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Parents, Mind Your Manners

It’s hard to teach kids etiquette when adults behave badly. So put down your smartphone and pay attention.

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(Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photo Mike Hollander/Flickr and Shutterstock)
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How To Civilize Your Kids

Don’t pay someone else to teach your children etiquette. Just start early—and make them write thank-you notes.

I’m not done. Another parenting impoliteness is being over-process-y in a conflict-type situation. For instance, let’s say your child has just smacked another child on the head with an imagination-stimulating, unstructured-play-enhancing, hollow-core sustainable wooden block. Your response should not be to run to your child murmuring, “Phoenix, darling, what did he do to you? Can we talk about why he made you forget to use your words?” Your response should be: “We don’t hit. Time out. Right now.” You don’t negotiate when told it is the other child’s fault. You will never tease apart who did what. If your kid hurt another kid, your kid gets punished. If you feel time-outs aren’t effective, but taking away a privilege works better, do that. Soothe the child who was hit (even if you suspect he or she was being annoying before the smackdown). I am a believer in making a child apologize even if he or she does not mean it. We can discuss this (and why you think I’m a moron) in another column.

If your child is on the receiving end of the hitting, do not say, in earshot of the other parent, “Oh, did the ill-raised little vilde chaya use violence upon your person? He must have special needs or parents who went to a state school!” Please. If the other parent is apologetic, ease the way for him or her. Accept the apology. Distract your own child. Rise above.

Finally, here’s a bit of extended family etiquette. Do not make everyone else a hostage to your child’s nap schedule. If you cannot attend a bar mitzvah because of your kid’s nap time, do not huff about it. (While you’re at it, ponder whether you might be un peu rigid about naps, and/or food, and/or trying to ensure that your entire block is as silent as a crypt when your child is sleeping.) If your child is not invited to a wedding, do not snap what someone I know once snapped at a bride, “Savoy is my life!” (Also, do not name your child Savoy.) Do not ostentatiously refuse gifts that do not fit your values—when you are high-handed and self-righteous, you are the rude one.

Polite parents raise polite children. I’ve seen the saying (attributed to a ton of different people), “Character is how you treat people who can do nothing for you.” It’s true. If your rude boomer parents did not raise you to have manners, you’ve got some work to do. Having a child is an opportunity to make up for lost ground, and to help yourself (and by extension the wider world) in the process of helping your kid.


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Barbara says:

Love this Marjorie, you ARE your mother’s daughter (that’s a compliment!).

Be still, my heart. Auslander and Ingall in a single issue? THIS is why I subscribe. Thank you, Tablet.

Elena Brunn says:

Yes! I used to read your column in the Forward, and I’m so glad to have discovered you here.

Well said. It’s wonderful when children come to synagogue, but most minyanim are still an ‘adult’s playing field’ (whether we like it or now). Children are ‘shushed’ (not the right answer as Marjorie points out), there are groups (sometimes better, but not always), parents sometimes provide snacks, toys or they just leave t’filot to roam the shul. I’ve developed a solution called “MagneticShul” which is a toy designed to ENGAGE children in the synagogue narrative & experience while sitting with their parents. It’s helping children take ownership of the environment and explain their surroundings, all while hearing and being present. Parents can engage their children with purposeful questions and comments, making shul a positive Jewish experience. Check it out at


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Parents, Mind Your Manners

It’s hard to teach kids etiquette when adults behave badly. So put down your smartphone and pay attention.

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