You couldn't have possibly missed it this week -- the story about a 5-year-old boy from England who was given an invoice for missing a friend's birthday party that was held at a dry ski slope in Plymouth, Devon. The invoice was tucked into the child's school backpack, and the mother had charged the boy (really, his parents) a no-show fee. So many gasps here, but first and foremost, we are talking about involving a 5-year-old child. Two of them, to be exact -- the birthday boy and the invited guest. There are valid points to be made on both sides, but validity is negated when bad behavior steps in and rears its head. (See the full story here.)
How adults react in social settings is often similar to the responses displayed in other areas of life. I'm sharing a few of my tips for overall Mannerly Parent Behavior below.
To Parents of Young Children:
Being polite is much more than knowing where the bread plate goes (on the left) and which fork to use for the salad portion of the meal (the small one). Etiquette rules primarily include encouraging respect for self and others. These simple courtesies ideally start at home. As parents, it is our obligation to prepare our children for the future, even before they understand the importance of "why" good manners matter. Although a child, at first, may simply go through the motions, the small gestures of consideration will eventually turn into a habit that will benefit them for the rest of their life.
- You are the primary role model. Your child idolizes you and watches everything you do and say. There are a few words I encourage you to use on a regular basis; "Please," "Thank You," "Excuse me," and equally important, "I'm sorry." Young children are very impressionable and they will mirror your words and behaviors.
- Patience is a virtue. Composure is a lifetime skill, and gently teaching your child to wait his turn, share and not interrupt can be introduced at age-appropriate times.
- Consistency is key. Kindness isn't something we do only when people are watching. My grandmother used to say, "Monkey see, monkey do," and there is truth in the quote. It's not hard to quickly figure out a particular parenting style after a brief observation of the parent-child interaction.
- Set boundaries. No is no, not maybe. If you feel strongly about something, such as no ice cream before dinner, a temper tantrum should not turn a no into a yes. Each child is different in temperament, and some children will respond better to varying parenting styles, but every child will flourish with dependable guidance.
- Show forgiveness. Disappointment is a fundamental part of reality. People, situations and life in general sometimes let us down; how we react leaves an imprint on our children. The parent who chose to send an invoice to the family via her son's backpack, in my opinion, could have handled things differently. "Forgiveness" is a major leadership skill. It doesn't mean masking your feelings, but instead, expressing them in a way that becomes a positive learning experience rather than a negative, emotional, knee-jerk response.