Tuesday, May 21, 2013

on kindness, and good manners

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


A Very Sweet Blog said...

I feel so sorry for your daughter. It's horrible that she had to experience this lesson so early. It's inevitable, but still so early. I applaud you as a parent. So many others need to be the same way. There's a lack of parenting, and it's truly showing up in generations of kids growing up. They're rude, disrespectful and have no regard for the feelings of others. People are just having kids. They're not thinking about what is truly needed and required of them. It's a lifelong commitment. Great post! I love Rebecca's poem. So beautiful.

The Cranky said...

Hear ye, hear ye! I could not agree more Janice, and it's something I always stressed with my daughter. We would have discussions about "how would you feel if..." and practice how to react in given situations. It's time, and past time, to worry less about success in worldly terms and more about the true meaning of success.

It's obvious you are modeling caring behaviour for your children, both by being a loving mother and by being a caring friend.

Plowing Through Life (Martha) said...

Poor Rebecca...sweet child. This is such a hard experience for children, especially when they are sensitive and kind. It's something that we can't protect them from; there will always be moments like this in life that hurt and confuse. These are terrible growing pains! And as parents, our heart hurts along with theirs. We want to protect them from this type of pain, take it away from them.

The best way to do when you have an issue with someone is to approach them with it and have an honest discussion. It's much more honest, more sensitive, kinder. Not everyone is capable of this because not everyone is sensitive.

I'd rather my children be socially successful by being thoughtful and sensitive toward others than in any other way. They could achieve many things in life, but if they lack a conscious and a kind heart, they will have failed as human beings. Throughout the years, but particularly when they were very little, I constantly reminded them of the importance of putting themselves in someone else's shoes, of being caring, of being aware of how they hurt others by the things they say, and the things they do. I told them that they don't have to like everyone (that's unrealistic), but under no circumstances should they ever be mean or cruel to anyone. Ever.

Yes, you are right that parents need to parent, and our children learn from us. We need to guide them in the right direction and remind them of the importance of not hurting others.

Introverted Art said...

oh it is so sad your sweet girl had to go through this...

Dee said...

What a painful experience for Rebecca. As a mom I can sympathize with you. I think you handled it well. Rebecca will get over it and soon forget but it is sad she has to experience the rejection. They to soon find out that life is not fair and at times painful.

Sulky Kitten said...

So well-written, Jan. I empathise with both of you. It's unfortunate that children behave in this way, but at least Rebecca has you to discuss it with her in a calm and sensible way. That other little girl's parents probably don't even know what happens in their daughter's life. I agree that compassion and sensitivity are very important qualities that need to be developed and nurtured. I love Rebecca's poem - she is a very sweet little girl.

Christine Altmiller said...

Based on the poem alone, you are doing a great job teaching her and showing her how to be nice, respectful and sensitive.
Childhood is messy to navigate, but knowing there is stability and warmth at home helps so much.
For some reason, it never occurred to me when I had kids that I would have to relive my childhood. And while that can be painful, it does make me a much better Mama.
Joy. Ha.

willowday said...

I agree with this saying so very much! Manners are like the "keys to a car!"

AntiquityTravelers said...

I agree with Christine ... stability and warmth at home is key. Knowing that there is a safe place where they are loved and can talk about things helps them put in perspective bad behavior. You are clearly an amazing mom. The poem shows how grounded she is as a person, and that is your guidance

Rosemary said...

It is important to remember that we cannot control the actions of others, but we do have control over our feelings and reactions (although this takes a long time to learn, and getting over life's hurts is never easy.) I wish your daughter happiness.

Miss Val's Creations said...

Being young is so difficult. The experiences will help your daughter grow over the years. Her poem is beautiful and so true. She really grasps true friendship at a young age. I only have one person I am still friends with from elementary school but there were a number of girls I was good friends with then. It takes many years until you discover your true friends.

Magic Love Crow said...

I love Rebecca's poem! It's very special! Please give her a big hug from me! I am so sorry this happened to her.

Venus-Suburbia Soup said...

My heart goes out to Rebecca. I know this situation all to well with bot my oldest and middle child. Sophie (my oldest) had a best friend who not only snubbed her, but had a mission to make everyone in the class hate her. Sophie is such a sweet soul and an easy target. A lot of the other kids would tell me the horrible things that would happen during recess and rather than sticking up for her, they would "follow" the mean girl in fear that they would be next. I had many talks with Sophie and she stayed true and kept her head up. Many times she would be by herself on the playgrounds. It makes me want to cry to this very day.

Lily, my middle child had a similar experience as well and this happened very recently. After seeing what Sophie went through, she too kept positive and made new friends.

I make it a point to stress to my girls the importance of kindness and grace. That there will be mean people who will cross your path throughout your life and you have to stay true to yourself... respect and love yourself to not let them hurt you. These experiences will only make you stronger and they will pass, leaving you with a greater understanding and stronger self.

So in the end, don't hate them, but thank them. It's because of them that you are the true winner. A BIG hug to Rebecca! You are a beautiful and sweet child. A rare gem!

Pizziricco said...

Tell Becky to always - and she shud retain this credo into adulthood - that it's really silly to care for anyone who does not care for you! It's as simple as that. It's works believe me, becus the sheer logic of such thinking just sets u free.

Gloria said...

Time and circumstance should help; it's like using a sieve to strain the good from the bad- good friendships stay with you and the rest just let them float away.

Rebecca's poem is lovely, made me smile.

Almost Precious said...

Sorry that Rebecca had to experience such hurtfulness. I also feel sorrow for "Joy", if she doesn't learn how to treat others with kindness she will grow up to be a very unhappy person. A person that will neither be respected nor liked.

Joy may have been influenced by her "new" friend, felt she had to choose one over the other . . . or perhaps the new friend encouraged the alienation by saying that she didn't like Rebecca and didn't want to have to include her in their activities. In other words, the new friend was probably very jealous of Rebecca. Amazing what harm a little bit of jealousy can do.

It is wonderful that Rebecca has such a kind, caring and loving mother. Your strong and compassionate guidance have created a beautiful child with a beautiful soul. She will grow up to be admired and liked by a great many.

BTW - Rebecca's poem is lovely - she is a very talented child (much like her mother). :)

Erika Beebe said...

I agree with you. I think parents should step in. Mine didn't. I went through quite a bit of these situations growing up when I moved from a small town to a big town where every child was sort of the same, to suddenly, boys played with the boys, and girls played with the girls. It was so tough, and I wish my mom would have given me some motherly advice. I learned. I don't think I learned the best ways, until later. I bite my nails wondering what my own children will go through one day and I hope and I pray for you. Keep us updated. :0)

Rowena @ rolala loves said...

I'm saddened to hear that Becky had to experience such awful treatment from a "friend" Since I was young I never understood why some kids felt like friendships had to be exclusive. It makes no sense why Joy couldn't still be friends with Becky and this other child at the same time. I do agree that good manners and treating others with kindness is instilled at home and it's a real shame that Joy doesn't have the benefit of good responsible parenting that Becky does. The poem is lovely and I'm glad this hasn't hardened her sweet nature any. Hugs to you both :)

Rowena @ rolala loves


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