Why You Shouldn’t Force Your Two-Year-Old to Apologize, and What You Can Do Instead

What really matters is teaching your kids to be attentive to others’ feelings from his or her youngest age.

We all struggle with getting our kids to apologize. We want them to apologize for hurting others’ feelings, for grabbing their siblings’ or friends’ toys, for hitting, biting, or just being downright mean.
Turns out that at age two, kids couldn’t care less about whether or not they hurt other people’s feelings. Even though we may force them to apologize, they neither understand the words we force them to say, nor do they understand why they need to say them.
Empathy is a difficult skill to develop, even in adults. The research on empathy has proven, however, that although young kids are still unable to understand the perspective of other, they are capable of displaying empathy-related behavior. That’s why your toddler will give his brother a hug when he notices he’s sad, or your young daughter will give her friend her teddy bear when she sees her crying.
 
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While much evidence suggests that at age two, children are able to express concern at others’ distress, they can only view issues from other’s perspectives from age four to five.
We may not be able to force our kids to feel sorry, but we fail them when we don’t teach them that they cannot always have their way. Kids should not be forced to apologize, but only because it makes much more sense to encourage them to apologize.
Teaching kids to apologize when they hurt others teaches them that some things are not okay. There are many ways kids can be encouraged to apologize: hugs, drawing smileys, sharing favorite toys, saying “I’m sorry,” etc. But what really matters is teaching your kids to be attentive to others’ feelings from his or her youngest age.

Tips to encourage your two-year-old to apologize

Focus on the situation

Instead of focusing on the apology, focus on the situation. Explain the situation as it is. If your child has just grabbed all the cookies and refuses to share with her sister, don’t grab the cookies back and distribute them.
Instead, get to her level and explain what’s just happened: “You’ve taken all the cookies and your sister now has none. She’d also like to have some cookies. Can you share the cookies with her?” When you correct gently and display warmth, your child is more likely to be empathic.
If she’s still resistant, ask her to give the cookies to you. Remember that even when your child hurts another child, she’ll still think of herself as the wronged party and therefore won’t want to give back the cookies she’s just grabbed. In such a case, ask her to give the cookies to you rather than to her sister.

Focus on the wronged party

Your son has just grabbed his friend’s toy. He won’t give it back. His friend is crying his eyes out. Forcing your son to apologize, especially when he’s dead set against it, does little good.
Instead, focus on the friend. You apologize. Tell the friend you understand he’s sad because his toy has been taken away. Tell him you don’t know why your child took the toy away, but you’re sure he’ll give it back.

Ignore the world around you

As it often happens, your kid will grab another kid’s toy or hurt another kid in public, forcing you to “do something” as everyone watches. When you react because you’re worried about what everyone else will think, you’re bound to get into a power struggle with your child who’s already feeling like the victim.
Block everyone out except your child and the wronged party. Stay calm. When you stay calm, you show your child that it’s not a big deal and that the situation can be fixed.

Don’t make it a “moral” issue

You want your daughter to know that taking away her friends’ toys is a terrible thing to do because it hurts feelings. You want her to feel sorry. The thing is, your two-year-old just won’t get the message. And at that age, she’s self-centered and more concerned with “what’s in it for her.” That’s normal for two-year-olds.
Instead of trying to make it a moral issue, keep your response short and direct: “no hitting.” You’ll have time to incorporate the moral aspect as she grows older.

It’s never too soon to start teaching kids about emotions

From “around age two”, children begin to understand that their behavior can influence others and that some actions can be changed by using emotion-regulation strategies.
Although young infants only have basic emotion regulation capabilities, there is evidence that how parents talk to their children about emotions can help them develop an empathic disposition. In other words, it’s never too early to start teaching your kids about their emotions and others’ emotions.
The first step is to familiarize them with different emotions by repeatedly verbalizing them: “I can see you’re sad because you’d like to keep all the cookies to yourself.”
It’s also never too early to start teaching kids about others’ feelings: “Your sister is sad because she has no cookies.” Don’t worry if they don’t really get it. Remember that the more often you verbalize emotions, the easier it will be for your kids to integrate those emotions.
Sometimes, teaching kids different ways to apologize can be more powerful than simply expecting an “I’m sorry.” For example: “I can see your friend is sad. Do you want to make him a drawing?” or “Do you want to give him something to make him feel better?” or “I think a hug might make him feel better.”
When we do this repeatedly, children find it easier to connect certain emotions (sadness, tears) to certain actions (hugs, sharing, etc.). Two-year-olds might not have learned to feel sorry yet, but it’s never too soon to teach them about appropriate behavior.

