Naomi Aldort I Photography by Whitby B Photography.
Children are often told to say “thank-you” or “sorry” or some other words that are founded in our
societies concept of manners. However, is it more important that they say the words or actually feel them?
Naomi Aldort discusses a more gentle way of teaching children manners.
“What do you say?” demanded a woman after handing a child his dropped glove. The child rushed over and hid behind his Mum. “You say ‘thank you,’” persisted the woman, to which the child responded, “My Mummy doesn’t tell me what to say.”
What do we expect a child to learn when we tell him: “Say thank you”? Most parents believe that the child will learn to be grateful. But do children learn these things by being told to do them? How did we feel as children when told to “say thank you”? When did we really develop a sincere sense of gratitude? Did saying “thank you” before we had the feeling to match the words make us truly appreciative? Or did we develop a sense of gratitude later on in no regard to those instructions?
Indeed, telling a child what to say is bad manners since it is disrespectful to tell anyone what to say. It is patronising and coercive treating one as lower than oneself. One way to know if you are being respectful or not is to ask yourself if you would treat an adult in the same manner. If not, it is bad manners. If telling a child to use manners does not teach them to feel kindness, remorse or gratitude, what does it teach them?
Well, it may teach them:
That telling others what to say or do is ‘good manners.’ The content of the ‘talk’ is practically lost, as the child is mostly aware of the fact that someone is telling her what to say.
(Although less obvious) “I cannot trust myself to know what to say or do; I should rely on adults (authority) and obey instruction” (dependency, being a follower).
(Linked to the previous) “I cannot know on my own what to say or do, therefore I am not good enough” (low self-esteem and feeling inadequate and incapable).
A similar feeling of inadequacy can spring out of self-doubt: “Why don’t I feel like saying ‘thank you’? Something must be wrong with me”.
To be phony and even simply to lie: “I don’t really feel like saying anything, (sharing, helping…), I guess I am supposed to lie, pretend, or put on a show that does not reflect my real inner experience”.