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Three Ways to Raise Kind Children in a Rude World

Why should a child behave, when adults around them don't? This week we're talking about how to respond to kids who are trying to understand a frustrating reality of modern living.

How do you raise well-mannered kids in a “do as I say not as I do” world?

More importantly, how do you make manners something your kids don’t just “do,” but part of who they are?

Several weeks ago, I watched a deleted scene circulating around the Internet from comedian, Louis C.K.’s FX show, “Louie,” that was generating a lot of chatter. 

In the clip entitled “Apologize,” inspired by scenes played out in countless supermarket aisles, Louis C.K. is shopping with the young actresses playing his daughters, handling some less than polite behavior from one of them. In the scene he tries to explain to his resistant daughter why it’s important to apologize when you treat someone badly.

While trying to convince her she needed to apologize, another customer unapologetically crashes the scene with some bad behavior of her own. Like all savvy children everywhere, his daughter protests, “How come she doesn’t have to apologize?” Hilarity ensues. (View the clip here)

The deleted scene inspired a lot of chatter, because it seems like a lot of people are fed up with rampant rudeness. Kids notice everything. To the little girl’s point, why should kids behave themselves, when a whole lot of adults around them clearly don’t? 

This is a frustrating and challenging question for parents. “Because I said so” doesn’t really cover this one very well.

Plus, as a parent I want the building blocks of good manners—compassion and consideration—to be what inspires them to “behave themselves,” not just a desire to toe the line. But to learn this, they’ve got to see it in action. They have to see adults walk the walk. No pressure.

To raise kind children in a rude world, I stick to three principles:

  • Choose your village carefully. 

The old adage is that it takes a village to raise a child, and I feel it’s correct. To reinforce lessons I’m trying to teach my kids, I choose to surround them with people who treat people the way I want my kids to treat people.

  • Forgive, but don’t excuse. 

When my kids want to know why someone is getting away with behaving in a way that isn’t acceptable in our family, I try to remind them that we don’t know what happens in that individual’s home, or what their life is like. We don’t know if they’ve had a bad day, week, year, etc. This doesn’t mean that we excuse how they are behaving, but by starting—perhaps radically—with empathy, it sets my kids up to react by continuing to treat others well, according to their values, rather than being drawn into retaliation that simply perpetuates the vicious cycle of rudeness. As an adult, I struggle with this one all the time (especially at the gym, but that's a whole other story), but when I chose to get down in the mud, I inevitably regret it. I share that with my kids in ways they can understand at their ages.

  • Stick to the Golden Rule. 

Still when people treat us badly, it’s frustrating. The Golden Rule stills reigns. I am teaching my kids (and myself) daily that we can’t control how others behave; we can only control how we behave, and how we chose to treat others.

How are you raising your kids well in a rude world?

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