“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.” Emily Post
I honestly love when people tell me our daughters are well-behaved and have really good manners. I think we all do. It is a direct compliment on our skills as parents, and there is no denying, we all could use a pat in the back every so often. We didn’t get here without a lot of effort and repetition, which is what it takes for our kids, especially those with a disability, to learn a new skill.
When and where do we start?
We are teaching and modeling manners to our children since they are born. The way we treat our spouse, partner, family members and strangers is the way in which our children will learn how to be when they are with them. We may not see this as manners but as common respect and that is where it starts, treating everyone with respect.
Use the right words
In our home we always stressed the “magic words” better known to many as “Please”, “Thank you”. “Excuse me” and ‘You’re welcome” We even used sign language for them just to give our girls another way of expressing themselves. As our children grow they will see that these are behaviors, words and actions that are expected to be used when you are a member of the family and society at large.
I hear you, what if my child cannot talk? That is why we also taught sign language, or made up signs to signify what we wanted to convey. Use your imagination, work with things your child can do. Lift the right hand, arm, and/or show a number of fingers. What is important is that our children can communicate what they want, need and don’t need to have a meltdown or throw a tantrum because we are not aware of their need. Do I need to explain that for parents of children that don’t have a disability, seeing your older child throw a tantrum reflects poorly on your parental skills? OK, just checking.
Model the behavior
Our children are great imitators and they want to be just like mommy or daddy. They will do what you are doing and say what you are saying, to a fault, so the more you use the words and the behaviors you want your children to do, the more they will become familiar with them and want to be your “mini me”. This is especially true when we hear our children whine. I remember lowering my body to my girl’s eye level and asking her to please try to share with me what she wanted to tell me using my most calm voice and tone. Also, asking them to take a deep breath before speaking if they were already feeling out of sorts.
Being a military mom, when I was raising my girls put me in contact with young soldiers when we went shopping on the base. It was great seeing their faces when they would use cuss words and I would gently say: “Excuse me, there are little kids around.” They quickly apologize and tell the kids around to not use those words.
Like with everything, chose your battles
There will be days or times when no matter what, your child will chose not to be the most polite child in the world. There are days I don’t want to be the most polite person in the world. Don’t force it. If you know your child Is picking up the skill, they know the concept, but they are having a hard day, how bad is it if they don’t say those magic words today?
You can always go back on the day or event and review that when we have those occasions, (The lady at the supermarket gave you a cookie) we should make that person feel good by saying “Thank you”. Use it as a learning/teaching experience. Ask them about how they would feel if they did something nice for someone and the other person didn’t say anything, how would that make them feel? This goes back to our first lesson of treating people with respect.
Corrections, timely but polite
Nobody likes to be chewed out in public, I know I don’t. Why should our children be any different? We said we are treating people with respect, well, our children are people too. Many times, because of the way their disability works in their bodies, they cannot control what they say or do; others, they totally do. It is our job as parents to be able to distinguish between the two, to make concessions and excuses in these situations. It is also our job to make sure we expect good behavior and manners when they can do it.
When my girls did something I was not proud of, I would tell them what I didn’t like, usually I would take them aside and quietly say something about the behavior and also explain that we would talk about it at home so they would not be embarrassed about what we had to say about it. Sometimes I think that brought more fear than the actual talk. But, the important part of this was making sure that they knew they did something that was not acceptable so they had time to do something about it.
We were talking with our youngest daughter the other day and was sharing with us how to this day anytime she is in public, in a meeting or goes somewhere she remembers what her band director in High school would tell them: “Any time you are out in public you are representing your school, the band, me, your family and yourself. Don’t do anything that you would be embarrassed if it came back to me.” It is so great to hear that she still applies that to her life.
We want and expect our children to represent our family as a whole and we do that by showing them how they are able to function in society. We have to have high expectations for our children if we want them to excel.
I personally want to thank you for stopping by and reading this post and ask you to please let me know what you think. Have a great day.