Well-Mannered Children Are Not Bred

Growing up, I loved reading a column in the Grand Forks Herald written by Marilyn Hagerty who uses the format of writing to her sister, Shirley, as a platform for sharing her opinions on various aspects of life.  While home last weekend to celebrate holiday fun with my family in Grand Forks, I had a few moments to read her latest titled “After Christmas, all well bred children write thank you notes.”  I agreed with almost everything she wrote – except for the premise that well-mannered children are bred.

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I want well-mannered children, so I have attempted to train my children to be such. I do agree that one of the many qualities of well-mannered children is that they write thank you notes. I think that well-mannered adults should write thank you notes as well. I do this better some years than others, but I try to convey thanks to those who show kindness to my family or myself as it occurs. I have also attempted to instill this in my children. Being the digital natives that they are, a thank you text, email, ecard, or Facebook post seems to suffice for them. And this is sufficient at times; however, often a handwritten note of thanks conveys the level of gratitude that we feel much more so than a text message does. A phone call can do this as well; however, the handwritten note remains the highest level of polite thanks.

Saying Thanks: After reading the article last week, I determined that this year we would do it correctly.  I summoned the children, told them that this was a top-priority task, and then set off to do something else.  The boy – a witty young pup – remarked about my attention to another task when I clearly had thank you notes to write as well.  This was easy for him to determine by the post-it note on my computer with names of family and parishioners who had gifted us during the Christmas season.  I am happy to report that all of our thank you notes are now written and in envelopes with addresses…now to get them to post office.  I rarely keep stamps around anymore.  The ones I have are outdated in terms of pricing.  Today may be the day that I send them.

Is January 7th too late to send the thank you notes for Christmas presents?  No way!  Etiquette experts disagree on timeliness of thank you notes for all occasions.  Some even say that couples can have up to one year after their weddings to send the thank you notes.  The well-mannered say thank you and believe that it truly is better late than never in all instances related to thanks.  The point is to be polite. Obviously, the sooner the better is a great rule, but saying thank you has not timeline.  And the relationship that the recipient has with the giver can definitely dictate this as well as the method used.

Are well-mannered children bred or trained?

As I thought about this question over the past week, the raising of horses kept coming to mind.  Horses are bred in the same way that children are bred.  As I formulated this idea more, I asked the boy the question.  He launched into an answer that I asked him to email to me.  Instead of paraphrasing him (and getting things wrong which makes the boy unhappy…accuracy is something he values), I asked his permission to share his thoughts on this blog.

siahThe boy’s thoughts:  Personally, I think that you can’t say that children are either bred or trained to be well-mannered. This actually goes back to a large debate between psychologists called “Nature vs. Nurture;” the debate is over whether or not a child’s physical and psychological development is influenced more by their genetics or by their environment. I believe – along with a good majority of the scientific community – that they are equally important in a child’s development. This brings us back to the original question of how children become (or don’t become) well-behaved. There are children who are probably born with a predisposition to be disruptive and raucous (in the same way that there are people who are simply born with a predisposition to alcoholism), and also children who are born with a predisposition to being quiet and well-mannered. The parents had little to do with this besides passing their genetic code to their child, and so they can be stuck with little kids who are just plain difficult to handle.

There is, however, another side to this; nurture, the environment, or as my mom has crudely put it, training. The way parents raise their children can have a huge effect on how well-behaved they are. Even a kid who is predisposed to being disruptive can be taught that they can’t always act like that. In the same way, a child who is normally quiet and well-mannered could grow up to be very disruptive. This is not simply in the way the parents act toward their child or say to their child, but also in the way they live their lives when their child is around them. If two parents shout and argue with each other in front of their kid, this could have a detrimental effect on the child’s psychological development: “If my parents act this way, then it’s okay for me to act this way.” It may also be important to note that there are some parts of “nurture” that happen beyond the parental view, but do not lie entirely outside of the parents’ control – friends. A child learns the way it is “okay” to act when they see their cool friends doing something that their friends say are “okay.” Parents need to keep in mind that things they allow their child to be exposed to – friends, movies, video games – will have a psychological effect on their child, as well as the way they act towards and around their child.

Thus, we come to the conclusion: although their are children who are predisposed to being either well-behaved or not, the way that they are raised can significantly change that predisposition. In my mother’s words “Children may be bred, but it all comes down to how you train them.”

Author’s note: After that conclusion, I need not write anything else, but I am curious to know what readers think.  Keep in mind that the debate has been around since the beginning of the psychology trade, so I doubt that we will come to a definitive decision here on this blog…but we will certainly have fun trying!

2 Comments

Filed under Education, Parenting

2 responses to “Well-Mannered Children Are Not Bred

  1. Rosemary Weis

    So nice to read an article about thank you cards. As a grandparent, I can tell you how many of my peers are upset that the families take the holiday gifts for granted. In these rough times and on fixed incomes we may not be able to do as much as we’d like but all of it is from the heart. A child should be taught that a thank you card or email is important respect to show a grandparent for a gift. As I have often said “It doesn’t matter what your SAT score is when you cannot even write a thank you card to your grandmother for the red sweater at Christmas.” Your thoughts echoed those from my book. Rosemary Weis, author – Welcome to Grandparenting (available Amazon and Lulu.com.

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