Keep your mouth closed when you’re eating!
Don’t put your elbows on the table.
I feel like a stuck record!
And my daughter’s not yet four, so what on earth am I doing nagging her … and it is nagging … about her manners?
Of course I want to encourage kindness and sensitivity to and respect for others.
So “please” and “thank you” and, the trickier one, “no thank you”, are, no question, musts.
But does so much other stuff that counts as “manners” really matter for kids? Should I be obsessed about her not talking with her mouthful or should I be encouraging her at the earliest age, to have opinions and things to say and to delight in conversation.
Do I nag because I don’t want her to “embarrass” me and because I don’t want to be judged by others or do I actually care about these things and think they are important?
As with so much of motherhood, my head is in a spin. I can see every which way of the argument and end up feeling caught between the two. I’d like to think it’s sensible balance but maybe it’s just chronic indecision.
So many of the manners I worry about are the ones my parents nagged me about.
And when you step back, there is some sense in most of them.
Talking with your mouthful and eating with your mouth open are just basically unhygienic.
Slouching at the table is bad for digestion and what mum isn’t obsessed by kids’ digestion?
Leaning over, rather than asking for things to be passed, is a recipe for food all over the floor.
And I do think physical self awareness and self discipline are essential foundations for independence and self expression and the confidence and ability to be what you want to be.
But I guess in some ways the physical things are the easy manners.
It’s the other stuff that is hard. The stuff about people …
… not feeling entitled to everything you want. Really feeling the gratitude behind “thank you”. Not interrupting because you’re actually listening to what someone is saying. Caring about other people’s feelings so much that it is really hard to say “no thank you” to something they offer. Genuinely appreciating kind words or praise.
This isn’t something that you can teach in simple rote manners.
But maybe my prompts … OK, my nagging … sews some tiny seeds in that lifelong journey to real self awareness that instinctively considers others as much as oneself.
What do you think? Do manners matter? Which ones do you worry about?
Or should we leave kids alone?