It’s exceedingly common to hear adults decrying the lack of manners in kids today, and internet articles about how to teach children good etiquette are among the most popular in google searches. What is often lost in this focus on teaching kids good manners, however, is the importance of adults modeling good etiquette to kids. Sadly, though, many adults fall into a trap of treating children like some form of alien life, and completely abandon manners when interacting with kids. Adults who aren’t used to being around children are especially susceptible to this. If you’re looking to brush up on etiquette rules to observe when interacting with children, here’s your guide:
Talk To, Not About
Gossip is gossip, and ignoring someone is ignoring someone, no matter how old that person happens to be. Don’t talk about a child to her parents right in front of her; it demeans the child and models rude communication skills. Instead, engage children in a discussion with the group, or if you have something you want to talk to the parents alone about, wait until their kid is otherwise engaged. “She’s so skinny!” and “How’s she doing in school!” are statements that should never, ever be uttered in front of a child.
Parents often complain about their children interrupting adult conversation, without realizing that adults interrupt children just as frequently. Whether you are a parent or a visiting friend, model the behavior you would like to see and don’t interrupt or talk over a child who is talking, or they’ll be doing it to you soon enough.
Commenting on Weight or Appearance
You wouldn’t tell a friend she’s gotten fat, so why would you do this to a child? Children are just beginning to develop a sense of self worth and it’s a good goal to teach children that their appearance has nothing to do with their value. Don’t comment on how skinny or heavy a child is, on the fact that a child is going through puberty, or anything else that is intensely personal. Doing it in a group of people can be doubly humiliating. You may just be making conversation, but don’t damage a child’s self esteem in the process.
Kids ask questions. It’s a basic fact of life. What is also true is that adults often complain about children not listening. However, when adults consistently ignore kids’ questions, they model inattentive behavior. If a child asks you a question, even if he’s not your kid, answer the question, find someone who can, or explain that you don’t know. Don’t just ignore. It’s bad manners and makes a child feel terrible. For a kid to grow up to be a good listener, he has to be surrounded by adults who are good listeners.
Try to imagine a situation in which you tell your best friend her divorce is no big deal. Can’t imagine it? Good, then don’t do this with children either. Children face different stressors than adults, but it doesn’t mean the stress isn’t real to the kid. Don’t minimize a child’s feelings, even if what they’re feeling seems irrational or childish. Children are children and thus-you guessed it- their feelings are going to be childlike. It doesn’t mean they don’t matter and doesn’t mean a child isn’t hurt by an adult minimizing their feelings. Consistently minimize a child’s feelings and that child will grow up to be an adult without compassion or empathy. Just don’t do this.
It can be difficult to patiently tolerate a million questions or to give up on adults only conversation around kids, but children should be treated with respect for two reasons: first, it’s just the right thing to do, and secondly, modeling good behavior will help kids to learn good behavior. Don’t leave your good manners at home when interacting with a child!