This House is Not a Democracy: Parenting With Love and Ultimatums

For our kids, it’s about trusting us, the parents, to make the decision that is in their best interest, even when they can’t see it.

“No one bosses mommy around.” Ask any of my children, and they’ll quote you on this. They’re young yet…very much still feeling around in the sandbox for the untouchable acts that will get them in serious trouble.
Having twin three-year-olds is like going into the pet store to pick out a fish and finding yourself treading water in the tank. You’re just trying to keep your head above water, while they sucker themselves to your body. One misstep and the sheer mass of them will pull you under.
 
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This is why there have to be some hard and fast rules – rungs you climb to get yourself back on solid ground.
I was 24 when I entered my first classroom as a teacher one hot September long ago. My oldest high school senior was 22. How do you give demerits to an adult for not writing her essay when you could run into her later at a Chili’s happy hour? In the name of survival, I befriended them.
In between assignments on scenes from “Macbeth”, I would listen to their stories of loves lost and won over the course of a lunch hour. I would let it slide when things were late if they had a “really good” reason and they affected even the most generic interest in class. I let whispers ride the undercurrent of lectures like slippery eels because the thought of stopping and pointing out the disrespect felt too scary, too confrontational.
I was operating under the philosophy of, “Hey, we’re all pals here. Can’t we just get along?”
A quarter into the year, and another 20-something student interrupted me mid-Sylvia-Plath lecture with this: “Hey, lady, you pregnant?” The whispers stopped. Dead silence except the ticking of the clock. Her grand finale: “Oh, well, I guess you’re just fatter.”
Thus my brief stint at diplomacy ended. I was done coaxing them towards academia. They didn’t need my friendship. They needed my knowledge. I could continue to be their Robin Williams from “Dead Poet’s Society”, but it wasn’t doing any of us any favors.
To learn is to be willing to listen and submit yourself to the fact that someone knows more than you. You don’t want to be schooled by your friends.
Ten years and three kids later, I’m standing on a grassy knoll at the park with my kids. It’s a windy April afternoon, and below us I spy an elementary-aged kid on a cell phone. His mother approaches. She looks harried, like she needs a free foot massage at the mall. She begins to talk to him. He gives her the hand. You know the one – the “I’m in the middle of something” hand that screams my time is more important than yours. I did not stay to watch the scene play out.
A culture of disrespect is brewing as kids learn technology faster than adults and build worlds apart from ours. I’m part of a generation of parents still reeling from the strict parenting of the baby boomers. We want to befriend our kids in ways our parents did not do with us. We remember lectures and stoicism and steer clear.
But there’s a line. There’s a limit to my children’s independence, and they know it. Our house is not a democracy. It’s not just about arguing over what’s for dinner or everyone’s acceptable bedtime. It’s about trusting us, the parents, to make the decision that is in their best interest, even when they can’t see it.
That’s the rub.
At three, my daughter is a little boss. In fact, we will not be seeing “Boss Baby” anytime soon. It’s too real to be funny. She would love for the world to spin on her axis. And she tries. She will stop mid-stride in the kitchen, turn to me with one hand on her hip, and point to the spilled raisins or milk or crayons on the floor and say, “Mommy, you better take care of that.”
To which I respond, as she already knows I will, “Nobody bosses Mommy around.”
Because whether she understands the rationale behind it or not, she needs to clean up her messes, listen to her parents, respect other adults, let others look out for her, and be a kid. That, after all, is my end goal: for her to be a kid as long as possible. She needs to trust me to guide her so that when she does grow up, she can make the right decisions on her own.
It might feel good to let your kids have free reign, to open up the floor for debate because ultimatums are scary. But in the end, it’s too much pressure for them to bear. Responsibility needs to rest on the parents who’ve had time to develop the adequate muscles. Until they become responsible adults in their own right, I will still keep parenting with love and ultimatums.
Because nobody bosses mommy around.

Parents Who Tragically Lose Their Kid Need Love and Support, Not Criticism

When a child dies in a manner that theoretically could have been prevented, people need someone to blame. But the parents need love and support, not judgement.

