Yes, I know…I talked about manners on Sensual Saturday. But that merely triggered me to think about the importance of them to our children…and perhaps where we go wrong in teaching them to our kids.
As the mother of a child with high-functioning autism, manners is especially challenging. Asperger’s means that everything, especially ‘rules’, need to make logical sense. So simply demanding that your child say it before you will give them something is more likely to end up in a meltdown than ‘teaching’ them anything. In fact, for a long time it was horribly frustrating and embarrassing…PanKwake not saying those things.
Then I noticed something a couple of months ago…suddenly she was saying please and especially thank you. Not every time of course. But often enough to know that something had gotten through to her. But how? Modelling. She had learned simply by observing me using them with some regularity. Relief does not begin to cover it. What is more…now I even sometimes manage to press the matter…by telling her…say thank you. And she does!
But this method of modelling the behaviors we desire is markedly different from the usual parenting approach of demanding standards from our children that we ourselves do not adhere to. I am always saddened when I see parents forcing their child to share toys, especially special ones.
Sometimes I am tempted to go up and ask to borrow their cell phones…or laptops. Because the truth is…most couple will NOT share phones or computers with one another. Let alone friends or heaven forbid someone you just met at a party. Yet that is exactly what we expect of our children.
And this one…drives me nuts. We essentially teach our children that they have no value…nothing worthy of listening to. Simply because of age and size.
I was reminded of it on the train to Legoland and back last weekend. On the way, we were sitting across from a mother, grandmother and two young boys. PanKwake and her carer had chosen to sit behind Cookie Monster and I, near her buggy and the bags with all her stuff. Several times she skipped down the aisle and in her normally loud voice asked us something or wanted to know this or that.
Of course, we got that…keep your child quiet…stare from those women with their ‘perfectly’ behaved boys. In fact, every time those boys fidgeted…on an hour long train ride…they got that same stare. You know what? As an empath…I could feel the anger and resent in those boys. I would not want to be that mother in ten years when they are teens. But back to that point later…
In contrast, on the train back to London, PanKwake fell asleep after her long day at Legoland. The first bit of the journey was fine, but then about half way…the crowd from a rugby game that had just let out packed into the train. And started singing…
I politely (not) explained that there was a sleeping special needs child. But what was funny was when her carer…this soft spoken young German girl. When my intervention failed, she then attempted twice to speak to them. Finely, in that same quiet voice she tells them “If you wake this child, I will personally insert your head up your a$$.”
But the thing is…those same drunken singers that did not care until threatened with bodily harm about waking a tired autistic little girl on Saturday evening would have been the very same men in business suits who gave us ‘those’ stares and comments about her behaviors on Monday through Friday at rush hour. Ironic? Hypocritical?
And that maybe where we go wrong in teaching our children manners. They are watching what we do…as I did with Aunt Mildred and Uncle Frank. And while in the short term, our size and power may allow us to demand a level of manners from them that we ourselves do not give…in the end…when they reach those teens they will rebel against what we have taught. They will instead reflect what we have lived before them.
And while adulthood may smooth out our edges of rebellion, it is nothing more than a mask that we will toss aside at a moment’s notice, a couple of beers or when the going gets tough…and we will show our true colors. We will attack those we love the most…because that is what we saw our parents and other adults doing…what we watched on television.
That is where we go wrong…why our children do not have manners…not because we do not ‘teach’ them, but because we fail to live them. There’s a good old Southern sayin’ for this one, folks…