I want my children to have good manners. Not formalities so much as learning to thoughtfully interact with other people. But when they’re small, it’s the formalities that give them practice. Saying please and thank you, sharing, eating the dinner (even if it’s not your favorite), being willing to change plans to fit the needs of the group…all the things that make for a smooth and pleasant together. An important part of good parenting has been to teach these good manners. It never occurred to me that the two could be at odds.
When she pulls away from an unfamiliar relative because touch has become painful.
When her eyes show the confusion and panic as the carefully rehearsed plans change.
When “not sharing” is really about needing more time to transition. Or not fully understanding the social give-and-take of the moment. Or both.
When she’s so busy fighting the noise and activity around her, she can’t look in your eyes or remember please / thank you.
When the food prepared is too hard to chew or she is so overwhelmed she just craves something familiar.
We’re very fortunate to have friends and family who are patient and understanding. But still, I’ve received my share of unfair opinions and less-than-subtle comments. I wish “discipline” would make this all go away. That would certainly be easier. But as Helen gets older, I’ve noticed the comments shift to her. That she’s selfish or spoiled. That she needs to learn to think of other people. And it breaks my heart. Because what they’re not seeing are the hours she spends at home. Role-playing, social stories, even iPad apps to help her know how to respond. How badly she wants to join in with everyone else. They’re completely missing the sweet, funny girl who just happens to be lost at the moment. And don’t we all get lost sometimes?
When this happens, it’s easy to think Maybe we’re getting it all wrong.
But maybe we’re not.
Maybe we’re raising children who understand the incredible value of compassion, second chances and the benefit of the doubt. I hope that’s true. If it is, then this kind of good parenting may teach the very best kind of manners, after all.