QUESTION: I’ve spent a lot of time teaching my 11-year-old daughter to have good manners. Recently, she’s become friends with a girl at school who has deplorable manners. The girl is impolite and ungrateful, and it’s embarrassing to watch her eat. How can I make sure my daughter doesn’t start emulating her friend’s behavior?
BBB: As my husband would say, you are getting out in front of your skis. You are worrying about something that hasn’t happened. And it might not even happen at all. Presumably, your 11-year-old is well aware of mannerly and unmannerly behavior and its importance to you. I would suggest saying nothing to your daughter about her new friend’s “deplorable manners.” (How would you like it if someone criticized your good friend?) She will take it personally, and you will be the bad guy, making her friend all the more attractive to her.
Many children do “try out” their peers’ mannerisms, idiosyncrasies, behaviors and especially speech patterns that they observe. You send your child to school, and she returns with a southern accent. After a playdate, your child seems to have added a full-on eye-roll into her repertoire of facial expressions. You ask your daughter to help and she replies, “Get off my back.” Rest assured, your child is merely dipping her toe in the water, trying it out, waiting for your reaction. It won’t last.
Your response, hopefully the extinguisher of the atypical behavior, will differ according to the child’s age. To a young child who has picked up from a visit to a friend’s house the new trick of spitting milk across the table, you can remind her of the table rules at your house and quickly remove her milk, saying, “You are telling me that you don’t want to drink your milk. Let me take it away for you.” And no more milk or any liquid from a cup that night.
With the older child who throws a curt response at you right after her (unpolished) new friend leaves, you can say, “Saying ‘Yeah right!’ may be acceptable at Dena’s house, but you know well that it is not at ours. Would you like a do-over?” and let her respond again, this time more acceptably.
Betsy Brown Braun, M.A. is a Child Development and Behavior Specialist (infants to teens), a Parent Educator, and Multiple Birth Parenting Specialist. She has taught in both public and private schools, has been a school director, and was the founding director of Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Early Childhood Center in Los Angeles. Betsy consults with parents privately, runs parenting groups, seminars and workshops for parents, teachers, and other professionals. She is the award winning author of the best selling, “Just Tell Me What to Say” and “You’re Not the Boss of Me.” Betsy has been featured on the Today Show, The Early Show, Good Morning, America, America Now, Dr. Phil, The Rachael Ray Show, Fox and Friends. She has been a guest on NPR and regularly contributes to KNX News Radio, and radio stations nationwide. Betsy’s expertise has been cited in Parents Magazine, Twins Magazine, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, Real Simple, and in numerous city specific newspapers and family magazines. Betsy and Ray Braun, Palisades residents for 38 years, are the parents of adult triplets and have three grandchildren, so far.