Teaching Children Self-Control
Teaching Manners, Ages 6 to 12
How important is it to teach my child good manners?
These are the years when your child needs to learn the true meaning of good manners: that if she conducts herself considerately in all sorts of different situations, from visits with relatives to overnights with friends, people will enjoy -- and even seek out -- her company. Even a 6-year-old can grasp the idea that different scenarios call for specific sorts of behavior: A visit to a great-aunt requires a handshake, an appreciative taste of the homemade apple cake, and an audible "hello" and "goodbye"; a sleep-over demands respect for her friend's doll collection, help picking up the debris after the pillow fight, and an audible "thank you" to the host's mom. This is really important stuff for learning to get along in the world, around adults as well as the all-important kid friends.
How do I convince my child that good manners matter?
You don't have to. They're part of the rules for growing up: This is what's acceptable, this isn't. (You don't have to explain to your 8-year-old why she can't go to the supermarket naked, do you? Same deal.) As kids get older, they may question certain points of etiquette: Why am I supposed to shake hands? Why do I have to take my hat off in church? You can decide which customs you want to defend with situation-specific logic: We shake hands to make contact with someone we're meeting; we take our hats off to show respect for God. But the truth is that we observe most civilities because having a set of rules makes people feel more comfortable together. That's about as logical as the whole enterprise needs to get. You start adding some specifics later.
Also, never underestimate the power of your example. If you seem to place a high degree of importance on politeness yourself, your child will pick up that this is important. It may sound ridiculously simple, but polite parents have polite kids.
What table manners are realistic to expect at this age?
That depends to some extent on how formal your dinner table is. By the time they're 6 or 7 years old, kids should be following the same house rules their parents do -- not all the time, since the parents probably never surreptitiously drop peas in each other's milk glasses or stab each other with forks under the table. But you're doing your child no favor if you shirk from laying out Table Manners 101: Wash your hands and take your hat off (and put your shirt on) before you sit down. Put your napkin on your lap. If you don't like what's being served, learn to eat it without complaint or decline politely: "I don't care for any eggplant, thanks." Don't talk with your mouth full. Chew with your mouth closed. Don't interrupt when somebody else is mid-sentence. Ask for the saltshaker and bread basket; don't lunge across somebody else's plate. Use your cutlery unless the meal includes designated finger food. Don't leave the table without asking to be excused. Repeating and enforcing these rules at dinner may seem like a hassle, but if your child doesn't get them down at home she's going to make a fool of herself at somebody else's house, and then she'll come home and say it's all your fault. For once she'll be right.
In other social situations, the level of formality you want is also key. If it's important to you that your child greets people with "Pleased to meet you," then, by all means, teach her to do so. A 6 or 7-year-old is perfectly capable of a few social graces. If what matters to you is that your child meets people's eyes and responds pleasantly to questions, make sure she understands that you expect her to do so. It may help to explain, "You know how it makes you feel good when Grandma asks about your dance class? Well, it makes her feel good if you smile and look at her while you answer."
What's the most effective way to discipline a kid who acts up at dinner?
Try not to blow your top, even if the bad manners look to you like deliberate provocation rather than absentmindedness. You can often straighten out forgetfulness with a prompt so brief and light that it barely qualifies as nagging: "Hey, napkin on lap." "Yo, ask first, please." Provocation is of course intended to provoke, so the important thing is not to launch into a satisfying parental tantrum, but instead to say in a flat, disinterested voice, "I need to talk to you for a minute, please," indicating with a tilt of the head that the conversation will take place in the next room, in private. (Busting kids for bad manners should always be done one-on-one so it doesn't turn into a humiliation session.) Then, in the same disinterested voice: "That needs to stop, or you'll have to leave the table." If it keeps up, she leaves the table -- without her plate, without going to the refrigerator for alternative food, and, needless to say, without being allowed to go turn on the TV or her iPod. A few minutes of downtime may be all she needs, or it may be that she misses that meal completely and tries again next time.
