! This heavy focus on the “manner” words is just so formal, while sometimes also being pretty arbitrary.”

    I also want to point out that once again, when someone is DEFENDING their way of doing something (that happens to be the non-traditional route, as is commonly the case, it seems), people who do things the traditional way might turn it around and treat it as an attack on THEIR way (that hasn’t happened here, but I’ve seen it happen before with other people’s topics). Nowhere do you say, “I think someone who says please all the time is lame/wrong/silly/etc.” 🙂

    Thumbs up on the blog. Thanks!

    1. jboring says:

      That’s another great example! And great point about people feeling attacked, whenever I talk about something like this (especially if it’s with someone in person) I fumble all over my words trying to explain where I’m coming from without sounding like a d-bag who thinks everyone else is wrong. I’m glad it didn’t come off that way here. 🙂

  5. jcs says:

    jboring- perhaps it was the tone of your original blog/post 7/21 (I may have misread the tone? I love the written word but the tone can be subjective via the internet) that did not sit well. It seemed somewhat apologetic for the post referenced? Apologizing to someone that may have read the original post and offer your kiddo a chip? Apologizing for the behavior of your child to the chip-diva? (seemed like you and your kiddo had it all under control and happy before the chip requirement?).

    You seem like a very consciousness mama that models and requires the same behavior of your children,

    I may be off base, my hot button is “parenting” my child in my presence. This drives me batty. My children and I do our best and unless I ask for help, please do not offer it (i.e. via proper way to share/ask for chip from a friend).

    1. jboring says:

      Totally understandable but no, it wasn’t a response to the person with whom the chip incident occured. Another friend jokingly made a comment that made me realize the whole thing may have come across as me being anti-please or anti-children-saying-please which wasn’t the case at all. Mostly I guess this post was my panic that I sounded like I didn’t think children need manners (which is not true at all) and I wanted to clairfy, no apologetic nature intended.

      I have a tendency to get paranoid like that, I’m not always the best at adaquately communicating what I’m trying to say.

  6. Marilia says:

    I agree with your point here, but I have to say that modeling might not be enough. At least is not enough for my 4-year old. I had always said please and thank you to her ever since she was a baby and she sees me doing it to others as well, but only after kind of demanding that she does as well she started doing so.

    I also think it´s disrespectful to ask for the magic word, although I´ve done it too, I kind of say it on her behalf some please and thank yous. I also talk to her about how I and everyone else feel much better when she uses those words (or a simple ¨Can you…¨ before asking for something).

    I get angry at times and tell her that I don´t want to do things for her unless she asks me nicely, because I don´t want to receive orders. I tell her that without a sweet request she can do what she wants herself.

    It´s a tough one for me, I´m not sure if I´m doing it right or wrong, but she´s using the words more fluently now, I hope she´s also getting the gratitude lessons and not just the formality – but that might come more from the modeling. And I hope I´m not being a pain in the ass without realizing it. I probably am, I should police myself more :).

  7. Tammy says:

    When I was about 3 years old, I accepted a banana from my aunt, in her home, with some other family members watching. Someone (my dad maybe?) asked me to say thank you. I would not. I distinctly remember thinking that all those big people around me were watching me to see if I would speak. I was shy at that time (I have since been cured of that! ha!) and I did not want to perform. So I gave the banana back, since I couldn’t have it if I wouldn’t say thank you. And I remember that I didn’t even mind giving it back. I was happy with my choice.

    This is one of about 3 of my earliest childhood memories. 😀

    I really like your post, especially the part about treating children like a pet who is doing a trick.

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