I always knew that I’d be a stickler for good manners as a parent. In my opinion parents don’t make life easy for their kids if they choose not to worry about things like saying please and thank you – everybody seems to respond better to people who automatically know how to be courteous. And I realised late last year that, by emphasising the importance of good manners from young toddlerhood, Hattie and Joe would never remember a time when they didn’t know that you always say please when asking for something, or thank you when receiving something.
Of course they’re only little kids and teaching this kind of habit is a slow process: we still have this kind of exchange several times a day…
Child: “I want milk!”
Adult: [silence; or a querying look; or a reminder about needing to ask in a nice voice, using nice words]
Child: “Please could I have a drink of milk please Mummy!” (This double please thing is their own convention)
Sometimes they get it right first time, which is great. And they’re given absolutely nothing until they’ve asked nicely. The same rules apply with saying thank you, although they’re very good at saying that unprompted nearly every time. Tristan, Nikita, and I all handle the please and thank you thing in the same way, and I’m sure that the consistency has helped a lot.
However, I am quite sure that our approach of never letting the kids get away with not using their manners probably looks like a whole lot of nagging to some people, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it might even elicit some eye-rolls from other adults who witness it and secretly think “For God’s sake, the kid is two, and one missed ‘please’ isn’t the end of the world”. And that would be a fair enough attitude. I know that me thinking something is important isn’t the same as it necessarily BEING important, and other people may emphasise other behavioural elements of childrearing that I’m probably totally neglecting. I also know that most kids will develop decent manners in the fullness of time, if only because they’ll realise that life is far easier if other people like dealing with you. I guess I’m just trying to shortcut that process for Hattie and Joe. And when we do feel the need to remind them of how to ask nicely, or the importance of saying thank you, we don’t do it in any kind of angry way – we know that they’re just little and are still learning everything. But that’s what I see as my job: teaching them how to function in the world, and, for me, understanding the importance of good manners is one of the fundamental elements of knowing how to play nicely with others.
We also emphasise and recognise other courteous behaviour, like making sure that we acknowledge kind behaviour like sharing, taking turns, voluntarily doing nice things for others, and generally just being lovely:
The next big good manners challenge ahead of us involves teaching the importance of replying when people say hello. I don’t expect a great dialogue, but if they’re with me and somebody greets them, they should say hello back, even if they don’t say anything else to that person. This is proving to be a much tougher nut to crack than the whole please/thank you thing, even with people that they know really well.
Another courtesy-related issue we face involves Joe’s occasional tendency to declare a wholly irrational dislike of somebody, often before he’s even met them, and then demonstrate his feelings by glowering at them when he sees them. Combatting that is a work in progress!
There was an interesting conversation recently in a Facebook group to which I belong – a heated discussion about whether it’s a big deal if children use swear words, and whether parents do anything to manage their children’s exposure to ‘bad language’. Now, I swear like a drunken sailor on shore leave whenever I’m not around the kids, as anybody who has ever spent time with my on campus, or seen me after a glass of wine, can testify. However, I work very hard to moderate my language around the kids, and I honestly don’t think that I have sworn in front of them more than a tiny number of times. My confidence regarding this comes from the fact that neither of them have said a swear word – and they are total parrots, particularly with regard to my use of language, so if I was cursing around them, they’d be cursing as well. My reason for this is simple: I think it takes an adult’s maturity to understand when it is appropriate (or not inappropriate) to swear, and when it is just inappropriate. I know, for example, that my 18 year old class mates or my twin mum friends finishing a bottle of wine with me won’t turn a hair if I swear, but I also know that my 60-something lecturer might not feel comfortable with swearing, so I moderate my tone depending on my audience. It’s the basic reason why swearing in public has traditionally been beyond the pale, I think: you don’t know the sensitivities of the listening audience, and it’s not good manners to risk offending people. In my opinion children lack the maturity to understand when it might or might not be inappropriate to swear, and so the best strategy is for them to not be around the language and, if they do hear it, make them realise that it’s only something that grownups say. So I have asked people in my house not to swear, and I’ll continue to do so if they kids are still up. After 7pm you can say what you want, of course!
Despite some ongoing challenges, I feel pretty happy that we’re raising two little people who are going to have sufficient knowledge of social graces to function well in the world. And we’ve had one good breakthrough this week: both kids have recognised the importance of saying “excuse me” if they fart in public. Winning!
