( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THERE is so much to be gained through the exercise of good manners that it is amazing, in a world where success is such an idol, that greater attention is not paid to training the young in this very important branch of education..
Genuine courtesy, thoughtfulness, consideration for others, are usually the result of what is termed good breeding and are most effective when practiced unconsciously or as a matter of course.
It is quite true that children are apt to reflect their parents both in principles and actions, and they acquire by example nothing so easily as good or bad manners. There are a few resolutions which parents should repeat each day, and one of them is this : "If If I wish my children to be thoughtful and considerate of me and polite to others I must be thoughtful and considerate of them and polite to all with whom I come in contact." In no other phase of home life is example more potent.
In the simple matter of requests, how few people there are, comparatively, who throw any graciousness into their manner of asking favors of children. For instance, a group of women were engaged in preparations for a lawn fete for the benefit of some charity ; the dress of one of them had become disarranged in her arduous efforts in decorating a booth, where-upon she turned to the woman nearest her, saying with a very pleasant smile : "Mrs. Blank, I'm so sorry to trouble you, but have you a pin and will you please fasten this ripped place for me '" A moment later she called out in a peremptory tone to a small boy who was having a grand time with a lot of other youngsters on an adjacent lawn, "Johnnie, come here this minute." Very reluctantly the little fellow sidled up to her, when she continued, "Go straight up to the house and get that ball of twine on my writing desk. Now, don't dilly-dally; I need it right away."
"But, mamma," Johnnie protested, "it's so far to the house, and I've been six times already this morning, can't you wait until we come back from lunch'?"
"Certainly not; go this instant, or I will tell your father not to take you to the football game on Saturday."
Another mother, on a similar occasion : "Henry, dear, mamma is so sorry to take you away from your game, you seem to be having such a nice time, but I cannot hang these beautiful Japanese lanterns until I have more twine. Will you please help us out 2 " adding with a smile, "Let me see ; there are twelve lanterns and only this tiny scrap of string."
Off went Henry at a run to do his mother's bidding, and if his childish mind could have expressed in words what he felt it would have been something after this fashion : "I'm a great boy to help people ; my mother tells me all the time she does not know what she would do without me. She's so sweet, I don't care if I have been to the house six times; those lanterns have to be hung, and I'm the fellow to get the string." This is no self-glorification; he is simply expanding under the influence of recognition and affection; he is glowing with the joy of service; he is but feeling as we all do in an atmosphere of appreciation. Contrast his state of mind with that of Johnnie, who performed his errand with rebellion in his heart and heaviness in his footsteps.
It is the hundred and one small courtesies that add to daily life its sweetness and charm. It is not enough to be merely polite; children should see graciousness as well in the manners of those about them. To the mother who realizes that her home is lacking in this essential I would say : "Do not be discouraged ; begin to-day, and try the effect of extreme courtesy in your own conduct. If there are members in the household older than yourself, make your consideration toward them so marked that it cannot fail to impress the children. Always offer them the most comfortable chair in the room; ask them if the light is agreeable, etc. If you have been negligent in such matters, you will have to overdo in the beginning in order quickly to establish a standard for the children.
An easy and effective method of teaching children good manners is for mamma to play with them; sometimes they are all little girls, and mamma, of course, without being priggish, tries to be just such a little girl as she would like her little girls to be. Sometimes they are all ladies, and the little girls in long skirts visit back and forth with mamma, lunch with her, have afternoon tea and thus acquire niceties of speech and manner which could hardly be given through precept.
The first requisite of good manners is self-forgetfulness. I have seen people whose social opportunities had been extremely limited, appear to better advantage than those who had been accustomed to the usages of polite society all their lives, simply because they had no desire to outshine or impress other people, were good listeners and observant enough not to commit a breach of manners.
Politeness in the home should be a matter of course, and equally a matter of course, should be appreciation. A pleasant sense of obligation should pervade all the household. If Kate has taken a little of her allowance to purchase flowers for the dining table or sitting-room, it is well for mamma to say before all the family: "Kate, your flowers are beautiful; it is very sweet of you to give all of us the benefit of some of your pin money." This will bring a little glow of satisfaction to Kate's heart and will be suggestive to the other children.
I recently heard a party of six or seven women commenting on the lack of manners among children. It was the experience of each that their friendly salutations to the children of their acquaintance were either ignored entirely or received but scant recognition. One woman said: "I try to be charitable in my judgments of all Raising Children, but I must confess there are some who rather repel than attract me. Many appear so indifferent that my heart always goes out to two little girls whom I frequently meet and who always give me a smile and bright greeting.
It is usually a lack of training that makes children habitually negligent in this direction, though we must always bear with the shy, timid child or the dreamy, absent-minded one, whose thoughts may be far away even while she looks at you.
The shy and self-conscious child is at a serious disadvantage, for he is often too timid to do the thing he knows is proper. Such a child should be frequently praised, and opportunities afforded him to express himself in play and word and action.
One mother secured immediate and happy results in several directions by losing no chance to praise judiciously the manners of those about her. For example, she said to the children :
"Whom do you think I met this morning? Little Thelma Dó, and what a dear little girl she is; she always gives me such a pleasant smile and bow, I really enjoy meeting her. I hope you always speak to mamma's friends as pleasantly as she does to me." It is quite true that grown people are very often remiss in the matter of speaking to children. I once heard an old gentleman express enthusiastic admiration for a friend of mine, closing his remarks by saying, "Even when she was a little girl she never passed me on the street without a pleasant bow." When I told my friend of this she laughed heartily and said her reward had come after many years; she said her bows were received with such indifference that at first it required some courage to continue them. After a time, however, it became such a matter of course to her to bow pleasantly to him that she never stopped to consider his manner of response.
This is the great secret of the best manners. It is the being polite as a matter of course; nowhere does habit stand one in better stead.
Almost all affectation, save that which has its origin in a species of nervousness, arises from a desire to impress people in one way or another, and children should be carefully guarded against this demoralizing tendency. It is one thing to desire the approval and affection of those about us; it is quite another to assume various affected poses in an effort to obtain them.
When children are urged to be polite and thoughtful, the primary motive should be the simple oneóbecause it is right; secondly, because it makes others happy and comfortable as well as themselves, and lastly, because only through the exercise of true courtesy can they win love and friendship...