On Friday, a five-year-old boy in my hometown of Atlanta was crushed to death in front of his parents in a local restaurant.
It was a terrible tragedy. When I clicked on the story under the “trending” section on Facebook, these three comments were at the very top:

  • “[Keep] your unruly wandering asshole babies out of adult restaurants…”
  • “…people have to start being held accountable for being shit parents.”
  • “…maybe they should have cared enough for the child not to let him wander away from the table.”

 
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I understand the pull to find someone to blame, especially when an innocent child loses his life in a way that theoretically could have been prevented. But here’s the thing: This is the entirely wrong way to respond. Here’s why:

These parents are going through worse than hell right now

These broken parents just lost their child. The very last thing they need to hear is how it was all their fault.

It’s already over and done

Telling these parents what they did wrong does not help them even a little bit. They’ve already lost their son. Anything other than condolences can only make things worse.

Parents are not perfect, and accidents happen

My son broke his leg when he was two, and you know what? I could have prevented it.
I was sitting on my bed with him. He was getting on the bed and sliding off, having a great time. But one time as he was sliding off the bed, his foot got caught in between the box spring and the bed frame, and as his body went downward, his foot stayed in place. The result: a broken tibia.
Had I been vigilant about him not being allowed on my bed – like I am now – I could have prevented it. But, despite trying to be the best parent I can be, I failed at implementing this safety measure at the time.
Even though I was an imperfect parent, I also know two things: I am not a “shit parent.” And I assure you that I “care enough” about my child.
Parents are not perfect, and accidents happen. It is only for those few unfortunate souls that our parenting mistakes result in the death of our children.

Showcase your decency, not your supposed parenting expertise

If your goal is to impress people, impress them with your generosity, empathy, and kindness. Everyone wants a kind friend. No one wants to be friends with someone who publically calls other parents “shit parents.”
If you think you have parenting expertise to share, don’t share even one iota of it with parents who’ve lost a child. Double down and pitch an article to Parent.co. Let’s see what you got.

Learn from these parents’ tragedy

Instead of broadcasting your opinions about the parents, learn from their tragedy. Educate yourself on how to prevent the leading causes of accidental death for your children.

These parents need your love and support

Channel your grief into love and support rather than hate and anger. Send them flowers. Donate money. Write them a note. If you’re a person of faith, pray for them. If you want to contribute a few words on social media, make them words of condolences and kindness.
If any parent in this situation has done anything criminally wrong, the authorities will take care of it, not you. In this case, a terrible accidental tragedy occurred.
These parents need every bit of kindness and love they can get right now.

5 Tips to Teach Kids the Subtle Art of Graciousness

In an effort to improve both manners and self-esteem, here are five easy tips to practice when accepting a compliment.

I dreaded my engagement party, not for the fact that it would be at my future husband’s house filled with unfamiliar people, and certainly not for the gifts. It was the meet-and-greet ceremony that sent me mentally skittering. How many expressions do you need to convey gratitude or pleasure or acceptance in these types of conversations?
When the well-meaning aunt pulled me aside to say I was the best thing that ever happened to my husband-to-be, what could I say? Denial might suggest I could actually be his downfall, and redirection is impossible with family. They are dogged in their pursuit of a topic. Diversions to my new job or the tasty cucumber sandwiches would not work.
Ten years and three kids later, I’ve gotten better at the art of accepting a compliment. But I’m still working on it, because I want my children to be both good compliment givers and receivers. It’s not as easy as it sounds. To teach acceptance of kind words is to teach self-confidence without boastfulness. Your reception of such acknowledgments reflects your core beliefs about yourself.
 
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In an effort to improve both manners and self-esteem, here are five easy tips to practice when accepting a compliment:

Say “thank you”

It may seem silly, but this might be the most difficult part of the whole thing. To say thank you without deflecting to another topic or someone else’s achievements is a hard habit to break. If your kids are really little, they might respond to a compliment with “okay” or “I know” (I hear that one a lot in my house).
Remembering to say thank you, and mean it, is the first step. It causes the receiver to pause and acknowledge the words and the sentiment behind them. “Thank you” is the polite bow at the end of the conversation.

Honor their opinion

Teach your kids to think about the other person in the conversation and resist the urge to gloss over or negate whatever compliment has just been given. Explain that responding to a compliment from Grandma about their singing with, “Yeah, but Jane sang better than I did” or “I forgot the words in the last verse” is to reject her opinion.
The same goes for saying, “I know.” This makes grandma feel her words were just fluff, a feather lost in a cap full of feathers. To honor their opinion goes hand-in-hand with saying thank you. It shows respect for the speaker.

