Posts tagged ‘manners’

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

I think it’s time for a town meeting.

We’ve been going to the park a lot lately because our neighborhood one has gotten a recent makeover. It wasn’t poplar before, a basic slide, some swings, but now there are things that spin, climbers shaped like animals, a towering spider’s web contraption, and the crowd has grown. At any given hour there are tons of kids, from toddlers to teens, and of course parents.

The people watcher in me loves it. My kids nearly plunge to their death several times a day because my eyes are riveted to the various outfits and social exchanges. My nose loves it too. As the fall sun warms the afternoon the wood chips, four feet deep under our feet, let out a sweet hamstery scent.

But the part I want to talk about is park etiquette and how it results in torture for us all. Yesterday we brought our metal water bottle, and a lunch box. We’ve fashioned a long ribbon to the water bottle to make it over-the-arm slingable and for some reason it’s become the main attraction for the twelve months and under set. They are like crows, drawn to shiny treasure, and they want nothing more than to haul that thing around, like a baby doll or a puppy. But park manners dictate that any time a grubby hand reaches for the water bottle or the also irresistible polka-dot lunch box, a mother follows closely behind to say: Ah, ah, ah. That’s not yours. Put that back.

And the toddler returns, again and again. Moms become frustrated, kids become inconsolable. It is sad.

Twice I went over yesterday to say that it was perfectly fine with us if the water bottle became a play thing and that we would just locate it anew each time we wanted a drink. But the thing is, in that situation, I was the weird one, the one acting out of turn, breaking the rules of park etiquette.

But the rules are ridiculous! I hate them.

Parents spend their entire time at the park saying: Nooo! That’s not yours. That’s hers. Yours is over here. Here’s yours. And the kid spends their entire time at the park being shunted away from their primary interest for no apparently logical reason. And the galling part is that when they do finally clutch the toy or sippy cup that is supposedly theirs, if another child approaches and reaches for that item, parents have the unbelievable nerve to say: Let him have it. You have to share! SHARE.

This kind of thing drives me bonkers.

Are you kidding me? Do we really want to emphasize “yours” and “mine” that strongly? I don’t mean to get too metaphysical or anything , but if you think about it nothing is really “ours”, “yours” or “mine”. We say: my chair, when we happen to sit down for a minute. We say: my parking spot, even though we know very well that it isn’t. We say it all the time when really everything is so transient, so temporary, and so quickly passed on when it isn’t of use anymore. And maybe as adults we can all understand that when we say “mine” we are really indicating that we are using it for the moment, that we don’t really own that parking spot or that chair, but kids are literal. When we tell them something is theirs, they believe us. At least until we yank it away from them and give it to someone else in the name of sharing. Then they just think we are mean, or confusing, or both.

(Later we wonder why our society is so greedy. Why everyone seems to only care about themselves. Why everyone hoards more than they need. Why they eat more than their bodies want. Why the more everyone gets, the more they want, and the less they share.)

So hear ye, hear ye.

My official proposals for the revision of park etiquette are:

1. Let’s switch to a different style of language.

That’s the swing that little girl is using right now, do you want to swing on this one? The snacks we brought are over here, those are the snacks that little boy is eating. No more “yours”, “his”, “not yours” etc.

2. Bring to the park only the objects you are willing to share communally.

Explain to your children that if they bring something, others may want to pick it up, play with it, and everyone has decided that that’s alright.

3. Do not punish your children on behalf of others.

I know this sounds weird but I hate it when a child picks up something that we brought and the mother asks the child to put it back and the child doesn’t and then the mother yanks his arm and makes him put it back and makes him cry and then makes him apologize to me, and the kid looks at me like I did this to him. Let’s first find out if picking up an object is okay with the owner, or not. If not, let’s take our time explaining the situation to our child, perhaps in private, always gently and informatively. And then if we feel an apology is necessary let’s make that apology ourselves.

4. Tell the truth and believe each other.

If I say: It’s fine if your daughter drags the water bottle we brought around the park, believe me. If it isn’t okay with me then the responsibility lies in my hands to say so: Well we keep losing track of those dang bottles and forgetting them so I would really prefer to leave it in the stroller.

5. Let’s stop worrying about politeness.

We all know that we are all good people. We all know that nobody is purposely intending to offend. Let’s just let the kids play, pick stuff up, put it back, smile at each other in a Don’t they always love other kids’ sippy cups more than their own? kind of way, and relax.


In any case, I won’t think you are rude, even if your child picks up “my” sweater and leaves it on the slide. But I will think you’re an asshole if you mistreat her for playing with it.

More on “mine“, manners, social awkwardness.

Nathan’s take on sharing, here.


October 14, 2010 at 9:02 pm 15 comments

no thank you

Let’s take a closer look at Please and Thank You. There is a strong desire that children say these words. The most common way to “teach” children to say these words is to prompt them as they are given something or as they ask for something. I really don’t like it, and perhaps more importantly, I don’t think it works.

We have never prompted our girls to say Thank You, or Please, even if an awkward silence follows the receipt of a gift or compliment, instead we simply use these words ourselves, frequently. This isn’t permissive or lazy, it is our tactic. And guess what? It works. Our children say Thank You and Please, all the time, several times a day, and with true heartfelt feeling.

Thank You and Please is an expression of gratitude, of feeling, and the proper words for feelings develop naturally when the usage is modeled. Kids learn to say ouch when they get hurt, not because a parent is nearby saying What do you say?, but because that is what they have learned by observing the world around them.

