Why Manners Cannot Be Forced (And What To Do Instead)

Why Manners Cannot Be Forced (And What To Do Instead)

Why Manners Cannot Be Forced (And What To Do Instead)

There are secret whispers in the play room.

I pass the door on my way to the laundry and glimpse sideways glances, muffled giggles, hushed voices.

“Don’t come down here! You can’t see this!”

“I won’t look”

But in their excitement, they’re speaking a little too loudly. I catch a few snippets.

Why Manners Cannot Be Forced (And What To Do Instead)

At bedtime, there are posters stuck up around the house and I’m told that tomorrow is ‘surprise day’. Under no circumstances am I to get out of bed and make breakfast in the morning, they will take care of that.

I go to bed eager for the morning so I can find out what ‘surprise day’ is.

“We’re giving you and Daddy a day off! Because you always look after us, so we thought you should have a day off. We’ll be cooking all the meals!”

Why Manners Cannot Be Forced (And What To Do Instead)

Technically, this should never have happened. Or so I’ve been told! I’ve heard all sorts of things…

“Kids these days are so ungrateful because their parents aren’t strict enough”

“You have to make your kids say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ or they’ll never have any manners”

“Your style of parenting is what’s wrong with kids today”

I ignored them all.

I took a leap, and I landed right where I wanted to be.

Among genuine, unforced, unprompted, authentic, gratitude and contribution.

Do they have manners? Yes. They’re polite, and friendly, and kind.

Do they always say an automatic ‘please’ or ‘thank you’? No. Often, but not always. And neither do I. They are young and they are still learning what society expects. And it turns out society expects robotic meaningless ‘manners’. They’ll learn that adults expect them to repeat certain words to make them feel respected. I don’t doubt it. There are many people willing to teach them.

But I am not one of them.

What is of much more importance to me right now is genuine gratefulness. Genuine contribution and helpfulness. Genuine empathy. Genuine respect. And they have bucketloads of that.

Why Manners Cannot Be Forced (And What To Do Instead)

How did we get here? By showing them the same respect.

We encouraged gratefulness by being grateful. “Thank you for helping me, I really appreciate it”

We encouraged helpfulness by helping them, without conditions.

We encouraged empathy by being empathetic to them.

We encouraged politeness, by being polite.

To me, there is no other way.

Why Manners Cannot Be Forced (And What To Do Instead)

Technically, you can force manners. You can require automatic pleasantries by using rewards and punishments until they comply. Your kids will eventually say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ without prompting. But what good is that if they don’t feel genuinely grateful? Who wants forced appreciation?

I want my children to understand the expectations of society, and I will always model good manners for them. But it will never be forced. Forcing manners totally undermines the values you are trying to teach. Manners should always be intrinsically motivated.

Often we’re so focused on what a ‘good’ child is, that we don’t see the amazing little people in front of us. We can notice every missed ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and try to force it, or we can pay attention to the many moments of genuine thankfulness offered up to us.

The hugs, the kisses, the whispered ‘I love you’, the freshly picked weeds from the grass, the paintings, the handwritten notes, the tiny hand in yours, the offer of a bite of their sandwich, the help folding the washing.

Why Manners Cannot Be Forced (And What To Do Instead)

The ‘surprise days’ just for you.

Notice the wonderful ways they show us they’re grateful every day. Model good manners for them, and trust that they will learn all they need to from our example. No force needed.

I’ll take authentic gratefulness and appreciation over a forced ‘thank you’ any day.





Why Manners Cannot Be Forced (And What To Do Instead)




July 14, 2016 at 9:40 pm

My 4yo has not been interested in playing with toys much for almost a year. One of her favorite things to do is pack up toys she doesn’t play with in bags like she’s going on vacation or makes it a shopping trip. But she does this with excessive amounts of stuff. I try to let her be free to do things but then I end up very annoyed with the mess she refuses to clean up and I’m doing while she’s having more fun. For instance last night she took all her shoes, clothes, dolls, and art supplies (there’s a million) and loaded up my closet with them. Then brought tables and chairs in my room. I don’t mind if she’s actually playing with these things but her play is only loading up more stuff and when she’s done that’s it then refuses to clean up. It’s hours of me picking up last night so I can even walk through my room or get things out of my closet. How would you handle this? Do your kids ever make crazy messes and you just don’t even prompt them to clean up? This is so annoying to me!

    July 15, 2016 at 10:49 am

    What about eliminating some of her toys? My girls pack, sort, and move their toys instead of playing with them when there are too many. When we donate, or just store some out of sight, it creates more space for them to enjoy what is left. As a bonus, there will be less to clean up!

      July 15, 2016 at 12:37 pm

      Thank you Lydia! Yes I did last night since I felt she isn’t playing with them and I told her she isn’t taking care of her things so I would watch it for her until she can. I really do believe she has too many. I try to have so many open ended materials and she is just not an independent person to play with them. I do think we need to weed out some stuff. With learning at home I just always worry I’ll need it later on! Even though I’m a minimalist throughout all our other items. Thanks again!