Watch your body language

Perhaps the biggest thing I see my kids struggle with when complimented is holding eye contact. It’s as though that moment of attention makes them want to either perform a circus act to get more applause or duck and run for cover.
I see this in myself, too. If left to my own devices, I’d shove my hands in my pockets and kick at the ground until the spotlight swiveled another direction. I have to force my body language not to scream “Aww shucks.” Accompanying a “thank you” with simple eye contact lets the other person see that you heard and accepted their words.

Take it to heart

This is hard to teach. It’s essentially the art of introspection. When someone compliments your child on their handprint-turned-turkey for Thanksgiving or their glittery Easter egg, it’s important that they remember that good feeling. To accept and examine the talents that others see in you is a talent in itself.
If someone hazards to compliment me on my mothering (it has happened now and again), I make the effort to reflect on it later and let myself see what they saw in me. In this way, compliments can lead to a solid sense of self and skills. It’s a way to discover talents that you might not notice or ascribe value to otherwise.

Read “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?”

Books offer reinforcement to real life. They give another view, another scenario, a new metaphor for the experience we want to share. This 32-page picture book by Carol McCloud brings kindness and compliments into focus with illustrations of children filling other’s buckets with kind words and actions.
I love the concept that we are participants in one another’s happiness, that there are causes and effects to our actions. We are a village designed to care for each other. Part of that means boosting each other, adding to and not taking away from everybody else’s quality of life.
If your kids (or you) need a little practice in accepting a compliment, try some of these tips. Practice with each other in small ways: Take note of your spouse’s well-done diaper change or an epic Lego castle or the longest headstand known to man. It will help you remember that graciousness is an art, both given and received.
If nothing else, it will make you be nicer to each other.

The Modern Mom’s Guide to Popularity (Beginner’s Edition)

Popularity, by its own definition, is an elusive, fickle, and fleeting condition attained by few and sought by all. Even moms. Perhaps, especially moms.

Popularity, by its own definition, is an elusive, fickle, and fleeting condition attained by few and sought by all. Its allure influences our behavior from the budding moments of socialization when the desire to be popular overrides common sense.
Fortunately, our psyches evolve as we get older and so does the criteria for being popular. What once got a girl fast-tracked to the cool table in the lunchroom doesn’t count for much now that she’s the lunch lady. Just in case you’re still wandering aimlessly with your proverbial tray of nuggets-du-jour, here’s a quick primer in modern popularity for moms.

Lesson 1 – Uphold the rules

(And the law, because prison.) Your goal is to be popular with the parents, not the kids. No one likes the mom who lets kids come over and act like they’re staying at Hedonism II or eat themselves sick on junk food and Coke until five in the morning. It undermines other parents’ authority and makes our sleepovers seem boring by comparison.

Lesson 2 – RSVP once in a damn while

Is it really that big of a burden to let another mom know whether or not your little darling is going to grace the party with his presence? The other mom doesn’t want you to call and chat, believe me. She hates talking on the phone as much as you do, but a four-word text would be nice. Remember, however much you loath taking your kid to a birthday party, there is a mom who had to plan, supervise, clean up, and pay for it who loathes it WAY more.

Lesson 3 – Drive a big car with lots of cup holders and seat belts

The days of driving your way to instant popularity with a sporty, two-seat convertible with bucket seats and a one-star crash-test safety rating are long, long gone. Now, the more kids you can haul to the movies, or the park, or Cedar Pointe (if you really want to score big), the more popular you will be. Bonus points for taking an extra kid or two with you on vacation.

Lesson 4 – Reciprocate

If you’ve reaped the benefits of Lesson 3 more times than you can recall, it’s your turn to spell the other moms. No one insists you keep it even-Steven, but good-will dries up faster than Play-Doh when it’s always one-sided. Bite the bullet and concede to spend a weekend in your minivan serving up Go-gurts and Smartpop to a thankless crowd of imps. Also, make an appointment to get your car detailed the following week.

Lesson 5 – Go easy on the offspring promo

We all have kids. We all love our kids and are proud of them for their accomplishments, big or small. That’s a given. We also realize that your kids are the result of half of your DNA, so when you brag endlessly about them you’re really half-bragging about yourself. And that’s not cool. (Unless they’re adopted, like mine, then you get a little slack.)
Keep this in mind before you make your next braggadocios Facebook post. The day your kid comes home with her honor roll report card is the same day someone else’s comes home with a big *FALLS BELOW DISTRICT LIMITS FOR GRADE LEVEL* stamped across the top. Popular moms don’t make other moms feel bad about having mediocre kids.