If you want to discuss something with children about Please and Thank You, you’d be better served by talking about the feelings associated with them rather than bullying-out an automated response. Talk about what it means to feel appreciative or grateful and then, if so desired, what words our culture uses to express these feelings and when. Practice what it would be like to have tea with the queen, or what politeness means in general. But for everyday living, Will you please pass me the coat you wear honey? or, Thank you for the Mother’s Day card, my love, it was so fun for me to get that from you, is more than sufficient.

If you are unable to endure the social discomfort when a child remains silent after a person does something for them or gives them something, and you absolutely have to say something, you could try drawing your child’s attention to the situation and ask them, Do you want to tell your friend how you feel about that? The answer might be, No, and that’s fine, in which case you can express your own feelings on the matter.

And when children do say Please or Thank You, do everything you can to avoid praising them for doing so. Praise backfires. But again, if you just cannot hold back from saying something you can try,

Oh wow, that lady was so happy that you thanked her for that sticker.


Well when you said Thank You she knew for sure that you liked the sticker and were happy to get it. She liked that.

I think that children that are prompted to say Please and Thank You develop a disconnect between the words and the feelings. They see Please and Thank You more as something that Mom and Dad make them say rather than an expression of their own feelings. It’s funny because we don’t force our children to express any other emotions but are determined to squeeze it out of them when it comes to gratitude.

Perhaps the larger issue is our own insecurity about what other people think of our children, and by extension, of us. We want to be liked, we want to avoid criticism, and we are afraid. We are too scared to go against the social tide, too scared to give our children time to express themselves on their own. If given the opportunity to feel their feelings of gratitude and the chance to express them in their own way, they will. Children are naturally appreciative but you will never witness that sincere appreciation if you jump in and force it out of their mouths.

May 11, 2010 at 8:18 pm 2 comments


I brought Echo to the café this morning, with a giant lump of play-doh, and some play mobile figures. I also carried the laptop and some, perhaps too high, hopes of working on the Feeleez Learning Guide. But Echo is pretty darn magnetic, attracting friends that soon joined our table, pushing aside lumps of blue play-doh to make room for their coffee, and I was drawn out of the word processing world.

Quite content with her piles of fun and a non-typing mama, Echo was in no hurry to leave and we saw several batches of friends come and go. The clock ticked toward lunchtime and the café began to fill up. Without a free place to land, an older woman asked if she could join our table and read her magazine. I said: oh, of course! and began shuffling our detritus into semi-containment.  I was feeling pretty good about our polite manners, but I hadn’t factored in everything, most noticeably Echo’s feelings. Apparently it was one thing to share our table with people she actually knew and enjoyed, it was quite another thing to share our table with a giant stranger dressed in black with a big hat and dark lipstick. I saw our polite manners begin to go down the drain.

I don’t want to her to share our table with us!!!! (nearly screeching).

I was so torn. I often, (dare I say) preach, to tell the truth, to honor your children’s feelings, no matter what the cultural norms dictate, but what I wanted to do, so very, very badly, was to clap my hand over her mouth and yank her away from the table. I was almost in a panic. Somewhat thankfully the woman interrupted Echo to say:

Oh! Looks like your ready for a nap! You’re tired.

On any other day I would have been extremely annoyed by this comment. But today I was so happy that the woman completely ignored what Echo was saying and instead barged in with a misplaced assumption. Temporarily saved!

This bought me the time to cradle Echo in my lap and whisper fervently in her ear.

Okay. I hear you don’t want that lady to sit here. But she is going to sit here.

NO! I don’t want her to sit here!

Echo. ( I am whisper shouting directly into her ear by this time). I am really concerned about the lady’s feelings so I want you to whisper while we talk. I told her she could sit here and I am afraid she will feel uncomfortable if she hears you talking about wanting her to leave.

But I do want her to leave!!!!!

Do you want to go home and spread the play doh out on our kitchen table? (Though this phrase is commonly used as a threat by other parents, I was merely making a hopeful suggestion and it was understood as such by Echo.)


Do you want to move over there away from the lady? (I offered this knowing that this transition to another location would be more socially awkward than I’d like, but anything was better than our current situation.)


Echo I’m not going to ask her to leave the table.

Why not?

Uh…. mostly because it is so uncommon to ask someone to leave after you’ve invited them to join, that I’m  afraid the lady might feel really confused and maybe mad too.

But I want her to leave!

It wasn’t looking good.

Then I realized: a. I could relax a little because the lady seemed to actually be reading her magazine and wasn’t taking notice of our whispered conversation, and b. I had forgotten the most important tool in the parenting toolbox: EMPATHY.


So I switched. Yeah, you don’t want that lady to sit here. She is too close to you. You don’t want to share the table with her. I said she could sit here and I didn’t even ask you if that was okay.


You want to spread out and play play-doh on that side of the table too.


You don’t know that lady. You don’t want to be near her. You had a different idea about how it was going to be here.

Yeah… Mama?


Will you talk for this guy? – (picking up a toy)- He’s the Papa, and I will be the baby…. and they are walking together…. okay?



I wasn’t brave enough today. I was willing to try almost anything to hide Echo’s true feelings, so that I could avoid an awkward interaction. Luckily empathy saved me and I wasn’t forced to.

January 19, 2010 at 9:21 pm 3 comments

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