AN AUTHOR OF a book on child development once related a story that motivated me to write this article. She described a scenario, which I believe is familiar to many of us. Her story went like this,
While having dinner at our friends’ house, their five-year-old, a child born to older parents, was racing around the dining room table on her Big Wheel. I could not hear myself think, let alone hear the conversation around the table. I wondered; why do they let her do this? Isn’t someone going to ask her to stop? Apparently, nobody did. I finally did, as her mother and father looked doubtful. I gently suggested to the young girl that she find something a little quieter to do so we could hear each other talk. She then chose the rocking horse with the screeching springs, set right at the corner of the table. I surrendered. Later I ponder who is this child to my friends that they live their lives this way, trapped in a child-generated noise tunnel? In every way, my friends are sensible people. Why are they letting their child, a lovely little girl, give us such a big headache?
Another scenario was even more interesting. A parent described his son as follows:
At four years of age, my son was…too young for school, too big for his playpen, too small to hit, not old enough to go to jail— and one hundred percent rebellious.
The Roots of Behavioral Problems
We will consider the two most probable roots of these behavioral problems:
1. The time for parenting has been cut drastically.
Well, if you are tired of the above epidemic, let us consider how we can together fix whatever needs to be fixed. First, listen to what the experts have to say.
Parenting guru Diane Ehrensaft pointed out a potent insight, “One of the most important factors that makes the phenomenon of parenting both remarkable and torturous for parents today: The time to parent has been cut drastically, inevitably leaving parents barely enough time to examine their children’s—as well as their own—psychology, emotions, and inner thoughts about what is appropriate and what isn’t. This may lead to confusion among parents when making crucial decisions about their children’s manners.
Ehrensaft went on to explain, despite earlier research claims that America was moving into a period of more leisure time and shorter work weeks, that work time in America has been increasing over the last decades. Although such has been the case, parents must bear in mind that at the end of the day they are the ones that will be held responsible in raising their children in the right direction. In this respect, Allah has made it clear and explicit:
O You who believe! Save yourself and your families from a [Hell] Fire, the fuel of which is men and stones. [Surat Al-Tahrim, 66:6]
2. Parents have tossed manners aside.
According to marriage and family therapist Jeffrey Murrah, in raising children each generation re-evaluates what they were taught. Some items are retained; others are tossed aside as “something from the past” needing update, validation and modernization. One such area deserving closer scrutiny is manners.
Unfortunately, some baby-boomer-era parents have tossed manners aside. Those parents often later regret having taken such actions. Examine the hadiths below, and determine the degree of regret one might be facing if the manners of the children under your care are being taken lightly.
Abu Al-Darda’ reported that Allah’s Messenger said,
Nothing is heavier in weight on the Scale of Deeds [on Judgment Day] than one’s good manners. (Tirmidhi)
Also, Abu Hurairah reported that
Allah’s Messenger when asked: “And what is most likely to send people to Paradise? He said, ‘Being conscious of Allah and good manners.’” (Tirmidhi)
Let’s Take a Closer Look
In looking at the issue of parenting time and their state of being “spread too thin,” Ehrensaft explained that parents of today are still straddled with the same responsibilities for raising children as were their mothers and fathers before them. The absence of extended families to pick up the slack is a common phenomenon in North America, primarily due to physical distance or because grandparents themselves are busy working. Unfortunately, we are raising a generation of “hurried children” who are rushed from day care to school to day care, or from one activity to another.
At the same time, what is more confusing–we ourselves are “hurried parents.” That means we have only precious little time to perform our parenting duties. At the end of the day, we tend to be stressed out and make inappropriate decisions, as exemplified in the story at the beginning of this article. This indulgence may be due primarily to guilt on our part that we have not spent enough time with our children. Or, perhaps we have been less than kind and accepting parents.
In looking at manners, Murrah noted that there are two types to consider. There are (1) external manners, otherwise known as “etiquette” and (2) internal manners, which deal with respecting other people.
Children can be readily taught etiquette. Many of the rules we learn at home, in pre-school and in religious institutions deal with forms of etiquette. Practicing etiquette is important and it does make one’s pathway through life smoother in this world and most importantly in the Hereafter. In this life etiquette is required in dealing with the legal system, medical services, education, and the public services. If you don’t believe in practicing etiquette in public places, try cutting in line, for example, at the driver’s license office!
The importance of practicing manners is unquestionably important. This is further supported by the following hadith:
Abu Hurairah, said, “I heard Allah’s Messenger say, ‘The best among you in Islam are those with the best manners, so long as they develop a sense of understanding.’” (Bukhari)
Get to the bottom of minding your child’s manners.
One of the earlier quotes I remember learning at college went like this, “Children are natural mimics who act like their parents despite every effort to teach them good manners.” I do not remember now who said it, but I continue to see people’s behavior validate this maxim, regardless of who they are and what background they have come from.
Based on the Quranic verse quoted above (66:6), as well as on using worldly knowledge and observation, it is clearly evident that there is a relationship between parenting and children’s manners.