Lesson 6 – For the love of Lucy, STOP competing

You already won. Or maybe I did. Or maybe we tied, but we are NO LONGER COMPETING. You see, the problem with competition is that, by its very nature, only one person wins and everybody else loses. We can’t all win – unless we’re playing youth soccer, then everybody wins – but we can all learn something from each other.
Please don’t worry if you’re still skinny and taut, with a knack for cleaning and a husband who’s aging like George Clooney. You can still be popular despite all that. You just won’t be popular because of it.

Lesson 7 – Pull your weight at the class parties

Sure, we all know whoever signs up first gets to pick what they bring, but ask yourself: Is it really fair to bring plates and napkins to every holiday gig for six years straight? Think about the other moms who are stuck with the fruit plate, or have to decorate cookies, or (worse) have to come up with a craft. If you want to be popular, don’t hog the easy picks at the open house.
That’s the end of the beginners’ lesson primer. The rest is up to you. Be nice, be approachable, be the mom who makes other moms feel good. Practice what you’ve learned here, and popularity is guaranteed.

Peppa Pig Is A Little Fat Shamer

I am putting my foot down and daddy pig, you should too.

We have an ‘F’ word in our house and it’s probably not the one you are thinking of. From the time my son was old enough to offer running commentary during story time, he has also objected to this word. We refer to the hungry caterpillar as ‘large’ or ‘plump’ but certainly not ‘Fat.’ It’s just not polite and besides, I don’t want him to be so focused on weight and body image at such a young age.
Unfortunately, there is someone who is trying to derail all my good efforts. The irony is she’s someone I liked, someone I trusted to entertain my child with gentle storylines that didn’t involve any violence or superheroes.
This particular character was also ensuring my son heard other English accents that were not my own so that he understood there was a whole country of people who spoke like Mommy.
That person is Peppa Pig and I hereby charge her with fat shaming in the first degree.
“Peppa Pig” is on the surface a delightful British show about a family of pigs. I liked it because it’s just about normal life (you know except that they’re pigs!) The children go to nursery school, their grandparents come over for lunch, mummy works on the computer, they eat dinner, it’s just your regular family life. After enduring all the Transformers, Ninja Turtles and DinoTrux I could handle, “Peppa Pig” seemed like a reprieve.
However, it wasn’t to last, as I soon noticed what a body fascist Peppa truly is.
There is barely an episode that passes without poor daddy pig having his food choices scrutinized, having insults hurled at him and literally being used as a living bounce house.

Peppa and her equally cruel little brother George, jump up and down on daddy’s stomach all the while constantly referring to his “big tummy” and saying he isn’t “fit.”
Although Peppa doesn’t go as far as calling daddy pig “fat” the message is clear, there’s something wrong with his size.
The worst part of their abuse is that everyone thinks its so funny and they all get in on the act with mummy pig and the grandparents all equally being unkind to poor old daddy pig.
I imagine him retiring to his shed of an evening, scarfing chocolate in secret and having a little cry.

Part of the reason why this all seems to be so accepted is that the insults are directed at a male. I think the reaction would have been quite different if a cartoon character was telling her mom that she was too big, but dads have feelings too, and Peppa’s mean little lessons transcend gender, as I was soon to find out.
It really only was a matter of time before my son would try out this particular insult for himself and let me tell you, it did not go down well.
He looked up innocently enough and argued “But Peppa Pig says it.”
I replied, “Then Peppa Pig is quite rude too!”

Mean mommy strikes again! But after twenty or so years of being told subtly and subconsciously by the media that my size is up for discussion and scrutiny, and not so subtly by ex-boyfriends and interfering relatives, I’ll be damned if I am going to be fat shamed by my own child – especially when his very existence is the cause of half of my extra weight gain! I am putting my foot down and daddy pig, you should too.
Bottom line, Peppa: it’s just not cool to make fun of people’s bodies.
 

Stop Trying to Parent Like the French

But croissants are never a bad idea.

