Food for Thought

Written by Michelle Robinson

My column this month highlights an issue that impacts family relationships and the broader community. However, it’s often our kids who find themselves in the front-line of this issue, and I have found myself wondering if they are getting a bit of a raw deal.

Let me explain.
The subject for discussion, is ‘Manners’. (The old fashioned Please, Thank you and You should be grateful version of manners that still thrives in many families today.)

I must confess, that it was my own behaviour that caused me to re-evaluate the way we teach our children ‘good manners’.

Our beautiful four-year-old granddaughter, Emilia, has just spent almost a week visiting Poppy and Grandma (that’s my husband, John and me).

On Monday morning, I asked Emilia, “Would you like a dippy egg and toast soldiers for breakfast?” to which Emilia gave her honest response, “Yes.”

In the same moment that I became aware of myself speaking, I automatically countered her response with, “You mean, ‘Yes please, Grandma’. Don’t forget your manners.”

“Yes, please Grandma,” Emilia dutifully replied, her eyes never leaving the television screen where Bluey was in full flight on the ABC Kids’ Channel.

The awareness that struck me as I asked Emilia to use her manners, was that she had answered my question, perfectly, the first time.

Would she like a dippy egg for breakfast? Yes, she would.

Emilia turned four only two weeks ago. Her answer was truthful and required no addendums that implied she should be grateful to me for asking her in the first place.

Yet, I unconsciously felt the need to make a point about manners that was completely lost on her. If she had asked me to make her breakfast, then ‘Please’ would have been very appropriate. That was not the case, and I was a little ashamed of myself, to be honest, for correcting her.

I later pondered this conversation, trying to gain deeper insights about my behaviour. I concluded that it is easy to teach our kids platitudes that keep the wheels of convention rolling smoothly along. (If you were anything like me, you will have been an expert at telling adults what they wanted to hear since a young age.)

Yet, how frequently is true gratitude ever felt by our kids? Failure to respond with the expected “Thank you” or “Please” very quickly labels a child rude or disrespectful. Sometimes, I have realized, that’s not fair.

I have decided that while a child can be taught platitudes, gratitude must be felt and, experienced by the one who offers it.

How much more valuable would my interaction with Emilia have been, if I accepted her “Yes” for the appropriate answer it was, and invited her into the kitchen to help me make her egg and toast fingers? She could have seen and experienced my willingness to make her breakfast just the way she likes it. This may have led her to a genuine feeling (even if in later life) of gratitude that her Grandma loves her very much and works to make her happy.

Believe me, I am a supporter of manners, and always have been. However, I have a new awareness of the difference between saying an empty “Thank you” or “Please,” and a genuine expression of gratitude.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could help kids feel and understand the difference? Surely that would be a life-skill worth teaching? The world may then evolve into a kinder place, something each child deserves.

Anyhow, that’s what I’ll be aiming for from now on.

Until next time, have a lovely month.