January 27, 2011

Raising Socially Sensitive Children in a Sometimes Unkind World

This has weighed heavy on my mind for several weeks now.  I've tried to instill a sense of, oh I don't know...chivalry?  etiquette?  common decency in my kids.  But more and more often I'm finding that the rules for friendship and kindness are not serving them in their social dealings.  In fact, it's making them complete underdogs who are loosing faith in friendship. 

I always assumed that so long as my kids were, themselves, kind and generous, slow to anger and quick to express their feelings and needs to their companions, they would fair okay in the world.  That other children would appreciate the kindness and want to give it back.  But I think I might have been wrong.

I was raised to put others first.  To care for friends as if they were delicate, precious gems that needed constant polishing and admiration.  That's just common etiquette where I come from.  Granted, I do come from the South where, at least when I was a girl, there were still Mannerly Me Classes where young children went to learn things like how to hold your teacup, properly answer the phone, the art of writing thank you notes, and how to be a good guest.  In that world, not only was the host or hostess completely concerned with putting the guest first, but the guest was completely concerned with never making the host feel burdened.  When everyone was putting everyone else first, things went swimmingly well.

But that scenario only works when everyone abides by it.  When one does and one doesn't, someone gets walked all over.  These are the scenarios that my kids are all coming to me with these days.  The scenario of, "So and so tried to pick a fight with me over that and I didn't want a fight.  But I didn't want to be mistreated either.  What could I have done differently?  I can't be a good guest without letting someone be mean to me!"

It's tricky to discuss these things because as a parent, I feel it's important to not make your child feel that they are always right and the other person is bad.  I want them to think through the experience, digest it for a while from everyone's perspective, and then make a plan of action without judging the other person. Something that expresses their needs, but leaves the other person's dignity in tact.

But that whole mature conversation thing is just not working in these times.  Time and time again the kids report that the other kids either says they don't care about their needs or that they just plain refuse to have a discussion.  So then what?  I'd like to tell them that they can go to the other kids parent for help, but I've done such a bang up job teaching my kids the ugliness of the chronic tattler that they won't tell the parent.  They hold it in in the name of kindness and then explode upon arrival at home over being so cruelly mistreated.  I can facilitate discussions between the kids, but then I risk making the other parent feel like I'm overstepping my bounds and parenting their kids for them.

So when manners get your kids no where, when they feel mistreated by kids and parents alike, and when you've seen glimpses of playtime and know that they are right, that kindness has in fact lost its place in this world, what do you do?  I just can't bring myself to teach them to get in there and be demanding.  I can't do it.  And they call me on it when I advise them to behave in a way that is even slightly counter to our family culture.  Last week, when Hannah Jane felt ostracized by her friend, his mom and I both told her to play like she didn't need him and then he'd realize what he was missing.  When we got home, she told me she was disappointed in me.  That I teach her to treat others the way she would want to be treated and neglecting him the way he neglected her would not be in keeping with my own teachings and that she had no desire to be as unfriendly to him as he had been to her.  She's just so darn wise. 

So in the end, what can I do other than just resolve to love them, tell them I'm proud of the people they are, and hold them when they need to cry over the meanness in the world?  I've managed to raise three gentle spirits living in a rough and tumble world and it seems there is no haven in this world for a tender heart other than a mother's arms.  We'll keep preparing to be good hosts and good guests, we'll explain our rules for etiquette when we have visitors, and we'll cling to whatever friends we find that  make us feel better rather than worse.  It's a tricky world out there for a peaceful kiddo.  But I think they're going to make it.


  1. Anonymous27.1.11

    Oh you blessed woman-mother-angel! You are raising the "safe haven arms" of the following generation. I wish there was some fast way to turn young people's heads heart-ward as your wonderful kids already demonstrate, but the only solution I can think of is prayer. And I'm praying that at least one child, sometime soon in their lives, will rise the challenge of emulating your kids' behavior - and thereby start a trend. I think of how the Master suffered personal insults and indignities from a man for 24 years until finally, brought low with sickness, he begged the Master's forgiveness after receiving healing aid and comfort from Him. Keep leading onward Skyla, you are not just teaching them to be good people, you are teaching them how to teach. ///Darrell

  2. Darrell, you are always so kind. I suppose it should have popped instantly to mind to use the life of the Master as an example of kindness in the face of indignity, but it never occurred to me. Thanks for the idea. And for the nurturing words. You've no idea how much they mean.

  3. i am sorry you are dealing with this daily. this isn't the first post you have written about unkind kiddos are you. i am sorry you are encountering that so very often. i often wonder what i will do when my boys encounter meanness. i don't know the answer. i don't know how to make it better the next time.
    you are doing a marvelous job with your children! i pray you find kindness coming back to you nine fold very soon.

  4. sorry, i meant, "around you", NOT are you.


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