Do Bad Manners Indicate Developmental Issues or Just Bad Parenting?

Filed under: Opinions

Does your pediatrician ever discuss your child's manners with you? My son, who is 21 months, has not been the subject of such a discussion but will be soon. He is nearly two, prime time to really start teaching him some manners; up to now we've been working on "please" and "thank you" but have yet to delve into the world of Miss Manners and her sage teachings. Manners, however, are not just about writing thank you notes and saying "please" and "thank you" when you want something or when you get it. Manners tell the rest of the world how well adjusted a person is; manners can tell a doctor about a child's development .

Many of us take manners for granted. I was always taught to look people in the eye, to shake their hands, to say hello, etc. Some people never develop those skills. Often, that poor behavior starts in childhood and is never remedied -- or can't be. Make no mistake, when a pediatrician has a discussion with you about your child's "social skills" as manners are now being referred to, they are looking at more than whether or not your child is being polite. The doctor is looking for signs that your child's social development is progressing normally. For example, children who are unable or unwilling to make eye contact or engage in physical contact such as hand shaking might be expressing developmental problems that would place them on the autism spectrum.

I know a lot of attention, both positive and negative, has been paid to autism in recent years. Some would say we're just lumping a bunch of rude kids into a safety group so we don't have to deal with teaching them proper manners. Denis Leary even went so far as to call those children and their parents bad and lazy (he later retracted this). But, I think pediatricians might agree Mr. Leary was on to something. Manners are about behavior, after all, and if we can't teach our children such basics as being able to make eye contact and shake someone's hand, it might not be a sign the kid is just rude. It could very well be a sign of autism, which, regardless of what Mr. Leary says, is a very real condition affecting thousands of families.

I think Doctor Perri Klass, MD, the author of the article, puts it best when noting that "manners represent...a successful intellectual engagement with the business of being human." Klass goes on to say that she feels sorry for a young, "rude" patient because it seems the adult world has failed to teach this poor kid how to get along, that manners are a basic need of children that should be met by their parents. Hence, a lack of manners could indicate something developmental, but, sometimes too a rude child is simply the product of choosing the wrong path in parenting.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.