by Ginger Philbrick
At age 13, my daughter turned into a stranger. I will give her the alias of Carol. The adorable, agreeable child of 12 became self-absorbed, a bit cheeky and definitely disinterested in most of the manners I’d “suggested” to her over the years.
I remember one especially unpleasant event over a lunch at our favorite fast food restaurant after church—a single-working mother’s take on the Sunday Dinner tradition. As we sat, I cautioned Carol that blowing the paper off the straw instead of unwrapping it and discarding the wrap, was impolite. Trying to bring in a little humor, I asked her to be especially careful not to aim it at her mother.
Totally unamused, she informed me, as I bit into that first delicious bite of charbroiled burger, that she didn’t care about being polite and that no one else’s mother was as strict as I was about manners. That stopped me mid-munch. I was so hurt by her declaration that I only responded, “I am so sorry you feel that way.”
It was some months after this fast food news flash, during which time Carol’s demeanor improved not one bit, that the mother of one of her friends called me to say, “Your daughter is such a pleasure. She is always so polite and such a good influence on my Nancy. We love having her in our home.”
Rather than giving in to the desire to offer to let Carol live with them, I thanked her profusely and, upon hanging up, shook my head at the realization that my surly-at-home child had taken many of my suggestions to heart, practicing them elsewhere.
Carol having now grown up, I dare to share my following firsthand experience, supported by social skills studies, with those of you who are rearing a child of any age:
• Model the behavior you seek in your child. This can’t be overstressed even though you may be!
• Help him practice those behaviors at all times, resisting scolding but seizing on behaviors to praise.
• Remain patient…and of good-humor…when she doesn’t quite make the mark you are looking for.
Children listen, absorb and use our wisdom. Of course, you won’t always be with them when they do the latter, and you will probably often think it is hopeless, even cry in frustration. One day, however, I expect that you will realize, as I now have, what desirable company they have become.
Oh, at the next Fast Food Sunday Dinner after that phone call extolling her manners, I asked a shocked Carol if she wouldn’t like to add a never before allowed milkshake to her order. I think I heard her mumble, “Yes, thank you.” I counted it among the small victories.
Ginger Philbrick is the owner of Because You Are Polite….LLC. You are invited to email your manners questions to her and she will respond as time and space allow. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.