The Civilized Minute

a minute of manners and musings

these kids…what to do?

Probably every couple of weeks, I have a conversation with a parent who wants to know how to teach their child(ren) to be mannerly…or, at the very least, understand that temper tantrums are ridiculous and the world does not, in fact, wait for them to make up their minds about, well, anything. Interestingly, it’s not the frazzled parent of a toddler who tries to climb the Christmas tree that wants to know. It’s the parent of the tweens and teens.

The conversation nearly always takes a big U-turn when the parent says, “What do you do with your children to make them behave nicely?”


The voice in my head replies with Listen, Mister. Dr. Dobson doesn’t call me for input or anything, but I run a ‘do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do’ campaign. There’s a reason the law says kids can’t live alone. They don’t have any sense. They need higher mammals to tell them what to do and that’s you and me. So, get straight with what you know is right and tell them. ‘Course, hard labor works, too.

The voice that comes out of my mouth, you will be glad to know, is more articulate and thought-out: Do stuff together

That doesn’t mean the parent spends hours online or on the phone scheduling a fantastic outing, pays for it, lets the kids bring a friend and acts as the tag-along. ‘Together’ means they do a little and you do a little to create something fun.

Here’s an example:

dinner in the den

Last night, we ate our dinner around the coffee table in the den watching a Christmas movie…even though I nearly gnawed off my tongue to keep from saying anything about table manners. I caved, only once, when I heard – for the 3rd time – Hand me that chicken, Emma. I used my we-are-eating-dinner-on-the-floor-no-big-deal voice to say How about saying ‘Please pass the chicken’? Then, I went to take a valium.

Here’s the together part: The Hubs and I did all the work with sharp objects while the kids took the plates and bowls from the kitchen to the den. Along the way, they pulled from the pantry and the refrigerator adding what they thought we would all like. In other words, they played a big part in making it nice for everyone. They didn’t sit in the den and wait for Mama to bring them a plate.

To me, that’s the basic principle of being mannerly: understanding your impact on those around you. Spending time as a family doing something – anything! – offers all sorts of opportunities to mention (not lecture) things you really want them to know.

You have to tell them what you want them to know. They can’t read your mind. You have years of experience to draw upon, so share with them and be specific. Kids will take instruction from you much better if it’s mixed in with experience rather than exasperation.

Very lastly, I’m no child rearing expert. In fact, just last weekend, I realized my 9 year old son’s all-time favorite hat that he wears everywhere has a logo sporting ‘Bar & Grill’. I’m sure that went over well at the children’s cookie decorating party at our church.

I can tell you this, though, with complete certainty: If you will go the extra mile to teach your tweens and teens about nice manners, you are equipping them for a successful and happy life.

You can collapse when they’re gone.


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