by Jessica Elliott
We’ve all seen those kids. You know the ones. They race through the store, knocking over merchandise and running into people. The kids holding their noses or loudly exclaiming that they won’t eat that, whatever that is, at a crowded restaurant.
We use adjectives, like wild or rude, to describe them (and their behavior). We denounce their parents for not supervising them. My grandma says that those kids need to be spanked like they used to do in her days, back when kids respected adults. I didn’t spank my own, so I nod and keep silent, and we watch an unruly school age kid shove another down the slide. As parents, we find ourselves saying that we’re glad our own kids don’t act like that. Or do they?
No matter how much discipline or supervision we provide at home, once our kids leave our care, then they have dozens of opportunities to react with (or without) consideration for others. In those moments, they aren’t thinking about our threat of taking away their devices or the speech we gave about bullying. Instead, they fall back, not on our words, but on our actions.
We want to raise decent human beings, which is why we read about all the ways we can do just that. But we’re only human, and over time we react without further explanation to our offspring. With so much going on, how do we encourage respect and ensure it continues when we aren’t around? We can start by being aware of what we expect and how we respond during car rides and meal times.
More than a meal
Years ago, as a harried single mom, I put dinner on the table, then called in my two kids and two of their friends. As soon as they hit the kitchen, my daughter voiced her complaint, “This again?” Someone else chimed in with, “ I don’t like peas, so I’m not going to eat that.”
And I snapped. Not because I wanted them to eat the peas or drool over my crappy meal. No, I wanted a simple thank you and a feeling of gratitude that they had not only food but enough that they could choose what to eat or not to eat.
Dinner was halted and an ultimatum given. When sitting down to a meal the first words out of your mouth should be something positive, showing thanks. It can be a simple “thank you” or a “boy, that smells good.” It has nothing to do with whether you like the meal or not. It’s about respect, consideration for others, and gratitude. Any time you enter a public space (in my house this means any room outside of the bathroom or bedroom), then what you say and do affects others, and you should act accordingly.
These expectations helped at home, but I caught myself responding differently when I wasn’t doing the cooking. I forgot the little eyes watching my reaction to the late appetizer or a mistake in the drive thru. The next time you sit down to eat somewhere, try to observe yourself. When the waitress brings the wrong dish or your dinner host serves shellfish that you’re allergic to, what’s your response? Start with something positive, then request what you need. By modeling respectful behavior and expecting the same from our kids, we give them the skills to be considerate regardless of the meal or situation.
Not just another car ride
For many of us, we spend more time toting around kids, then we do sitting down at the table with them. Cars are great places for speeches. I know, because that’s where I give them. I’m sure some of what I’m saying gets through to my kids, but I think they usually space out after a few minutes. Instead, kids notice everything we don’t want them to, like our impatience, as we hurry down the road, muttering our frustration when we are stuck behind a bus or honking when someone fails to step on the gas at a green light.
The next time you’re in the car, pay attention to how you’re treating other drivers. Are you a considerate driver? Of pedestrians, buses, school zones, and letting people over in heavy traffic? Or do you race through, in a rush, so focused on getting there on time, that you forget the little ears taking in every comment?
Telling our children to be patient when someone walks slowly in front of them or that’s it’s not nice to push people when we’re in a hurry, is good parenting. But if they see us, every morning, frustrated by slow-moving traffic or not respecting traffic laws because we’re late, then what we’re saying doesn’t match up with what we’re doing.
Raising kind and respectful kids starts at home. Supervision and discipline play a role, but our kids learn even more by watching us. Our response to trying situations, like running late for work or that first bite of burnt chicken, sets the stage for how our kids will react to similar scenarios. Last week I caught my daughter eyeing me through the rearview mirror and realized I didn’t want her to repeat what I was saying and doing. Those small reminders are a good thing, just like when my grandma tells me, “these kids are little sponges, just soaking everything up.”
– Jessica Elliott