    July 15, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    Your 4yo sounds a lot like my baby sister was at that age πŸ™‚ Seems to me like that is just her way of playing with toys at this stage! At times, some kids are just inclined to play by sorting, organizing and arranging objects – there is a lot of learning going on in that. It’s not destructive play! (My sister had a later passion for interior design LOL) But if parts of it bother you, let’s see if we can’t find some solutions.

    I hear you – it feels like she’s being aimless with things, and then you need to clean up: that’s a frustrating feeling. Which part of it bothers you the most? If it’s the whole not being able to walk through your own room thing, then try to find a place where she can play – maybe get some cardboard boxes or bags for her to pack things in in another room. If it’s her using things like tables and chairs that you’d like to remain put, find other big objects for her to move. And try to find out what it is she likes about it: maybe there is a way to make cleaning up fun for her! After all, cleaning up is just another type of arranging toys.

    What helps me deal with the feeling of annoyance is if you can see the learning in what they do and the joy they find in it, and know it’s definitely, definitely, not personal. (My own kids are both very different from me, and so is their play :P) There is no one way to play! She’s discovering and exploring a lot about what it’s like to arrange and organize things, and definitely not trying to be wild, destructive or walk all over you. This interest in loading stuff is a part of her that could well develop into a passion later in life – it’s worth finding a way to nurture it while still managing the little things that bother you, you never know!

    Hopefully some of these ideas help πŸ˜‰

      July 15, 2016 at 12:24 pm

      P.S. Sometimes kids just go with their gut of what they think they’d like to do if things are stagnant or they run out of ideas. Maybe you can give her some ideas for channeling this packing energy into all sorts of fun games πŸ™‚

      July 15, 2016 at 12:45 pm

      Thank you so much! I totally agree… I go through ‘just let her do it because it’s seriously what she enjoys’ then when it gets so excessive like literally loading up an entire room of clothes and shoes (and not in an organized way) and every button out of the large button jar, every cottonball from the jar, every book from her large book shelf- and everything just thrown all over. I walk in and kinda lose it especially when I ask her to help me pick up and she just says no! I think I need to find a balance of letting her do this that she enjoys but not to the level of mess she’s been making.
      But it’s hard for me when she won’t help clean up. I understand letting them make their own decision but I also feel she’s super disrespectful. She would never do this at daycare or with anyone else.

    August 4, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    Dana – I have a four year old who does the EXACT same thing everyday! I have no advice – but isn’t it nice to know we’re not alone?!! πŸ™‚

      August 4, 2016 at 10:22 pm

      Yes it feels great knowing I’m not alone. I took the advice and keep in mind she may be a home organizer someday ? Also another blog entry talked about not asking to clean up and she has seemed slightly more helpful once I stopped asking constantly and becoming frustrated with it

    August 14, 2016 at 7:16 pm

    Hi Dana! I want to recommend a book! It’s called ‘Nonviolent Communication’ (http://amzn.to/2bqyozC). So helpful and has a section on how to effectively make requests, not demands. Resistance usually happens when they perceive what we’re asking as a demand instead of a request. I found it SO helpful!!

July 14, 2016 at 9:57 pm

I so much needed this right now. It is sad how much the expectations from *others* can misdirect the natural way of parenting. “I don’t want to be one of them” πŸ™‚

July 15, 2016 at 6:35 am

Did your kids really make muffins by themselves and decorate them using an piping bag and what looks like some kind of Michelin starred presentation? That is incredible. Well done!!

July 15, 2016 at 11:58 am

Oh, a surprise say sounds fun!! I definitely think leading by example is the way to go but I don’t see any issue with gentle reminders to use “nice words.” We help each other out remembering to be kind. I remind my 3 year old to say “please” and “thank you” when he forgets and he does the same for me! ?

As far as people blaming your parenting for the state of society, any time someone snipes about my momming I kindly paraphrase good ‘ole Jill Churchill.
“There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.” -Jill Churchill

Thanks for the great post!

July 17, 2016 at 11:21 pm

Thank you, whenever I read your blog I feel inspired to just love, kiss and cuddle my kids more and just appreciate them. I’m so tired of people who always seem to see the worst in other people’s kid’s it’s as if they look for the bad manners or the lack of respect etc but fail to just see all the amazing qualities children possess. πŸ™‚

July 26, 2016 at 2:39 am

Your blog is refreshing and so reflects what I write about in my book, How Toddlers Thrive. When you respect children for who they are, rather than trying to mold or force them to be who we desire at the moment, then they learn from us. We (parents) are role models. They watch us and feel how we interact with them. Respect them, treat them kindly and reasonably, apologize when we are wrong or got angry or made mistakes, and they learn to as well. Thanks for this post.

August 14, 2016 at 11:49 pm

My son *always* says “thank you mama!” in the sweetest possible way but doesn’t necessarily say it to everyone else when they’ve done something for him. Maybe because I’m always saying encouraging stuff when he does things for me, which automatically makes him react the same way too.

Our actions speak louder than instructions!

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