Check out the size of these kids of ours now!
Unfortunately the monthly monkey shots have fallen off the schedule in recent months, largely because of my occasionally uncooperative models. However, I’ve updated the kids’ monthly photo page with shots taken on or near to the 16th of every month. Enjoy!
There are so many things going on with the kids every day that I forget what I’ve told people, and what I’ve forgotten. One such thing is Hattie’s recent tactic for delaying whatever (in her eyes) outrageous request, such as coming over for a nappy change. It involves an imperious finger in the air, and the command “One minute, Mummy!” And finally I have photographic evidence of it:
I have finally found a tactic of my own: counting. If I tell her that I’m going to count until ten and then she needs to come over, it always seems to work. I count out loud, slowly, and I’ve never actually discussed what the consequences of non-compliance will be, but I think she must have figured out that time out may be involved. Ordinarily I don’t get past five or six before she’s joined me. The most challenging part is resisting the urge to laugh out loud at this little display of toddler attitude.
Hattie and Joe have a huge number of books. I love books, and reading, and I really want them to be keen readers too, so I figured that the best way to help with that goal is to make books a crucial part of their lives. Their big book collection has come about not because I’ve won Lotto (books are SO expensive in New Zealand), but because I love charity shops: such a great place to buy kids’ stuff. So I pay $1 or $2 for books that would otherwise cost $29.99 new. Some of the kids’ favourite books
Anyway, one of their favourite charity shop books is Two Bears and Joe. I chose it primarily because I’m collecting books that feature their Christian names.
It’s a very cute story about a little boy who entertains himself all day with the help of two bears, who his parents can’t see (although they can see the aftermath of Joe’s games with the bears). At one point Joe and the bears play in a cave under the stairs:
This particular part of the story has resonated with the kids, and they’re talked about making a bear cave, so when they were out at a playgroup this morning with Nikita (our amazing au pair for this year) I transformed their playhouse into a bear cave complete with resident bears, with the help of a couple of blankets.
The kids were absolutely delighted to find their bear cave! They had lunch in there – honey sandwiches, plus some fruit:
And they stayed in their bear cave, with the blanket down, for ages, chatting and singing to each other. Later they insisted on wearing their slippers, which have been seen as Gruffalo feet until now, but which are very good substitute bear feet as well:
They’re having their naps now, but I’ve promised them that, if they’re good for the rest of the day, they can have their dinner in the bear cave as well.
Even in the midst of Hattie and Joe’s crazy toddler days there are pockets of such unbelievable, adorable behaviour that it makes my heart squeeze a bit. Some examples from the past couple of days:
1. Tristan tends to get the kids out of their cots first thing in the morning. On Wednesday he sat down with Joe first in their bedroom and removed his sleeping bag, at which point he immediately walked over to Hattie’s cot and gave her a good morning kiss – and she’d moved over to that side of her cot to receive his kiss. I’ve been reliably informed by many twin mums that we can anticipate some twin battles in the near future, and that once twins start fighting, it can become a regular feature. This prediction makes me even more determined to relish the current and ongoing signs of utter delight in each other. They really are besotted, and their relationship is the loveliest thing ever.
2. On Wednesday night I was putting the kids to bed, and when I zipped Hattie into her sleeping bag I said the same kind of thing as every night: “Good night, Hattie’s feet! Thanks for being such great feet today and letting Hattie run around and play” – and she bent down and gave her two feet a kiss each.
3. On two occasions today, when I was getting Hattie dressed, Joe looked at her admiringly and declared, “Pretty Hattie!”
4. When we leave any location Joe insists upon waving goodbye to any person that we’ve spoken to, even briefly, and pretty much won’t be keen to leave unless each person that he’s waved to has said goodbye back.
5. Both children fail to see why they’d only farewell people – they want to day goodbye to anything that they like. Today they waved and said goodbye to the park, the swings, the bubbles in the bath, and their story books.
Here they are, our loveable little nutters:
And my goodness, they’re full on at the moment! In fact, they were sent to bed without dinner tonight, when they wouldn’t eat what we gave them (they had milk). Their favourite word is “no” at the moment. Seriously, there are some days when it is just as well that they’re pretty cute! Their eating habits are just awful these days – so bad, in fact, that I’m going to be getting some help with their diet from a nutritionist, before they develop scurvy and rickets.
Here are their sweet little faces for your viewing pleasure. Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day!