Untangling the State of Confusion among Parents and Resolving their Time Issue
To further illustrate the state of parents’ confusion, allow me to tell you the rest of the story that the author of the child development book told at the beginning of this article. The rest of the story is as follows,
I am back in my friends’ living room and their daughter is back too—on her Big Wheel. I might not have looked so much askance at their parenting if they had simply recognized how unreasonable [this disruption] was or that it was not in their child’s best interest to allow her to do what she pleased, when she pleased, in the name of creative, free expression, and adult-like autonomy.
My friends might have intervened more effectively and asked their daughter to stop if they could have seen her as more than a young precious gem incapable of being told “No,” and that she could be redirected. They might have felt more at ease to ask their daughter to think about others—if they had recognized that while their daughter was seeking to be the center of attraction, still she might also welcome someone curbing her self-centeredness.
By asking their daughter to switch over to a quieter activity, this would be a better option for helping her develop her own care, concern, and awareness for others and for moving her out of a very self-centered behavior.
Manners are a sensitive awareness to the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use. Emily Post
Parental Use of Quality Time
Busy parents must take to heart the dictum, “Quality time is an antidote to absence of time.” Parents must try to make sure that every waking moment of the child’s life in the parents’ presence is filled with stimulation, fulfillment, and access to a parent’s undivided attention. Even more effective: “Four hands are better than two.” For example, mother and father can both listen to their daughter’s story, even if it means to risk leaving the soup to boil over… (Diane Ehrensaft)
The reality for most parents in North America remains that there is simply not much time to be with their children. Incidentally, Susan Ginsberg (University of Nebraska) suggested that quality family time does not need to have a specific agenda or planned activity. This time can be spontaneous and varied in length from a few minutes to several hours depending on the situation. Here are some of her practical suggestions:
- Taking the time to just talk to your child is very important to building an open and honest relationship. Building an environment where children are free to discuss any topic of concern needs to begin while the child is very young.
- In addition to talking with your child, remember to listen as well. If your child wants to tell you something, stop and give him or her your undivided attention. Your child’s thought or need to share it may be gone in a matter of moments.
- Stimulate children’s curiosity and interest by asking lots of why and how questions. This helps children learn to verbalize their thoughts and feelings.
- Allow children to talk about themselves and what they like to do, their feelings and concerns, and how they feel about themselves. This will help to build an environment of trust and acceptance.
- Read to your child. In addition to reading, encourage them to explore and discover the world around them. Reading to children about something they have seen or done is often interesting to children. Talk with your child about what you have just read. Reading together encourages children’s interest in reading.
- Go places and do things together. Visit parks, libraries, the zoo, museums and other places of interest. Allow children to have a part in the planning of these outings so that the expectation and experience becomes a joint activity.
- Give special attention to providing experiences in seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and feeling things that are new, different, unique, beautiful, exciting and fun. This may be something as simple as introducing a new food and allowing the child to help prepare the food or allowing your child to touch and smell a beautiful flower that is not commonly found in your part of the country.
- Learning to do a hobby together can be an exciting time for both you and your child. Allow the child to express his or her creativity in the project. You may want to offer to help with various parts of the project. Do not be offended, however, if the child rejects your offer. Remain supportive and encourage your child to try new and different approaches to resolving problems.
- Time spent working a puzzle, throwing a ball, helping with homework or helping select a dress is as important as the time spent together when the child was an infant.
Managing Your Child’s Manners
By all reports, adults are becoming ruder, and children aren’t learning manners either. 82% of Americans polled think children’s manners are worse today than when they were children, and they’re concerned about this. (a poll report)
Here are some tips from Susan Dunn to teach your children good manners from early on. You must get started right away.
- In order to respect him- or herself, a child needs to learn to respect their parents first. Manners and respect are inseparable.
- Start by modeling. If you want your child to treat you with respect, then treat your child with respect. Your child must see you setting a good example.
- No interrupting adult conversation after the age of 3-4—unless it be a dire emergency.
- Addressing adults by their titles, not by their first names.
- No throwing of temper tantrums when things don’t go their way.
- Teach one skill at a time. Start with telephone manners, and then progress to table manners, or vice versa.
- Catch them doing it right and praise them. Learning skills like these takes constant reinforcement, particularly if they are around other children who are unmannerly. Praise your child often (and specifically) even after they seem to have mastered it.
- Be patient with lapses; reinforcing the desired behavior may take a lot of repetition. Don’t reprimand the child in public, however; this would be bad manners on your part.
- If the child plainly forgets, you can ask a question which will prompt them. If he forgets to extend his hand, and say, “Al-Salamu Alaikum,” when meeting an adult, then say quietly, “What do we do when we meet someone older?” This gives the child the chance to show that he is smart and to feel good when he remembers!
The key to managing your child’s manners is to untangle one’s own state of uncertainty about parenting, to make use of quality time in a practical way, and most importantly to create awareness among our children about their social surroundings. Numerous hadith have also indicated the importance of manners, and they constantly remind us that Allah has promised Paradise to those with good manners.
So, help your child to achieve the ultimate goal in the hereafter, while at the same time to live a pleasant life in this world. In fact, many experts will tell you that your child will be at a serious disadvantage if he or she isn’t taught good manners and appropriate social skills right from the beginning.
An ill-mannered child is a turn-off to adults and kids alike. So, help your child to be well-mannered so that he or she will be loved by Allah and by people, as well. Keep in mind that a well-mannered child will benefit you even when you’re in the grave by constantly invoking Allah’s mercy on you.