Archive for Monday, January 26, 2009

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Kids’ manners start with parents

January 26, 2009

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Sisters Raejaan, left, and Raemona Spicer chat during the Lawrence Public Library’s annual children’s tea. The event includes lessons in etiquette.

Sisters Raejaan, left, and Raemona Spicer chat during the Lawrence Public Library’s annual children’s tea. The event includes lessons in etiquette.

Maybe it’s the parents whispering to each other while the teacher speaks at open house night.

Or the mom who sits and talks with her friends at the park while you help entertain her daughter and push her on the swing — along with your own two kids.

Or the crazy mom on the soccer sidelines who yells at her daughter to “JUST KICK THE BALL!”

(Um, that last one would be me.)

Whatever the situation, parents who create etiquette dilemmas, or at least uncomfortable situations, are easy to find.

A friend of mine doesn’t like it when parents make excuses for their kids’ poor behavior — “Little Timmy didn’t get his nap today; that is why he is spitting on your kid” — but admits she also is guilty of that behavior.

Or she says, “How about when parents can’t take responsibility for their own actions and therefore never teach their kids that? I hate it when a parent says, ‘If you hit little Sally one more time, you are going to be in timeout.’ Then it is four hits later and the parent finally puts the kid in timeout. Parents that can’t follow through with the discipline because they are scared of their kids.”

So what’s a parent to do when it’s the grown-ups who aren’t being polite?

One tried-and-true resource that helps remind parents of their role as etiquette examples is “The Gift of Good Manners” by Peggy Post and Cindy Post Senning.

For those who don’t have time to digest the book’s 434 pages, I’ll summarize: Remember the Golden Rule. You know — treating others as we’d like to be treated. In “The Gift of Good Manners,” it’s adapted as the Golden Rule of Parenting: “Always behave in the way you want your child to behave.”

As Post says, “Manners education is inseparable from the other things a parent or primary caregiver must do to raise a responsible, self-sufficient child.”

In other words, manners matter for parents especially. None of us are perfect, but we have a responsibility to try our best and help our kids learn how they should behave.

One place to practice etiquette is the Lawrence Public Library, which offers events for children that require them to listen quietly and take turns.

“We have toys that they have to share,” says Dana Hart, children’s room desk assistant. “We have them sign up to use computers, and they have to wait for their turn. In the summertime they have to wait in line. It’s about like any type of consumer area. There is a certain code of conduct.”

The library recently had its annual tea party, with morning and afternoon events that each attracted about 75 children. The party included activities, a skit, snacks, a parade and some real-world lessons.

“It includes some etiquette because we do use real china and the place settings and place cards,” Hart says. “We do have them passing the little relishes on the table. We encourage them to use their manners.”

While modern libraries are a bit more tolerant of noise, Hart says, there is a “certain code of conduct” expected from children — and their parents.

So the next time you see that code cracking, realize the only parent’s behavior you can control is your own.

Ignore the whispering, push your newfound friend on the swing and — one of my favorites — bite your tongue. Because, as it says in “The Gift of Good Manners,” “A parent with poor manners cannot expect to rear a child with good manners.”

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