What about telephone etiquette?
A child as young as six can manage the basic rules: Answer the phone courteously. Don't scream down the hall so your voice blasts the caller's ear; put the phone down and go look for the person being called. Or say, "May I take a message, please?" and write it on a piece of paper somewhere in the vicinity of the telephone. (There is anecdotal evidence that in some households this results in adults actually receiving correct phone messages taken by their kids.) When calling a friend, identify yourself and ask politely for her by name.
Unless she's stunningly self-possessed, your child isn't going to do this right every time. At some point you'll hear her grunting monosyllabically into the phone. Resist the urge to tell her her phone manners stink. Instead, pick one or two things she forgot to do -- say "hello" when her friend's mother picked up on the other end, for instance -- and focus on how she might remember next time.
Is it important for my child to have good manners around her friends?
Exquisitely important, although you may not understand the fine points of the rules. Kids follow elaborate social codes and know exactly who has violated them and how -- which kid didn't handle the video game controls properly, which kid was incredibly rude at the birthday party, which kid acts like a jerk on the playground. And kids can be much harsher than adults about doling out punishment. That's why it's vital to keep teaching your child that being well-mannered doesn't make you prissy or stuck-up -- it makes you a person other people like to be around.
Sports and kids: Pathway to healthy development or to unhealthy competition?
An interview with Marianne Engle, Ph.D., sports psychologist and Clinical Assistant Professor at the NYU Child Study Center
Sports are big news. Special sports sections in print and television news media keep expanding; scores make headlines; teams have loyal followers and vocal detractors; outstanding players have fan clubs and serve as role models for kids. Sports are also big business. In addition to tickets to events, a lot of clothing and equipment are sold. But, in addition to all the positive hype, scandals about drugs and personal bad behavior tarnish the image of some talented and highly paid athletes. And stressed out kids are dropping out of sports. To find out more about current trends in sports and kids, AOK interviewed Marianne Engle, Ph. D., a sports psychologist and Clinical Assistant Professor at the NYU Child Study Center.
How significant is sports in the lives of children and adolescents? How many are actually involved in sports?
What are the top team sports for children ages 6 through 17?
What do children gain from participating in sports?
Girls have been participating more in sports. Are there specific benefits for girls?
Should kids start sports at an early age?
What factors affect a child's success in athletics?
What if a kid doesn't want to join a team?
Is there a downside to children participating in sports?
Are there pitfalls that parents should try to avoid?
What are some trends in children's sports participation that are of concern?
What are the costs of physical inactivity?
How should a parent evaluate the pros and cons of sports for kids?
The benefits of sports outweigh the negatives, so it's the responsibility of parents, schools and others involved in the lives of kids to help make sports a successful and pleasurable experience.
How to Raise Girls With Healthy Self-Esteem
Although women have made gains in education and employment in the equal rights war, they're still losing the self-esteem war. Girls' self-esteem peaks when they are about 9 years old, then takes a nosedive. Here is a look at why girls' self-esteem plummets and what can be done to prevent it.
What do we know about girls' self-esteem?
Self-esteem is related to how we feel about ourselves: it's not just how we look but how we feel about how we look. And it's not just how successful or smart others say we are, but how confident we feel about our talents and abilities. Consider the following in order to understand the internal and external pressures girls feel and how these pressures affect the development of their self-esteem:
· Eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression are the most common mental health problems in girls.
· 59% of 5–12th grade girls in one survey were dissatisfied with their body shape.
· 20–40% of girls begin dieting at age 10.
· By 15, girls are twice as likely to become depressed than boys.
· Among 5–12th graders, 47% said they wanted to lose weight because of magazine pictures.
· Health risks accompany girls' drop in self-esteem due to risky eating habits, depression, and unwanted pregnancy.
· Girls aged 10 and 12 (tweens) are confronted with "teen" issues such as dating and sex, at increasingly earlier ages. 73% of 8–12–year olds dress like teens and talk like teens.
