goodManners: Watching what you say A lesson on respect that should start with parents

A few days ago, on the playground, I overheard two women discussing an incident where a grade-school child made a disparaging comment about another child’s intelligence. I was a little surprised at how they choose to assess the situation. Basically the sentiment was “what can you really do – that’s just how kids behave sometimes.”

I agree that, in reality, that is how kids behave sometimes. However, I don’t agree that there is nothing you can do about it.

As a parent, I personally believe in choosing my battles with my children and striving to maintain an appropriate sense of humor.

The other day, my child decided to run errands with me in her colorful rain boots, bright tights, shorts and two mis-matched t-shirts. The ensemble was then complimented with numerous necklaces.

She had a smile from ear to ear and felt so good about her outfit. As much as I wanted to suggest another outfit I decided in the grand scheme of things this was not worth a battle.

A child making unkind comments about another person is a battle worth addressing. Unkind comments are not simply rude, but are frequently hurtful.

They usually begin rather innocently. A child may notice that someone’s physical appearance is not the same as theirs, or someone may talk with an unfamiliar accent, or your child might loudly voice his opinion that a certain food is disgusting.

Such behavior is normal for very young children. It usually requires a calm, simple explanation from an adult.

For example, “Yes – Jodi, sometimes other people do talk or look differently than we do, but that’s OK. Being different makes each of us special. How do you think you would feel if someone said you look different, or funny?”

Taking the time to provide an explanation sets a solid foundation for what is socially acceptable behavior. You may have to repeat some explanations, but after awhile young children catch on.

By the latter part of preschool, and certainly by grade-school, children should know what is, and is not hurtful behavior towards another person. Children in this age group may have participated in the generation of negative gossip, or have been on the receiving end.

The goal is to teach children to be polite and respectful. One of the best ways to address the issue of disparaging comments is by simply talking to your child, asking questions and listening.

Sometimes this may feel like “pulling teeth”, but it is worth the effort. Timing is important, but ask what happened at school. Listen to the stories your children tell you. Ask if anyone got in trouble, or how everyone is getting along with each other. Usually, you will begin to understand the “cast of characters” and know who specifically to ask about.

This is an excellent opportunity to discuss how other people feel when unkind comments are made. You can teach your child to not participate in perpetuating unkind behavior. The old adage – If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all – is a valuable lesson that has withstood the test of time. Those who make the effort to be respectful and try to find the best in others are usually rewarded with a rich and meaningful social life.