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How to get children to mind their manners

Sherie Holder-Olutayo

How to get children to mind their manners

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That old adage “Children should be seen and not heard” was constantly drilled into my ears and the ears of most children raised by West Indian parents. It was the mantra of the day back then and it worked.
Of course I may be biased, but most West Indian children of my generation were pretty well mannered, yielding to adult authority, never questioning anything or anyone. That was good, right?
Now that I’m raising my two boys who are very strong-willed, as they grow the issue of discipline and having good manners has come into play. I’m a stickler for saying “thank you”, “excuse me”, “no, thank you”.
I know that I have winced when I’ve seen parents who have no control over their kids as they’ve thrown tantrums or embarrassed them in public.
I remember once being in downtown Manhattan and this little boy was rolling around on the curb and kicking up, and his mother was saying, “Now Jeffrey, we talked about this; you said you were not going to do that, come on now.” I was thinking maybe Jeffrey could use a good smack.
At that point I was looking at her because I could never imagine behaving like that around my mother, let alone in public.
All my mother had to do was give you a look and you froze, and you just knew to get in line. My mum was a great mum, still is, and an even better grandmother.
However, I must admit, I’m still working on perfecting “the look” with my boys.
Perhaps it’s a new generation of kids, but I find I have to repeat myself a few times before the tasks I tell them to do are carried out. My mother says they’re “hardears”, which is a Bajanism for not listening and doing what you’re told.
My older son especially, when I tell him to do something, might ask “Why mummy? Why?”
“Just do what I tell you” is usually my response. But I can’t fault him for questioning me. After all, I do want to raise them to ask questions and have a certain amount of awareness and a strong sense of self.
But I also believe, as I was raised, in the importance of good manners, and discipline, because no one wants to be around children who are rude and unmannerly. The truth is that raising kids to know boundaries and have a sense of behaviour and good values will only serve them well in the future.
So fellow mums, how do you strike the right balance? How do you enforce the rules we were raised with to fit today’s children, who are definitely different from us?
What I’ve come to realize is that they can ask and should ask questions. That’s good. But when question time is over, you still better do what I tell you to do, because I’m still your mum and you can’t question that.
• Adapted from Sherie Holder-Olutayo’s parenting blog,