Manners Maketh Man

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Over the weekend, a parent from church called me, saying, ‘My child has no manners. I don’t know what to do. He doesn’t listen to me! Maybe I should change his school’. We spoke for a few minutes on that and ended with no definite head-way because honestly, what am I supposed to do? I don’t live with him and he isn’t enrolled in my school…so contact with him isn’t even solid.

Forward to yesterday afternoon as I waited to pay for goods I bought at the store. This child (let’s say about seven years) bumped into me, spared me a brief glance and continued running around. Of course, his mum quickly looked away. I decided to ignore, too, and went back to replying my messages till it was my turn to be attended to.

And then ‘gbam’ I’m bumped into again as the same child tries to maneuver by me to pick a bar of snickers.

‘My dear, didn’t you learn how to say I’m sorry’ and ‘Excuse me’?’ I asked, pointedly looking at his mother this time, as other women who had suffered in the hands of this child snickered.

‘Ahhh, sorry, aunty. He is just a child.’

And then another mother goes, ‘My child says I’m sorry when she accidentally hits people.’ A few women nod in agreement as the mother of the bumper child stares them down and mutters ‘sorry’ again.

And the story goes on.

But it’s there…

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It’s there in the fellow taxi passenger a few inches away who coughs in your direction without covering his mouth, in the woman on the bus speaking loudly into her cell phone for the entire ride uptown, and in the group of secondary school girls laughing and gossiping loudly and making everyone’s heads turn. It’s there in the guy who breezes through the heavy door, leaving it to swing back in your direction, and in the woman who says nothing in recognition as you politely hold the door open for her. Then there’s the book launch you’re planning; the caterer is calling, and you’re still waiting for 20 people to RSVP. Or the birthday gift you’ve sent to your husband’s cousin in London; you never do find out if it arrived because no thank-you message has appeared in your phone.

We all encounter such bad behavior in our daily lives. Indeed, common courtesy doesn’t seem to be so common anymore —because the perpetrators are missing the vital link: They never learned the proper ways to behave at the most important time — when they were children.

So yeah, your child’s rude attitude isn’t always intentional. Sometimes kids just don’t realize it’s impolite to interrupt, pick their nose, or loudly observe that the lady walking in front of them has a large behind. And in the hustle and bustle of daily life, busy moms and dads don’t always have the time to focus on teaching etiquette. But isn’t it important to reinforce manners and raise polite, kind, well-liked children?

How often do we remind our children: “Say, ‘Please’.”?

Maybe they would learn it more readily if, as parents, we use the phrase unabashedly ourselves. Courtesy and politeness pay off in nearly all situations, including parenting. And children learn kindness, thoughtfulness and other ways of being civil from their parents or guardians; we teachers help enforce it.

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I believe, it is the responsibility of every single adult in contact with a young person to pass on good manners and civil behaviour. And I’m so glad I work in a school that makes this kind of education a priority. We do have a responsibility and I think all teachers try, but I really feel it is up to the parents to become the main enforcers. Children should be taught during those formative years when they’re listening and learning to form speech. Infancy is not too early. If the parents are speaking politely and modelling good manners all the time at home, the child will grow up with that standard. By age 3, a child should be totally capable — and expected — to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. When I see a parent struggling with a 7-year-old’s social behaviour … it’s too late! The parent has dropped the ball.

And if I am to rewind time and the parent from church calls again, I’d say, “Maybe you waited too long to teach him manners, ma. Maybe you waited too long”.