Q: How can I teach my children good manners? This is something I'm determined to instill in my kids, but it's not easy. How do I teach them to treat people respectfully when the rest of the culture seems to care less and less for the feelings, sensibilities and rights of others?
Jim: Manners and etiquette are often conceived of in terms of conformity to a set of social mores or culturally defined standards of "correct" behavior (think Emily Post or Miss Manners). From this point of view, they're an aspect of manmade custom and tradition. For people of faith, however, good manners should spring from something deeper such as the Golden Rule and the Great Commandment: "Just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise," and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
What does this love look like in action? Practically speaking, it can find expression in any number of ways. Everything depends on the situation, attitude and expectation of the person on the receiving end. If Grandma expects Johnny to keep his napkin in his lap and his elbows off the dinner table, Johnny should be taught to comply. If your neighbor prefers that visitors remove their shoes before coming inside, you ought to honor his wishes. Ultimately, it all comes down to caring for and putting others first.
How do you teach your kids to implement these principles in everyday life? The answer is simple: You model this kind of behavior yourself. Kindness, good manners and respectful treatment of others are best instilled in young minds through consistent example. They are caught more so than taught. Keep in mind that you can't begin too early, and that the best place to start is at home.
Q: Are kids happier when they're closer in age, or is it better to plan them farther apart? My husband and I are discussing having another baby, but we aren't sure if it's the best thing for our 1-year-old son and the dynamics of our family.
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: I'm happy to know that your parenting experience has apparently been positive to where you want to add to the blessing of your family. That's fantastic!
As for your question, I'm afraid there really isn't a simple answer. The significance of "age spacing" and its impact on sibling relationships will vary from family to family. Nevertheless, there are some things to consider.
Children of the same sex born within two years of each other are more likely to develop close bonds and enjoy mutual companionship than those spaced farther apart. But they'll also have more opportunity for conflict and competition. A great deal of good can come out of close sibling relationships of this nature provided Mom and Dad are involved and manage the details wisely.
Kids born four or more years apart will probably experience less camaraderie growing up. This may translate into a more peaceful household, but the challenges can also simply assume a different character. For example, if the older and bigger child displays aggressive behavior, then ensuring safety for the younger child will be a priority. If, however, the older child is mature and cooperative, Mom and Dad may be tempted to place too many adult responsibilities on his shoulders. A child in this position needs to be encouraged to play and allowed to be a kid.
In the end, there may be more important reasons for planning a baby at a particular time than the ages of the existing children. Of far greater significance is Mom's health, the desire for another child, possibly financial considerations and the stability of the marriage.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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