At least once a year, I come across a new book or article touting the superior philosophy of French parenting. Its authors propose essentially the same well argued instructions for how to raise your unruly American child à la française, in hopes they might become as obedient, sophisticated, and sensible as their European counterparts.
By all logic, the instructions should be easy to follow: Take care of yourself first, instill a sense of routine, establish a strong cadre (framework) within which you may grant your child reasonable freedoms and personal accountability. Feed them nourishing food, but don’t deprive them (or yourself) indulgent pleasures. Expose them to life’s true riches before resorting to the distraction of screens. There is no need to yell, or punish, or even negotiate.
Surely this common sense philosophy has helped many families, but just as often or more, it leaves American parents extra exasperated. The French can explain all this very casually, and indeed it sounds self-evident. So why don’t we get the same results as French parents even when we mirror them as carefully as mimes?
Well, there’s one thing they have that we don’t, and it’s kind of a big one: the French language.
A child’s behavior is dictated by the logic of their psyche, and the psyche takes its structure from the grammar of the mother tongue. The French language has built within it an important delineation of social order. Each person is addressed as either a junior or an elder subject (tu versus vous, respectively), with corresponding conjugations to reinforce the distinction.
Imagine the effect of having “yes, ma’am” and “yes, sir” built right into the word “you” when addressing your elders. Obedience and correct speech are inherently intertwined.
The French also rely on an impersonal conjugation to give instructions: il faut, which essentially means, “it must be,” or “everyone must.” So instead of constantly telling their kids, you should do this or you can’t do that, every statement sounds like an agreed upon axiom. The commandment acknowledges and asserts its universal applicability, so society as a whole – and language itself – “vouch” for whatever a French parent tells their child.
These two linguistic characteristics support the spirit of French culture, which idealizes governance through mutual respect and solidarity. In other words, French society enables all adults to discipline any child, and all children are accountable to the expectations of any adult.
(Of course, from my experience teaching at a French high school, I can tell you they definitely outgrow the reflexive obedience stage. But by then, they’re well on their way to transitioning from tu to vous status.)
The French government knows well that its proclaimed values are embedded within the language itself, and thus makes a concerted effort to preserve its continued use around the world. Once the official language of European business dealings and scientific debate, still an official language of the United Nations, its conservative nature lends itself perfectly to formal dialogue. While English has no doubt overtaken French as the global language du jour, it has done so, in part, thanks to its pliability.
That is, English is a progressive language, particularly in America, where it readily absorbs foreign loan words from waves of immigrants (e.g., “du jour”), and the coded speech of marginalized populations. It embraces neologisms and simplifies many grammatical flairs that are now seen to be antiquated, such as attributing gender to inanimate objects and signifying social status through distinct forms of the word “you.” Unlike French, it does not specifically engineer a structure within developing minds that situates children beneath adults.
All of this is to say, every language brings something to the table: French specializes in order; English specializes in freedom. They codify relationships differently, so families function differently. We Anglophones may like how the classic French family looks, but minus the French? It just doesn’t translate.
And we don’t only do this with France. Americans flock to well intended parenting advice derived from other cultures. While we certainly should learn what we can from diverse sources, we must also understand that customs derive their efficacy from their cultural context. To lift foreign traditions à la carte not only tangles with issues of appropriation, but it also sets us up to fail.
Take attachment parenting, which has worked brilliantly for countless generations in communal societies, but often proves unsustainable in the American individualist, hyper-scheduled, capitalist climate. It’s not so realistic for a new mother to happily meet a young child’s every need on demand when she’s working two jobs, or staying at home alienated from all adult companionship – not to mention the logistical struggle if she dare have baby number two.
In America at least, there’s no one right way to do anything, including how to raise a child. Our kids notice that precedent, so our authority is limited from the get-go. We will be challenged more without the cape of cultural consensus.
I’ll be the first to say we can learn a lot from France and beyond, but we would do well to adjust our expectations, and be a little less – comment dit-on – naïve.

Have Manners Changed Too Much Over Generations?

Phones at the dinner table? How RUDE.

Have you noticed that kids these days do not have the best manners? When I volunteer at my daughter’s school at lunch time, I rarely hear the children saying please and thank you, although they are certainly not shy about requesting more ketchup or cheese for their plate. Sometimes I like to give them a manners nudge by serenading them with the phrase, “More cheese please?”
My husband and I have always made teaching manners to our children a priority. While we do not expect to flash back to the 1950’s and have our children address every adult they meet as Mrs. or Sir, we do ask that they say please, thank you, and excuse me.
Sure, it takes quite a bit of training (and sometimes nagging as well) from the time they speak their first word, but we know that having good manners will help them be kinder, nicer, more successful people throughout their lives.

