Posts Tagged ‘Character’

Common Courtesy

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

I remember a conversation I had with several other moms who were from different regions of the country. We were discussing “common courtesy,” and many of us had different ideas of what constituted courteous actions.

Some insisted on their children’s using “ma’am” and “sir”; others didn’t care about that wording. Some felt insulted when a child left the table before all the other family members were done eating; others had never thought about that practice.

In many ways we were diverse in our definitions of courtesy, but on one thing we all agreed: we could tell very easily when someone was being discourteous or disrespectful. Specific actions might vary, but the underlying attitude could be clearly seen.


Over the years I have seen some parents work hard at teaching their children etiquette, but those same children do not exhibit courtesy. What’s the difference? Etiquette is a way of acting; true courtesy is a heart attitude.

Courtesy is being concerned with the other person’s comfort. It may take different forms in different situations, but the underlying attitude remains.

I’m a firm believer in the principle that common courtesy begins at home. There is no better place to help your children develop the habit of being courteous. Make up your mind now to be consistent: if you wouldn’t allow your child to treat a guest that way, don’t allow him to treat a sibling that way. Concern for the other person’s comfort is the key.

Here, again, the motto of “Respect the older; protect the younger” applies.

Some Personal Specifics

Do you want some specific suggestions? Okay. Here are some of the practices that I have tried to instill in my children as habits of courtesy. Please don’t limit yourself to these, but this list might at least give you a starting place.

  • Please and thank you

    From the time they were babies, I have required that my children say “please” and “thank you.” When they were too young to say the words, I taught them the two sign-language signs to communicate those courteous thoughts. And I reinforced the habit by natural consequences. If they didn’t say “please,” I looked at them expectantly and waited until they remembered. When I handed them what they had asked for, I didn’t let go until they said “thank you.” And, of course, I tried to model courtesy by using “please” when I told them to do something: “Please go tell Daddy that it’s time for supper.”

  • Returning a greeting

    Even shy children can be encouraged to smile and say “hello” in response to a greeting (before darting behind Mom’s leg). Especially when an older person greets a child, common courtesy dictates that the child respond in kind. We’ve worked hard on this skill with my youngest daughter who has autism. It takes some reminding and some practicing, but it can be done.

  • Looking in the eyes

    Try to encourage your children to look the other person in the eye when engaged in a conversation. Looking down or letting your eyes wander around the room can be perceived as rude. One thing that can help with this practice is to make sure you look your child in the eyes when you are communicating with him. And please try to remember to make him look you in the eye when you are praising him, just as much as making him look you in the eye when you are correcting him. It’s easy to do the “Look at me when I’m talking to you” reminder for criticism but not for praise. But eye contact during praise can pave the way for confident eye contact in other conversations too.

  • Thank You notes

    We all know how nice it is to receive a thank you note from someone. So let’s teach our children the fine art of encouraging one another by writing thank you notes. Start when they are young and provide personally-preferred notecards as they grow older to help make this practice a habit.

  • Telephone manners

    Take some time to help your children practice good telephone courtesy. Role play how you want them to answer the phone, how to lay it down carefully and come get you (rather than drop the receiver and yell across the house), and how to deliver a message accurately. When they get older, work with them to practice writing down a message, getting all the necessary information, and placing the note somewhere prominent to make sure you see it.

Your Specifics

I’m sure you can think of other good manners that you want to instill in your children. Maybe your list would include such courtesies as

  • Boys holding the door open for ladies
  • Giving up your seat for an older person
  • Dinner table etiquette
  • Saying “yes, ma’am” and “no, sir”

Specific manners may vary from home to home, but the guiding principles of kindness and respect remain constant. Teach your children those character traits—starting with family members—and common (or perhaps, rare) courtesy will follow more easily.

Parenting by the Book

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

The past few days I’ve been reading a book that has been hard to put down. Let me give you the background first.

Some of the most practical, common-sense parenting books I read when we had young children were written by John Rosemond. In those books he promoted a traditional style of parenting in simple terms. Even though he was a psychologist, he didn’t sound like one; he made sense. He could make a seemingly complicated situation crystal clear and produce confidence in the midst of chaos. (And his sense of humor was a lot of fun too.)

Many of the principles that he presented seemed to be in line with Scripture, but he never claimed to be a believer or referred to the Bible in his books.

Fast forward about 15 years. This past summer I was browsing in a Christian bookstore, and what should I find but a new book by John Rosemond: Parenting by the Book. The introduction is his testimony of how he came to trust Christ and how he has been excited to see parenting principles that he has believed in all these years reflected in Scripture.

The rest of the book is equally engaging as he debunks the popular parenting psychology that has saturated our society and influenced our thinking. He then urges us to return to the traditional, Biblically-based parenting that was common back in “Grandma’s day.” And, as always, he gives lots of practical scenarios and solutions along the way.

Do I agree with everything he says 100%? No. But I heartily agree with about 97%, and I think this book would help a lot of parents who are questioning current trends and wanting to return to “old-fashioned” values.

Here is a smattering of some of the key points the author addresses:

  • The difference between self-esteem and Biblical self-respect, and how you use completely different approaches to build each one.
  • Why it doesn’t work to try to reason with a belligerent child. (This was an “ah-ha” moment for me: you can’t reason with the sin nature.)
  • The 3 R’s of building good character — respect, responsibility, and resourcefulness — and how to cultivate them.
  • The importance of parents being leaders in the home, rather than slaves and buddies.
  • The necessity of keeping the right goal in mind — raising the child to be a godly adult –and how many parents’ priorities in time, energy, and money undermine that goal.
  • How the parent/child relationship progresses through various seasons as the child grows. The author outlines those seasons in simple, eye-opening terms and shows how a failure to transition to the next season can be the cause of many problems.
  • The principle that parental leadership is first and foremost an attitude.
  • The importance of setting boundaries around your marriage to protect your relationship with your spouse from becoming a “till children do us part” marriage.

Now, I’ll tell you right up front that not everyone will like this book. It’s emphasis is more on the behavior of the child, believing that bad behavior reveals a flaw in the child’s character. While it is true that we need to focus on the hearts of our children, we also cannot ignore their behavior. Both aspects — shepherding the heart and correcting the behavior — are necessary for the intentional parent.

So if you’re ready for some straight-forward, sensible, simple child-rearing advice, read Parenting by the Book. I bet you’ll find it hard to put down too.

PS: If you want to know on which points I disagree with the author, check my comment on this blog post.