I was recently caring for a child at the hospital who had come in with his mother. The boy was about 8 or 9, and presented with 3 or 4 days of flu symptoms which were worsening. His temperature was quite high, and he had a hacking cough which flared up every couple of minutes.
What stuck me as quite amazing is that the mother was quite insistent that the boy has extremely good manners, and kept prompting him every ten seconds or so. So the assessment went something like this:
Boy and mother enter room:
(me) "Hi there, come on in"
(mother, nudging child) "say something to the man, do not be silent"
(me) "So what's been happening?"
(mother) "Well, he's had this cough … and his temperature will not come down …"
(me) "ok, let me just pop this on your finger …."
(mother, nudging child) "what do you say?"
(child) "thank .." * cough * "..you"
(me) "and I'll pop this thermometer in your ear …"
(mother, prompting child) "come on, help the man …"
(me) "ok If you'd like to have a seat in the waiting room, we'll get you through as soon as we can
(mother, nudging child) "what do you say to the man?"
(child) "thank you for seeing me"
Now, I have kids and I understand the need to teach and encourage good manners when the need arises … but seriously, the boy is sick! Is it really necessary to prompt him to say pleases and thank you's soon !?
Contrast this though, to another parent who bought their child in with a sore ear. The opening line from dad was "he's been a little right * # ^ &, screaming and carrying on" !!!
Why do we often seem to see such extremes in parenting !? Surely there must be a happy medium or middle ground where we can raise children to have good manners, but also allow them to have the qualities we want to see in them as adults? As far as my own kids go, I'd like them to be courteous and have good manners but also to be independent, sure of themselves and self sufficient. It's no good babysitting your kids, but knocking them for feeling pain is certainly much worse.
Lead By Example
One of the most powerful techniques I have ever come across in the hundreds and hundreds of families, parents and kids I have seen over the years is leading by example. Showing your kids that you have good manners is an important start when you want them to have that way. Sure, there are times when prompting is required, but do not be like the parent I spoke of earlier. On the flipside, if you do not want your kids to be a smarmy loudmouth – you're completely out of luck if that's what they see in you everyday.
Speak to people with respect, be in control of your emotions, have good manners when out in public. You are always on show when your kids are around – they take in what they see, and will certainly emulate it when they are older. And if you lose your temper or act in a way different to what you expect from your kids, talk to them about it. Apologise, explain that it's not the way you should have acted.
This parenting game is tough stuff, and always seems to have an element of trial and error. Start with controlling your own behavior and attitudes though, and you and your kids will get a great head start in life.