I want to write about manners today, but it sounds so old-fashioned so I thought I’d call them social skills instead! Last week my daughter came home from school saying her buddy doesn’t like her. For those who aren’t familiar with the ‘buddy’ concept, all the little kids at school get allocated an official buddy – an older student who’s supposed to look out for them in the playground. So I asked her why she thinks her buddy doesn’t like her and she told me she saw her buddy at the bubbler on Friday but she didn’t say ‘hello’. And I thought why is it that we put so much emphasis on teaching kids ‘please’ and ‘thankyou’ when really saying ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ are so much more important.
Saying ‘hello’ to another person is the most basic way of acknowledging their presence. It’s almost foundational to society, because when you say hello to someone, whether you know them or not, you’re recognising your shared humanity. If you think that sounds over the top, next time you go through the supermarket checkout make an effort to say ‘hello’ and make eye contact with the person serving you and see the difference it makes to how they treat you.
And goodbyes are also really important because when we say ‘goodbye’ we let the other person know that we care whether or not we see them again. We say, ‘See you next week’ or ‘Catch you round’ or ‘I’ll call you’. Or we let people know that we care about them by saying, ‘Take care’ or ‘Drive safely’ or ‘Have a good holiday’. And they’re small things to say, miniscule really, but they’re ways of showing care for each other and valuing the other person’s presence. Sadly as people interact more through devices and less with the people around them, it seems like some of those basic courtesies are going out the window. That’s why I think we have to be quite deliberate about teaching them to our kids.
It’s also important to remember that something as simple as saying ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ is not necessarily easy for a child. I was a very shy child and my daughter is quite shy so she finds it quite hard to say ‘hello’ to people she doesn’t know very well. In that case, the worst thing you can do is make fun of the child, or their shyness. If I had been given a dollar every time an adult said to me ‘What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?’ I would have been a very rich kid. When I was little, we lived on an isolated property, and I wasn’t used to seeing people I didn’t know. I still remember how terrible it felt when a grown-up would make fun of me for that. If you have a very shy child, you can at least encourage them to wave and make eye contact, because even though it’s not the most polite way of saying hello or goodbye, it is at least acknowledging the other person.
We’ve had an ongoing struggle getting Caillie to say goodbye properly when her grandparents or aunties leave after they’ve been staying with us. I think she gets a bit overwhelmed by her feelings and at those times her instinct is to withdraw and hide. So we’ve had many, many talks about why it’s important to come out to the car and give them a hug and say goodbye properly, and she is gradually getting better at it. But it’s taken three or four years for her to really improve. If she doesn’t want to hug, I don’t usually force her to, but she does have to come outside and wave them off.
I think that part of the reason that kids aren’t that good at saying ‘hello’ these days is that about half the population doesn’t say hello to them. I see it at the school gate all the time. Parents rush up to each other eager to talk, but forget to say hello to the child on the other end of their friend’s hand. (I’m sure I’ve done it too.) So all of us can help just by introducing our children and by saying hello to the kids we see at church or school or in the street. And you’ll notice that when a child does return your greeting confidently, it really stands out.
We’ve got some friends who have four kids, and the first time we visited them on their farm, all the kids came out to the driveway to greet us and the eldest son, who was about six, shook my husband’s hand, looked him in they eye and said hello. We nearly passed out in shock – it was so unusual – but it also really made us feel really welcome. That’s why I think that ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ are so important – more important even than ‘please’ and ‘thankyou’ – because they have the power to really influence how people feel.
Do you have a shy child or did you struggle with shyness as a child? How are your child’s manners or social skills developing? Do you have any tips for helping children to learn social skills?