Civilize the Savages

By Kelly

My two-year-old was eating a bag of snack mix this morning, courtesy of her Daddy’s flight home from Chicago last night. At one point, I turned around and saw a small, wet pile of something on the floor.

“What is that Teyla?” I said, pointing to the quarter-sized mess.

“Gross!” she said, wrinkling her nose.

I guess she doesn’t appreciate honey sesame sticks.

But instead of politely spitting out “the gross” into a garbage can after it offended her taste buds, she spit it onto the carpet, as if she was a cowboy on the range.

Only this range has wall-to-wall carpeting, which now sports a brown stain of gross near my bed.

It was a reminder to me that parenting is many things – but one of its most basic tenants is to civilize the savages.

We teach our children to say  “Please” and “Thank you.” (And in some parts of the country “Yes Ma’am” and “No sir.”) We explain why we wash our hands before we eat, how to sneeze into a Kleenex or bent arm, why it’s not polite to keep slurping on a straw that is bereft of refreshment.

When our children are young, it’s one of the more tedious parts of parenting. “Say excuse me when you do that.” “Aren’t you forgetting the magic word?” “Look me in the eyes when I’m talking to you.”

But at the heart of it, we aren’t just teaching behavior. We’re teaching consideration.

Emily Post has said, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”

That is why I helped Teyla get a paper towel this morning and clean up the “gross” and then deposit it in the waste basket. Not just because I don’t want piles of half-eaten sesame sticks on my carpet. Because I want her to realize her own desires need to be seen in light of others.

And by the time I finished this article? She had sorted the sesame sticks from the snack mix bag and set the remainder in a gentle pile on my floor.

There. Much better. We’re on our way.

Kelly’s six-year-old son happened on the pile five minutes later and ate everything, right off the floor. We work on him next. Read about Kelly’s continuing manner adventures at her personal blog, Love Well.

7 Responses to Civilize the Savages
  1. Megan
    August 4, 2010 | 2:43 pm

    Somewhere among the boxes upon boxes of books that I still haven’t unpacked after 5 years of living here, I’ve got a basic book about manners for kids. The way it’s written, you read the little lesson (which includes the “why” of that particular etiquette rule) and then you set up a practical application for the kids to try. This post reminded me of the book – now I just have to find it – and that now is the time to start using it with Alex. Thanks – great post, and sorry about the PILES. Ew.

  2. Tara
    August 4, 2010 | 3:10 pm

    Great post! I just linked up to it in a post of my own – sort of a tangent but I still thought you should know!

  3. Michael
    August 4, 2010 | 4:30 pm

    Corey got food on an airplane flight? Wow.

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