My MIL is a lovely person (how often do you hear that?!) but she's making me crazy because she's prickly about manners. I agree that some attention to manners is important (please & thank you) but I have begun to balk at some of her ideas. For instance, she expects my children (oldest is 4, youngest is 2) to greet her at the door when she arrives with a big hug and "welcome granny!" She insists that is part of good manners because it teaches respect for elders. This is the way my husband was raised and I have to admit he impressed me from the start with his impeccable manners, whereas my parents had no such standards, so I am very torn. Are there milestones when it comes to manners, like certain manners that children should know by certain ages?
From: FHP, Queens, NY
That example you cite? My mother gave me that same schpiel when my son was 3, and I remember thinking how narcissistic it was of her to want that greeting. Over the years, I came around. It was a sign of respect, kindness and, sometimes, love, and if it made her feel good -- well, isn't that at least partly what good manners are about? Making another person feel good?
So sure, some of what your MIL is asking may be outdated and/or generational, but that doesn't mean it's wrong. The younger a child learns specific manners, the more likely the behaviors will become habitual. If you teach a 3-year-old to clean something from the dinner table when he's finished -- his napkin, the salt shaker, the margarine container -- helping to clear the table is more likely to be automatic to him even when he's a surly teenager.
You ask about milestones for manners. The only ones I've ever heard of come from Sheryl Eberly in her book, "365 Manners Kids Should Know, Updated and revised for the 21st Century." Among others, she says 3-year-olds should be able to "use utensils at the table, say 'please' and 'thank you;'" 10-year-olds should "show self-control in public places, use good table manners;" and 15-year-olds should be able to "initiate conversation and show interest with adults; express appreciation to parents and others."
My suggestion is to sit down with you MIL and prioritize together two or three manners for your children to master in the next six months or year; another two or three for the following year, etc. That's a way of letting her know you value her input, but also need to find a way to manage it. Plus, having everyone on the same page will make it easier for the kids and the adults.
By the way, children learn manners by observing us. They especially learn about double standards when we insist they behave one way and see us do something totally different.
Readers, what manners are important to you for your young children to know?
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