Have you ever been mortified by something rude or tactless that your child has said or done in public? Or worse yet, been the one to insert ‘foot in mouth’? I can answer a resounding YES! to both questions. I’m sure we have all experienced something similar (and wish we could forget!) One time, I was in a bar and there was this cage…..well anyway, I’d better keep that one to myself, I think!
It happens to the best of us and for the most part, our fellow citizens (especially if they know us) forgive the occasional faux pas. We apologize, laugh it off and try to smooth over the awkwardness. If social mishaps occur frequently however, the response changes. People start to get annoyed, avoid, and maybe even chastise the ‘offender’. After giving offense too often or perhaps with insufficient remorse, we soon get labeled as odd, self-centered or rude. Socializing and working within a team become increasingly difficult and we are left out in the cold.
It’s not nice, but that’s how society works. Disapproval and shunning are the tools society uses to enforce the rules of social engagement. These rules, which form the unwritten guidelines for social behavior, are critical to keeping society running smoothly.
The Hidden Curriculum – Part II – Manners
As discussed in my previous blog The Hidden Curriculum, Aspies and others with social-cognitive learning disabilities, can have great difficulty decoding these hidden rules. This inability to correctly interpret social nuance means Aspies make social faux pas…repeatedly…often without remorse…perhaps without even understanding that a rule was broken. The result? Being made an ‘outsider’ in society.
Previously, I outlined a few methods that may be used effectively to help explicitly teach some of these social rules. This week, the focus is on manners, those pesky little rules from our mothers – Those customs and traditions of society that govern how people treat one another and behave in social situations. In today’s world where these common courtesies are becoming increasingly uncommon, learning about etiquette and manners is important for every child – not just Aspies.
Below are some of the methods to teach kids the ‘mannerly way of life’. (But parents are welcome too!)
1. Model Good Behavior
The first rule of teaching any behavior or skill is to model it yourself. As Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Demonstrate the correct behavior and with a bit of luck, your child follows suit. Hopefully, we parents exhibit good manners naturally – modeling the desired behaviors unconsciously on a daily basis. If however, you are a bit of a slacker at home (hmmm…my husband Barry comes to mind… ) then you may need to step up your etiquette game. Show respect and treat your family members like favored guests. Be sure to use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ regularly – to your spouse and your kids.
I’ve been compared at times, to a drill sergeant, issuing orders in the morning like a rapid-fire machine gun, trying to get everything organized and everyone out the door on time. It might be efficient, but it is stressful, unpleasant for everyone and definitely not ‘mannerly’. Although I tend to forget, my kids and hubby are not minions at my beck and call – and shouldn’t be treated as such. It is much better to organize things the night before, and enjoy a calm, pleasant morning by making polite requests and kind acknowledgements.
But modeling good behavior doesn’t stop at home. Keep in mind that your kids are always watching you and your example – in the car when you swear at that bad driver, in the grocery store when you are rude to the cashier, and at the playground when you talk behind someone’s back. It is not easy to always stand tall and take the high courteous ground, but remember those eyes are always on you. Do your best…
2. State Expectations Ahead of Time
One very effective tactic to teaching good manners is to explicitly state the expectations of behavior immediately before the occasion. For example, we have ‘Restaurant Rules’, which get reiterated right before we enter a restaurant. We outline examples of good restaurant behavior (not bothering other diners, saying please and thank you to the waiter, etc.) and bad (complaining loudly about the food, listening to other conversations, etc.). Our little lambs still need some reminding during the course of a meal, but at least the expectations are well understood. And although our kids are far from perfect restaurant guests, they have been complimented on numerous occasions by restaurant staff and other diners for their good manners.
3. Have a Code Word or Action
Even if kids know proper behavior, they sometimes forget. (Children do have a tendency to behave childishly…) It is helpful to have a secret code word/phrase (such as ‘quiet hands’) or action (such as a touch to your noise), that coupled with a meaningful look on your part, will discretely indicate a breach of etiquette to your child. Hopefully that subtle reminder will be enough to correct the situation. If need be though, the more direct approach has been used by moms for centuries: The old faithful “Johnny, what do you saaaaayyyy????” is usually effective to prompt a courteous ‘Thank You” from your little cherub.
4. Read Manners or Etiquette Books
A book won’t take the place of direct instruction, but is a great tool to reinforce your teachings. One of my favorite books about manners for kids is How Rude! – The Teenager’s Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior and Not Grossing People Out by Alex J. Packer, PhD. This book is not geared specifically toward kids on the spectrum, but its cartoons, teen-relevance and irreverent presentation make it a great and fun resource. It is so humorous and entertaining (not at all preachy, boring or dull) that Gregory (and his siblings!) actually WANTS to read it, laughing along as he learns the basics of polite behavior in all kinds of situations.
Manners are a critical component of the Hidden Curriculum. Rules of good behavior must be explicitly taught to those with social-cognitive learning disabilities, but every child should receive these valuable etiquette lessons. Because in society…We all benefit from polite social interactions:
- Good manners put people at ease and make them feel good – about themselves and each other.
- Good manners impress people and are attractive to friends, teachers, employers, etc.
- Good manners allow people to live and work together more harmoniously and productively.
- Good manners build self-esteem through respect and kindness.
- Good manners are free!
- How Rude! Tips on Managing Preposterous Behaviour in Public Places (chicagonow.com)