May 16, 2012

they are small people who will one day be big

Although my full-time job is being a mom, I am always a little nervous to write posts about parenting. I am afraid that you dear readers will glance over these posts thinking "Who is she to give parenting advice? What makes her an expert?" Being a parent obviously does not make me an expert, and I am well aware of this.

However, I did receive such nice and positive responses from the last parenting post that I have decided to try my hand at it again.

The subject of this post is something that has been on my mind lately: raising our children to know how to interact socially. There are many books and lectures and people who probably have PhD's on the subject, but what I have been thinking about is how our behavior as parents towards our children shapes their social behavior.

I see a lot of parent's who are positive role models for their children; but, sadly, I also see so many interactions (or worse, lack of interactions) that are not teaching good social behavior.
(Disclaimer again here: I know I am not perfect, and I am sure someone has shaken their head at something I have done as a parent.)

There are small courtesies that we need to be teaching our children by modeling to them. Open the door for your children. Turn down your music and make eye contact with them when they are telling you something. If you are handing them something and you drop it, say "oh, whoops, sorry," pick it up, and give it to them. Can you imagine if you were handing a pen to a stranger in line at the bank, or towel to a friend who was doing dishes, and you dropped it, and then just left it on the floor for them to pick up? You wouldn't, because that would be rude. (If you would, perhaps you need to reevaluate your social behavior!) What gets me the most is when parents become upset at their children for being rude, when the child was never modeled the polite way to do something in the first place. (Think of all the times you have heard someone growling in a terrifying voice "Don't you talk to me that way!" as they themselves are speaking horribly to their child.)

Children will mimic your actions; often at a younger age than you may think. Here is an example: At the end of dinner, Lane will often clear the table. Sometimes I will do it, too. Each time we take the dishes to the sink. The other person always thanks the table-clearer. I have never asked James to clear his dishes, I always do it for him. However, the other day he was sitting on a bar stool at the counter eating a bowl of yogurt (his favorite food in the world right now, by the way). When he was done, he slid off the bar stool and grabbed his bowl and spoon. "James, what are you doing?" I asked, imagining all the places he could take the bowl and spread the remains of the yogurt. He didn't reply, but walked right past me to the kitchen sink, where he deposited both spoon and bowl. James isn't even two years old. You see what I mean? He saw us modeling helpful behavior, and, without being asked, he began to do the same thing.

Another thing I want to touch on is electronics. I realize they are useful, and handy, and blah blah blah, I can't stand them! I truly feel like we are losing an entire generation of social inter-actors to text messages and X-boxes. But is it fair for us to limit their "screen time" when we sit at our laptops perusing the web while we should be playing with them? What about all the parents on cell phones at the park? Oh my gosh, don't even get me started! Okay, since I am started: I understand the need every once in a while to answer an important call (I really do know this, since we have been trying to purchase a house- and still are, more on that later- for over a year), but these parents who are just chatting with a friend, or text messaging, or looking through facebook, or whatever it may be... James and I always end up playing with the kids of such parents at the park (or even the library) and they instantly glomb onto me because they are so excited that someone is finally paying attention to them.

Okay, whew, breathe. I really didn't intend for this to be a rant against what I interpret as bad parenting. My point is, one day we will want to have a conversation with our child (or someone will) and it will not be possible because they won't know how to have a face to face interaction without text messaging or updating their facebook status throughout it ("My mom is blabbering on about something again... who wants to go see a movie later?"). One day we will want our children to have successful with relationships with friends, other family members, and eventually a spouse, and to do this, they will need to know how to treat people like people: help carry bags, open doors, offer to help with the dishes, say "bless you" when someone sneezes (James blesses me for everything, including yawns). The best way for them to learn this is for us to show the same courtesies towards them. They are people too, just a little smaller.

And, for pete's sake, get off your cell phone.

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