When and why does girls' self-esteem drop?
· Starting in the pre-teen years, there is a shift in focus; the body becomes an all consuming passion and barometer of worth.
· Self-esteem becomes too closely tied to physical attributes; girls feel they can't measure up to society standards.
· Between 5th and 9th grade, gifted girls, perceiving that smarts aren't sexy, hide their accomplishments.
· Teenage girls encounter more "stressors" in life, especially in their personal relationships, and react more strongly than boys to these pressures, which accounts in part for the higher levels of depression in girls.
· The media, including television, movies, videos, lyrics, magazine, internet, and advertisements, portray images of girls and women in a sexual manner—revealing clothing, body posture and facial expressions—as models of femininity for girls to emulate.
The sexualization of girls and mental health problems
In response to reports by journalists, child advocacy organizations, parents, and psychologists, in 2007 the American Psychological Association (APA) created a Task Force to consider these issues. The Task Force Report concluded that the sexualization of girls is a broad and increasing problem and is harmful to girls' self-image and healthy development. Sexualization is defined as occurring when a person's value comes only from her/his sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics, and when a person is sexually objectified, e.g., made into a thing for another's sexual use. The report states that examples of sexualization are found in all forms of media, and as 'new media' have been created and access to media has become omnipresent, examples have increased.
The APA Task Force Report states that sexualization has negative effects in a variety of domains:
· Cognitive and emotional health: Sexualization and objectification undermine a person's confidence in and comfort with her own body, leading to emotional and self-image problems, such as shame and anxiety.
· Mental and physical health: Research links sexualization with three of the most common mental health problems diagnosed in girls and women—eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression or depressed mood.
· Sexual development: Research suggests that the sexualization of girls has negative consequences on girls' ability to develop a healthy sexual self-image.
How can parents help their daughters develop healthy self-esteem?
Although the media, peers, and pop culture influence children, parents still hold more sway than they think when it comes to having an impact on a daughter's developing self-esteem. Here's how parents can help:
· Monitor your own comments about your self and your daughter.
· Get dads involved. Girls with active, hardworking dads attend college more often and are more ambitious, more successful in school, more likely to attain careers of their own, less dependent, more self protective, and less likely to date an abusive man.
· Watch your own stereotypes; let daughters help fix the kitchen sink and let sons help make dinner.
· Encourage your daughter to speak her mind.
· Let girls fail - which requires letting them try. Helping them all the time or protecting them, especially if done by dad, can translate into a girl feeling incapable or incompetent.
· Don't limit girls' choices, let them try math, buy them a chemistry kit. Interest, not just expertise, should be motivation enough.
· Get girls involved with sports/physical activity, it can reduce their risk of chronic diseases. Female athletes do better academically and have lower school drop-out rates than non-athletes. Regular physical activity can enhance girls' mental health, reduce symptoms of stress and depression, make them feel strong and competent
· Watch television, movies, and other media with your daughters and sons. Discuss how images of girls are portrayed.
· Counteract advertisers who take advantage of the typical anxieties and self-doubts of pre-teen and teenage girls by making them feel they need their product to feel "cool." To sensitize them to this trend and to highlight the effect that ads can have on people, discuss the following questions (adapted from the Media Awareness Network) with children:
1. Do you ever feel bad about yourself for not owning something?
2. Have you ever felt that people might like you more if you owned a certain item?
3. Has an ad make you feel that you would like yourself more, or that others would like you more if you owned the product the ad is selling?
4. Do you worry about your looks? Have you ever felt that people would like you more if your face, body, skin or hair looked different?
5. Has an ad ever made you feel that you would like yourself more, or others would like you more, if you changed your appearance with the product the ad was selling?It is within the family that a girl first develops a sense of who she is and who she wants to become. Parents armed with knowledge can create a psychological climate that will enable each girl to achieve her full potential. Parents can help their daughters avoid developing, or overcome, negative feelings about themselves and grow into strong, self-confident women.