Baby advice (part 3 of 3)

Written by on April 25, 2013 in Learning to Breathe - No comments

This is the third and last part of my Baby Advice blog. In the previous entry last month, I covered the first 3 key areas of advice: 1) Routine; 2) Sleep; and 3) Eating habits. This last entry will cover the final 2 areas of advice: 4) Manners and compassion and 5) Parents rule.

 

4) Manners and compassion

I don’t know about other parents, but, for me, one of the things that would fill me with the most dread is the thought of my children being rude or mean to anyone, especially an adult.

At one point, when my older daughter was just 3 and a half, she was on a school trip with her nursery. Some parents had kindly volunteered to go along to help with all the young children when the nursery had called for volunteers. A few girls shared a London black cab with a mom, who happened to be a friend of mine at the time. One of the girls was the daughter of this mom who was a truly lovely person and caring parent. Sharing the taxi as well was my daughter and another girl who, at that point, was a friend of my daughter. At some point during that taxi ride the other girl turned to the daughter of the mom who was in the taxi with them and said something that went kind of like this: “Your mom is really fat. Why is she so fat? My mommy says that it’s important to watch your weight so that you don’t get fat. Why is your mom’s stomach so big?” The mom, who was a friend of mine (and who later recounted the story to me) – and who was one of the loveliest, nicest people I’d met at that nursery – was not only shocked that any child could be so mean, but was also genuinely hurt by the comment. She had delivered her second child a bit over a year ago and had been struggling with her weight, unsuccessfully, since then.

Now, here comes the part of why the mom recounted this upsetting story to me in the first place: my daughter’s reaction. My older daughter has always been very sensitive to other people’s feelings. I would like to think that it has something to do with how her dad and I (and my parents who are the best grandparents any child could ask for) have raised her, but I also think that she has been sensitive since she was a very small child and that may just be a (lucky) part of her nature. But I have to say that I had never expected my daughter, who’s idea of the “worst thing in the world” is to lose friends as being someone who would stand up to another child, especially one who’s friendship she wouldn’t want to lose normally.  This case was obviously an exception, as she certainly couldn’t have missed the hurt face of her other friend’s mother. “That’s really mean S…… It’s not nice to hurt other people’s feelings. And anyway it’s what’s on the inside that counts.”

As shocked as I was at the fact of how mean a little girl could be already at just 4 when I first heard this story, that’s how proud I was of my daughter when I heard her part in it. I have to admit that I gushed with pride and told the story to more than a few people who would listen for more than just a few days (ok maybe weeks – oh and I am telling you all now more than a few years later). I happen to also know the mom of the little girl who was mean as well. She is not a friend and she is also not the kind of mom one would want to recount this story to. I, however, left that tale with more than just pride. I left it with the feeling that children are capable of recounting everything that their parents say to them and in the worst way and in the worst moments if they’re not taught properly that what they say could hurt someone’s feelings. “Oh my God,” I said to my mommy friends as we recounted the story again over coffee wondering if anyone should tell the offending girl’s mother about it. “Please, if either of my daughters is ever that horrid. You must promise to tell me. I would be sooooo embarrassed and ashamed, but you must promise to tell me.”

“J…,” one of my good friends responded. “Your girls would never ever say anything so mean because you actually teach them good manners and compassion.” And that was when it hit me: It was never too early to start teaching your children about good manners and compassion for others. I was the kind of person who, even in my worst moments, could never purposefully be mean to anyone. No matter how much I imagined, at times, being rude to people that really, really bothered me, I believed too strongly in the idea of karma and of a higher power, so I couldn’t be mean (well not on purpose anyway). Fortunately, I had imposed this belief on my daughters very early on in life. I also fondly remember teaching them the phrase that “it’s what’s inside that matters most” using Cinderella’s beauty on the inside, as well as on the outside, as an example.

This is definitely not to say that my own daughters weren’t also on many occasions guilty of having less than great manners. They didn’t always sit still quietly or behave perfectly in public places, for example. And I would be lying if I would say that they were never mean to each other. Some of the terms that they’d yell at one another when angry would make me cringe (and would certainly be hurtful), but I would always try to have them think how the other person felt by their actions and their words. And I always liked to tell the stories of Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Beauty and the Beast with the added lesson that though these princesses were beautiful on the outside too, it was the beauty that they possessed on the inside that made them that way.

It’s never too early to teach these little lessons to our young children. Words like “please” are easy additions to any request. And “thank you” should be a natural follow up. Being nice to people and hospitable to guests are easy things to teach. My children were taught to say “good morning” and to shake hands with the person at the door already as early as their nursery school. In my house, for example, one of the rules is that the visiting child gets to pick the first game during a playdate and gets the ultimate choice of which film everyone will watch (the host child gets to pick three films for the visitor to choose from). My daughter sometimes moans that many of her friends don’t have this rule in their house, so that she doesn’t have the same chances to choose as they do. My response, however, is always the same: “We can’t do anything about what other people do in their house; but in our house, we try to do the right thing and treat our guests as if they’re special so that they’ll want to come back”. That usually has the correct effect, as my daughters definitely want their playdates to come back.

 

5) Parents rule

Ok, I have now read many, many books about how to best discipline my children to make sure that they grow up to be the best people possible and that they are prepared for the tough lessons that life can teach occasionally. It’s become a bit of an obsession of mine and I’m always calling my own mom with the news that now I’ve found the perfect book. Well, in fact, after several books this year, I now really have found the perfect book (but that is for the following blog entry so stay tuned).

Anyway, one of the things that often irks me the most when I go to visit certain friends, or when my kids are around other kids during some playdates, is when parents allow their children to run the household. Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means advocating that parents should act like dictators with their kids and bark orders for them to command; or that children should live in fear of their parents’ disapproval. Quite the contrary in fact. I believe very strongly in the idea of parents running the household and with them setting limits, but in the limits being set within reasonable boundaries and set with love in mind. And I also believe in children being allowed a certain level of autonomy and decision making within limits that the parents are comfortable with. In other words, while parents should most definitely be in charge, they should also allow their children to make plenty of (safe) decisions and to be held accountable for their actions.

A good parent is neither a dictator (barking orders) nor a rescuer (rescuing their child from any potential danger or sadness even before the potential has a chance to materialize). A good parent makes sure to give their child much love and empathy, while also enforcing a level of discipline in a kind and loving way. I have found with my own kids that anger, lectures, and shouting have much less of an effect than discipline set and enforced in an empathetic and loving way. Unfortunately, anger and aggression only encourage anger and aggression back, so that children whose parents respond to their misbehaviour with violence or with barked, angry orders only learn to respond in the same way. It does not work and teaches children the wrong lessons. But the same goes for parents who are overly allowing and who allow their kids to control them all in an effort to be liked or to spare their children any pain, discomfort, or unhappiness. All that those children learn is that their parents will allow them to get away with anything. And, unfortunately, these types of children tend to turn out just as badly as the children forced to live under a strong disciplinary regime. Neither child grows up able to face the harsh lessons that life often teaches us. I recommend a soft, middle ground to grow children prepared for the life of this world and for parents to feel happy with being parents. But I’ll cover that in next month’s blog entry.

 

Stay tuned for some interesting upcoming monthly entries. In May, read my review of a phenomenal book that demonstrates a whole new way to be successful in the business world (and it’s not anything you could have imagined). In June, have a look at a story created by a class of 5 year olds when I came to speak to them about making up stories. And in July and August, I write my review of a book that’s been my parenting salvation on how to raise contented kids ready for the world and how to put the joy back into parenting again.

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