Reason for this trend

A 2016 survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs found that 74 percent of Americans think manners and behavior have deteriorated in the United States over the past several decades. Interestingly, clear differences between what older Americans and younger Americans consider to be rude behavior were revealed in the study.
For example, almost half of Americans age 18 to 29 think it is perfectly acceptable to use cell phones in restaurants, while only 22 percent of those over age 60 agree. This discrepancy indicates a clear trend in how manners and rudeness have changed over generations.
What is the reason for this change? Experts blame technology and busy parents for this trend. When both parents work long hours and children are raised by other caregivers like nannies and daycare or afterschool staff, they do not receive the same guidance and skills to help them form good manners.
It also seems to be widely accepted that teachers do not need to be responsible for giving lessons about manners. That means it’s up to parents to instill these values with the limited time we have with their children. Also, many parents feel guilty about all the time they spend at work, so they try to act like their children’s best friend instead of their disciplinarian.
Second, technology gets blamed a lot for kids’ lack of politeness. According to Alex J. Packer, Ph.D., author of the book, “How Rude! The Teen Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and Not Grossing People Out” today’s electronic devices and social media lead to a culture of rudeness.
Communicating in brief snippets with texts and tweets distorts the intended meaning of words and can lead to perceptions of bad manners. Spending so much time on devices also pulls kids away from personal interaction with their peers and adults. This means they are not practicing how to speak to others kindly. Finally, when kids communicate through electronics, they have more freedom to be rude since they can be anonymous and removed from the situation.  

Why Good Manners Are Important

If it’s becoming widely accepted that manners no longer matter, then why should we care whether our kids have good manners at all? Just because everyone’s doing it, doesn’t mean we should follow the downward trend. Good manners are still critical to a child’s successful growth and their ability to build positive relationships throughout their lives.
At the core, good manners reflect respect for our self and others. When we say please and thank you, we are taking the time to make someone else feel appreciated. Additionally, Dr. Pier Massimo Forni, professor and co-founder of the Civility Project at Johns Hopkins and author of “Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct”, explains that it is crucial for children to learn to connect civility with strength and determination. This is achieved through character development in the home, and these positive traits can be applied to other situations in their lives.
Our children depend on us to show them how to be trustworthy, considerate, and kind to others so that they can take these skills with them throughout school, the workplace, and in their relationships.  

How To Teach Children Good Manners

It’s never too early to teach your children good manners, but you may reach a point that it becomes a major struggle if you wait too long. One etiquette expert suggests teaching kids the basics of good manners by the time they reach eight or nine years old when they completely understand what respect means.  

Some of the Main Concepts to Teach Your Children

Using nice words

Teach them how to say magic words like please when they ask for something and thank you when they receive something. It is also important that they learn to say they are sorry and excuse me when appropriate. Bottom line – they should try to be as kind as possible to others and treat them as they would want to be treated.

Mealtime etiquette

Work with your children to develop appropriate behavior during meals and special occasions, such as:

  • Put away electronics.
  • Wait until everyone is seated and served before eating.
  • Use your utensils and your napkin.
  • Take small bites.
  • Chew with your mouth closed.
  • Don’t talk with your mouth full.
  • Keep your elbows off the table.
  • Don’t pick food out of your teeth in public.

Interpersonal connection

Give them the skills to be able to communicate and connect with others. Some guidelines include:

  • Not interrupting others while they are talking.
  • Speaking in complete sentences instead of one-word answers.
  • Give full attention to someone talking to them, which includes looking them in the eye. 
  • Be sure to smile to appear inviting and interested in what others have to say.
  • If comfortable, shake hands or hug the person.

Good sportsmanship

Teach your children to lose gracefully and to always thank their opponent at the end of a game. By focusing on the positive aspects of sports and games like taking turns, learning new skills, playing as a team, and reaching their goals, there will be fewer bad manners when they lose.
You don’t need to invest hundreds of dollars in an etiquette class for your little one like some parents are doing; you really can do this yourself. It’s all about being consistent and modeling the positive behavior. Be mindful of using kind words when you speak to your children and other people like servers in restaurants. If you repeatedly say please and thank you to them, they will start mimicking your language.

You can also use some fun, creative ways to instill good manners in your children