I’m not really sure what to call this week’s topic, but it has been on my mind often since having a child. I have noticed that I view people differently through the lens of a parent. So much so that my opinion of some people whom I knew pre-child has changed so much that my circle of friends post-child has changed significantly. Not that I’m judging people and their kids, but would rather surround myself and my family with those that are kind, genuine, and have similar values. Those values and mindset are what we are teaching our son and hope will give a great foundation to grow on.
First, my husband and I have taught our son right from his beginning basic manners, especially table manners. We sit at the dinner table most evenings, or at the counter, with no devices and talk. Here he is learning to listen to adult conversation, to know an appropriate time to enter conversation (we struggle with this sometimes), to use his vocabulary and story-telling skills, and that everyone gets a chance to lead the conversation. He is also learning etiquette – sitting up straight, chewing with his lips closed, elbows (and chin) off the table, use a napkin and utensils, asking to be excused, and clearing his plate. Also, that ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ go a long way! All of this may seem basic to you, but I have been surprised at many birthday parties to see how many kids do not have basic table manners. I’m talking about food falling out of mouths, shouting at the table, taking food from someone else’s plate, not cleaning up after yourself, and throwing food. I find that if you can’t take the time to teach basic social manners to your child, then you probably are not taking the time to teach your child to make good decisions.
Next, I find it important to teach my son to be a gentleman. He will open doors for girls and women, he treats them as equals on a playing field, to do what he thinks is right even when no one is watching, to be generous and loyal to his friends, to think positive, and always be a good sportsman. He has learned that adults are to be respected and are not equal to children (even though some adults act like children). As my son gets older, I’m sure that my husband and I will teach him additional ways to be gentlemanly, but I warn mothers of daughters not to mistake this for being a doormat. I’m teaching him to treat girls as equals and with respect, but also to walk away when anyone is disrespectful or treats him poorly.
Curiosity and having an open mind is something else that I try to instill in our son. The world is full of different cultures, customs, backgrounds, and preferences. I feel that as we get older, we become less curious and more set in our ways. Curiosity propels knowledge and experience, and much of this comes from outside of the classroom. There are foods and treats from all over the world to try; there are colors and clothing that are seldom seen around us, but that doesn’t mean that they are weird; there are cultures unlike ours that have different traditions and holidays; there are customs that may seem foreign to us, but are important to others; there are plants, animals, and stars yet to be discovered and technology yet to be invented. So many things to experience and discover that will help him keep an open mind as he gets older and to pass along to others.
Finally, our son already knows how to be thoughtful, compassionate, and have empathy for others as well as animals. You can tell a lot about a person when you see how they treat animals. My son is gentle with animals and those that are smaller or younger than him. He is also sympathetic when someone is injured and understands progress in recovery (I am a high school track coach and he has seen a variety of sports injuries and the recovery that comes with it.)
It’s unfortunate to see that there are so many kids that do not have basic social skills, discipline, respect, or show kindness. Chances are that if I was on-the-fence about an adult, I’ve made up my mind when I see how their children act. I’m not talking about rambunctious or high-energy kids. I’m talking about the kids that gang up on someone because they are different, or that target a child because they are smaller, or use hurtful and derogatory words in reference to someone, or even physically hurt someone. These are all things that my son has come home and reported that has happened at school. Kids of local business owners, teachers, doctors, politicians, and county workers that I have known pre-child have disappointed me with their parenting approach and ability.
In the end, surround yourself and your family with those that are kind in their hearts. In doing so, you are teaching your children that appearances and money do not matter when choosing friends and allies. Judge people by their actions and character, and your kids will learn to do the same. We’ll all be happier in the end.