from Manners Can Be Fun, by Munro Leaf
So Rebecca has had her first taste of real meanness in school. An erstwhile "good" friend -- let's call her Joy (because yes, her real name is equally incongruous) -- decided one day to just snub her and completely cut her off without explanation. Considering they had parted on perfectly amicable terms the last time they were together, this sudden change of heart was both unexpected and bewildering (Rebecca was absent for a day before this happened, however, during which time Joy apparently hooked up with some other child, and underwent her metamorphosis).
When Rebecca arrived at school and greeted her, for instance, Joy pointedly turned and walked away. When Rebecca attempted to approach her, she became inordinately fascinated with her books and table. And, perhaps most hurtful of all, when Rebecca tried to find out what the matter was, she made a face and started talking to another girl, acting as if Rebecca was completely invisible, and letting her walk off alone.
Naturally, Rebecca was greatly taken aback by all this, and was glad to be comforted by another good friend, who happens to also attend church with her. When Rebecca came home and told me about Joy, I couldn't help feeling hurt on her behalf (as well as annoyed, when I remembered the treats I had previously given the child). I compared Joy's behaviour with that of Rebecca's church friend, and wondered what it was that made one child kind and compassionate, and another child mean and hateful.
Joy successfully snubbed Rebecca the entire day, and is still continuing to do so, as if they'd never shared any of the usual marks of friendship -- and as if she had never experienced any of Rebecca's kindness, generosity or caring. I add this last not as some commendation of Rebecca's exemplary sweetness, but to highlight the fact that I really think it takes a certain hardness of character to completely switch off and apparently forget whatever good a friend has brought into one's life.
I know of course that many grown-ups will say things like, "Well, kids will be kids", as if that somehow excuses that sort of mean-spirited behaviour. However, I was never like that as a child; most of my friends weren't; and I certainly never want to hear of my own kids behaving that way. I remember reading once that many people will show their true colours when they no longer need you, and -- innocent and lovely as we like to think young children are -- I think that applies to kids' friendships as well.
I did ask Rebecca to analyse her own behaviour as I believe it is important to address any weaknesses or shortcomings, but, as expected, she couldn't think of anything since, as I'd said, the girls had parted on perfectly amiable terms the last time they were together. Of course, as an adult, it's easy to see that some kid you've only known for a year or so in grade school does not make them your loyal, lifelong confidante, but again, that does not mean that unkind, faithless behaviour is acceptable.
I don't think anyone should rebuff or slight another without cause or the benefit of an explanation; no one should deliberately shame or cause another distress; no one should purposefully make another feel rejected and small. Young as they are, children do bring their behaviours and attitudes into adulthood, and I believe parents have a great responsibility in making sure they're the right ones -- our world is in desperate need of people who are kind, gracious and sensitive.
There are all sorts of reasons why one child is nicer than another I suppose, but at the fundamental level, I do believe that niceness -- what one might call "good manners" -- should be instilled in all children by all responsible parents. As Dr Sears writes, "Understanding the basis of good manners will help you help your child acquire them. Good manners, after all, are necessary for people to live together in this world. Gracious manners reflect a loving and considerate personality.
"The root of good manners is respect for another person; and the root of respect is sensitivity. Sensitivity is one of the most valuable qualities you can instill into your child -- and it begins in infancy. The sensitive infant will naturally become the respectful child who, because he cares for another's feelings, will naturally become a well-mannered person. His politeness will be more creative and more heartfelt than anything he could have learned from a book of etiquette".
I actually remember something fairly similar happening to me when I myself was in grade school -- a previously good friend decided one day to just have absolutely nothing to do with me. There was neither reason nor explanation given for this; she simply decided to cut me off (I think she was at least partially influenced by Pauline, the cool girl; I was decidedly "uncool").
