Saturday, 16 October 2010

The first 'word' I learned in sign language

was 'thankyou'. I do not know a great deal of sign language and, not having had to use it much in recent years, I tend to forget what little I do know. That said I do remember the important things, "Please", "thankyou", my name sign (which naturally includes 'cat') and a few other things.
It is the 'please' and 'thankyou' I consider to be really important. They are words I would try to learn in any language - and I would make sure I used them.
Yesterday there was an article in our state newspaper about these words and those other words, "excuse me" and "may I". They are the good manners words and it seems they are not being taught as they should be, or as thoughtful human relations demand. There was the suggestion that parents feel they do not have the time to teach these things and that they are increasingly looking to day-care, pre-school and school to teach these things and related social behaviours. Some children are apparently being sent to specialist teachers of 'etiquette'.
I said nothing to my father but waited for him to reach the article. He was drinking his mid-morning cup of tea when he reached that point in the paper. He then exploded. As a former school principal he tends to have strong views on children, manners - and parental responsibilities. It is not, he contended, the role of a teacher to teach good manners. Good manners should be taught by parents and reinforced by teachers.
We discussed this over lunch and I thought of the schools I had worked in, most of them were schools for children with special needs. The first one was where I learned my limited sign language. It was a residential nursery school for children with profound hearing loss. They were very young but the residence was their home during term time and the housemothers were all very conscious of the need for good manners. Those children were orderly, polite and watched out for one another. I needed to learn that "thankyou" sign fast or they would have looked disapprovingly at me.
Every other school for children with special needs placed special emphasis on good manners. It is essential if you need other people to help you at times. Those schools did not specificially teach good manners but they reinforced what they expected the parents or houseparents to teach. It worked. Parents knew what their responsibilities were and, to the best of my knowledge, never questioned that they were part of the teaching process. It was all part of the cooperative approach.
My nephews are, thankfully, known as extremely well mannered. My sister and her husband, both working, expect it and they worked on it when the boys were small. The Whirlwind is also extremely well mannered. Her father is a widower. He has a very heavy workload but he has found the time to ensure that his child has been taught to be considerate and caring of others. I know other polite children whose parents both work. "The manners thing is hard work but worth it" one of them once told me. Yes, of course it is worth it. It is less trouble in the end. These children know the limits.
I think that might be what bothered my father and me the most. It is parents who need to teach manners initially. They have to be the ones to show children the limits of social behaviour. It is not something that can be taught solely in a communal setting. "Please" and "thankyou" are essentially individual acts of behaviour even when there is a group request or acknowledgement of thanks.
My father thanks me frequently, many times a day. I try to do the same in return. It is not meaningless. I do appreciate it when he empties the food scraps into the compost bin or holds the door back so I can get the laundry trolley out easily. He appreciates the meals I cook and the fact that I do the ironing without the scorch marks he would be likely to leave. It is part of living together.
Will the children who are apparently growing up without basic social behaviours be able to live together in the same way?


Joanna St. James said...

Jeez I sure hope so, if not that will lead to another invisible line of segregation the well mannered and the mannerless. Actually I think its already happening but I am saving the world one child at a time. Okay just my son but he makes me beam when he says his please and thank you he just turned 2

Anonymous said...

Start at birth, by three they have the basci skills of life, from then on it is easy! The best teaching aid is examples.
By three my two knew that please and thank you were important, or to respond with a smile, nod etc if they had a mouthful or were somewhere words were not appropriate. (The latter came about when I took them to meetings.)
Mind you, it needed some reinforcement at times!

catdownunder said...

Which just goes to show you are good mother Joanna - and that it can be done! (He sounds delicious!)

I have a feeling Judy that some parents do not have the basic skills...sad.

Interestingly I had a 'thankyou' for the poem I put up a couple of days back - in Spanish...just the one word. Made all the difference.
Thanks for the comments.

Rachel Fenton said...

I think I already boasted how my daughter was asked to say the magic words by the magician at a party she went to aged 3. She said please and thank you. Like Joanna, my son's just turned two and he uses the magic words.

I wonder about the manners thing myself yet so many seem to get so far whilst being downright rude. Rudeness seems to pass for confidence and confiedence passes all too often for ners when in fact that sore of confidence is often arrogance and that is another form of rudeness...

Well, Cat. Thank you for your post and for always having something thought provoking for me to roll around the grey maze that is my brain.