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Teaching good manners/behavior without fostering a sense of superiority

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How do you do this? My kids are generally well-behaved, nice children. I spend a lot of time talking about and encouraging good behavior. But I'm worried that as they get older, they will start to develop a sense of superiority.


Take manner of dress, for example. I have my kids dress in relatively modest outfits. When my daughter asks why, what do I say? The real answer is that I don't want her dressing trashy and attracting the wrong type of attention as she gets older. But I don't want her to translate that into her thinking tha tour neighbor's kid must be a trashy person because she wears a two-piece bathing suit. What about when we see someone with facial piercings? How do I explain that I don't think it is appropriate without disparaging the person?


Behavior is similar. I feel like my daughter is starting to look down on kids who don't behave well. Kids who are rowdy or talk out of turn or are nasty to other kids (some of which is normal kid stuff, and some of which is out of line). She sees this behavior and we discuss why it is not appropriate but I feel like my dd is starting to think of these kids as "bad kids."


I want my kids to know right from wrong and I expect/enforce appropriate language and dress (as defined by me), but I don't want them walking around thinking they're better than others because they stick to the rules.


Any thoughts?

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I read somewhere that the purpose of manners is not to be superior but to make others feel comfortable. I thought that was a nice way of focusing on doing something nice for someone else rather than focusing on self importance.


As far as dress, we simply shrug it off as others having different standards. It hasn't been a big issue for us yet.

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Hummmm, I'm not sure I've tackled this, but particularly when people are loud and use swear words at the park, I tell kiddo I feel sorry for them because there parents didn't take the time to teach them correct manners. Not sure if this will cut down on superiority, because I am using it to keep his manners good and not feel hostile towards people who are being selfishly loud at the park (and really, do teens need to come to the only set of swings in a 40 acres park, "suck face" and swear?).

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Have you ever seen the movie Blast from the Past with Brendan Frazier? His character was raised, isolated, for 30 years in a bomb shelter. When he emerges into modern society he is very misunderstood. At one point two of the modern people are discussing his "odd" behavior and one of them says:


He said, good manners are just a way of showing other people we have respect for them. See, I didn't know that, I thought it was just a way of acting all superior. Oh and you know what else he told me?...I know, I mean I thought a "gentleman" was somebody that owned horses. But it turns out, his short and simple definition of a lady or a gentleman is, someone who always tries to make sure the people around him or her are as comfortable as possible.


This has helped me re-frame my teaching on manners. Manners are not the be-all and end-all. They are simply a means to the end - of showing respect to others and ensuring the comfort of others. When the focus is on ourselves, it's easy to feel superior. But when the heart is about serving others, it will come across in our manners.

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I believe I can discuss a person's behavior which I don't agree with with my dc without making any commen ton the value of the person him or herself. I don't believe that I have to think everything is okay or an equally valid choice, but my dc still don't have to think they are superior.


If you balance it with constant modeling of putting others first and treating them with respect, as well as expecting them to do the same, you will be fine. If you teach love above all things, you can teach them to have your standards but not adopt an air of superiority.


Here's a really little example: When they are young, we teach them hard and fast rules: you wait for everyone to be served before eating, for example. When they get older, I teach them when it is appropriate to skip those: when you are with othes who all start eating, you don't sit there not eating, as it will make them feel uncomfortable.


(Some of it goes to our religious beliefs, which make it very easy to teach that my dc are nothing special because they have certain beliefs, but I won't go into that. That's a huge part of it for us, though.)

Edited by angela in ohio
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Guest Dulcimeramy

How old are your children?


I used to wonder about this, when my boys were little. My manners and behavior standards (as well as my values concerning media and dress) are from another time and place. I'm raising Little Victorian Puritans on the Prairie. Can't help it, that's who I am.


I thought they would be snobs if I didn't find some way to prevent it. But it hasn't turned out that way at all. Do you know why? They hit puberty.


Here is the sad truth about most boys going through puberty: They are Not Nice.


They are sometimes smelly, self-absorbed, thoughtless, dirty, and rude. (Yes, I do love them anyway. It is just another phase and I hug them and kiss them almost as much as when they were little. Actually, I find them kind of pitiful and sweet because they seem to be a mess against their will. I remember those feelings and it breaks my heart that my boys have to go through it, too, but mostly they are doing very well.)


My point is, a boy can assess some things for himself when puberty hits. He knows he's awkward, face broke out, hair greasy, funny-smelling, and confused. He is not going to feel superior to the other children without help from you.


So don't help him feel superior. Just love him as he is and model loving others as they are. And mention from time to time that everybody has their zits and inner awkwardness. If that's true, no one is above anyone else. Aren't you glad I taught you manners, son, so you don't have to look as awkward as you feel. At least not as often.


And then when he emerges out the other side, as my oldest son is doing, he no longer feels 'better than.' That was a childish attitude. He felt that way when he was 10 years old, but like the Apostle Paul he has put away childish things. Now he just feels blessed to have some tools that his friends don't have, and that's all that home training is. Just tools to navigate society. Confidence to love others better without fearing looking like a fool.


Notice and accept your child's own faults. Acknowledge your own faults and model humility. Teach them not to speak ill of their friends but instead to look for something to praise and admire. It will work out.

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Guest Dulcimeramy

Not to hog your thread, but I was reminded of a conversation we had here awhile back so I went to find it. (December 2008) Someone wanted to discuss how to handle the cultural trends that are harmful and ugly as we raise counter-cultural kids. I said something then that I want to c&p here, for my own benefit more than anyone else's. I think it goes along with what Angela was saying above.


This is all on my mind right now because we've uncovered a big ol' pocket of UGLY in a group that thought was more conservative. This is one of my sons' first trips through exposure to some nasty realities and it is so hard.


Anyway, here is what I put in that other thread:

I know exactly what you mean, and this kind of thinking will eat you up if you let it. I speak from experience. I spent several years looking around me, saying, "Hey! This is not the world I wanted for my kids! What is wrong with everyone!!!"


What has worked for me:


Drop the expectations. Yes, families should be sound, schools should be institutes of learning, libraries should be peaceful, quiet halls filled with excellent books, churches should be sober-minded and saintly, billboards should be nonexistent and televisions should be nowhere.


Not gonna happen. Not in our lifetime. We are here, now. Why? I don't know. But all the wistfulness in the world is not going to beam us to Ma Ingalls' front parlor where the children are studying diligently and sewing their seams. We're here now, and we simply must accept it.


Beyond acceptance, I find that service helps. Not the idea that we are going to share our wonderful, educated and dignified selves with the world in the hopes of elevating it! No, that would be very wrong LOL and feeding into the prideful and self-pitying feeling that we're trying to address.


Real service, where we get as dirty and tired as we can in attempts to share and give. Jesus said we'd always have the poor with us. There you go: one thing that will never change! The poor are always with us!


As we serve, we quit focusing on ourselves. We spend less time on our differences and impossible desires. We're solving problems. We're meeting good people who have NOTHING in common with us other than a desire to help our fellow man. That's a healthy situation. The other healthy thing is that we are constantly reminded what is REAL. Food, clothing, shelter, mothers, babies, sick and elderly folk, people needing help and hope....that stuff is real. My good manners and morals and my excellent homeschool are terrific but they are not the stuff of eternity. The things in our society that irk me are just temporal, too.


Above all, don't let your kids hear you despair about imaginary "good old days." They need to see all the good that there is to see, right now. This is their childhood. It isn't the childhood you hoped to give them, but they can't help that. Don't teach them to always be wishing for some time or place that is better than where they are.

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