The snub hurt of course, and I think I told my mother about it, because somehow or other it got back to my friend's mom, whom we knew. I've never forgotten what she made my friend do -- she called me up and apologised for her rudeness, then wrote a letter apologising further, then promptly stuck to me for the next three years (we're still friends now). I learnt later that her mother had given her a lengthy talking-to; it was not only that she felt that that was no way to treat someone who had been a friend through the thicks and thins of grade school -- she simply did not think that such behaviour was decent or acceptable.
Rabbi and author Shmuley Boteach writes, "Children are born neither good nor bad, but neutral. Children will emulate our behavior. If we scream at home, they will scream at school. If we show a sense of woundedness toward the world, they will become victims. If we show love and model generosity, they will have large hearts. We must be conscious of the fact that our children are always listening and watching".
Well, I know that Joy spends a large part of her time without parental supervision -- she goes to daycare every day after school. I do not pretend to know what manners or values she is taught at daycare, but ultimately, I do not think that that is their primary responsibility. Daycare is daycare -- parents need to parent. Daycare addresses a child's basic needs -- it isn't daycare's responsibility to ensure one's child is thoughtful, affectionate or good-hearted. Children learn such things through consistent, daily interaction with guardians who truly love them and care.
The good ol Dummies series of books has a great one entitled Parenting For Dummies, by Sandra Hardin and Dan Gookin . Among other guidelines parents can use at home, they suggest:
- Stress the importance of treating others the same way they'd like to be treated, especially when you see them doing something that you know they themselves don't like.
- Help your children understand the harm they can cause by doing or saying thoughtless and unkind things. Ask them, "How would you feel if someone pointed at you, and started to laugh?" In the beginning, you may simply be doing damage control, but eventually you'll be helping them to avoid harmful words or actions.
- When you want your child to show good manners and respect, you must also practice good manners and respect. Say please and thank you, admit your mistakes, apologize, and treat people, in general, with kindness and respect. The reward of this behavior is that your children will grow up having many friends and a family that loves being around her.
- Practice family politeness. Everyone in the family must practice "please" and "thank-you" policy in which, for example, no request is considered unless the person asking says "please." When one of your children forgets, just give him or her a look that says, "I'm waiting." They soon catch on.
In an excellent article entitled Mean Kids, relationships and parenting instructor Slovie Jungreis-Wolff writes, "It is time for us to teach our children that cruelty and unkindness will not be tolerated. Even if a child is not your friend, or 'not your type', and 'no one else is inviting her/him, anyway,' YOU must be kind. We are one people. There is no room for meanness in our lives.
"It is vital for parents to pay attention to our children’s character traits and ask ourselves these questions:
- How does my child play and interact with other kids?
- Does my child use hurtful words and sarcastic put downs easily?
- Does my child know how to apologize if (s)he hurt others?
- Does my child react compassionately if someone is hurt?
- Is my child often involved in bickering and conflicts?
"Recognizing our children’s character flaws is the first step toward creating compassionate children. If we are able to pinpoint the areas of weakness, we can then work on strengthening and building...
"We have come to measure our children through their success on and off the field, their popularity, and their grades. If they do well then we believe that we are raising successful children. We are wrong. Children who are mean and unkind are not being raised successfully no matter how popular they are; or how incredible their straight A report card seems" (read the article in its entirety here).
Oddly enough, Rebecca wrote this poem over the weekend, while still unaware of Joy's about-face. She'd intended to make collages with it for her neighbourhood friends, and had asked the hubs to print out several copies for her. We thought it weirdly coincidental when we subsequently heard what had happened in school, but I'm glad that Rebecca at least has some friendship basics down.
True friends are always there with you
There are bad times and others good
Yet true friends will be there through and through.
They keep you company and hold your hand
On a holiday at the beach,
They lie next to you on the sand.
Smile, giggle, dance or frown,
True friends will cheer you up when you're feeling down
Clap for you, sing for you, and play with you --
All you need are true friends right beside you.
True Friends, a poem by Rebecca