Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Pediatrician's Article: Making Room for Miss Manners Is a Parenting Basic

This is a great perspective on children's manners and social skills from Perri Klass, M.D. in the New York Times online edition.

Here is an excerpt that includes some of my favorite parts of the article:

Dr. Barbara Howard, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and an expert on behavior and development, told me that a child’s manners were a perfectly appropriate topic to raise at a pediatric visit.

“It has a huge impact on people’s lives — why wouldn’t you bring it up?” she said. “Do they look you in the eye? If you stick your hand out do they shake it? How do they interact with the parents; do they interrupt, do they ask for things, do they open Mommy’s purse and take things out?”

Dr. Howard suggested that the whole “manners” concept might seem a little out of date — until you recast it as “social skills,” a very hot term these days. Social skills are necessary for school success, she pointed out; they affect how you do on the playground, in the classroom, in the workplace.

We also think of social skills as a profound set of challenges that complicate the lives of children — and adults — on what is now called the autism spectrum. Children with autism, whether mild or severe, have great difficulty learning social codes, deciphering subtle body language or tone of voice, and catching on to the rules of the game.

Therapy for these children can include systematic training in social skills, sometimes using scripts for common human interactions. And one lesson, Dr. Howard said, “is that you can teach this stuff, and we maybe aren’t teaching it as well as we should be to children who are developing normally.”

And of course, one of the long-term consequences of being a rude child is being a rude adult — even a rude doctor. There are bullies on the playground and bullies in the workplace; it can be quite disconcerting to encounter a mature adult with 20 or so years of education under his belt who still sees the world only in terms of his own wants, needs and emotions: I want that so give it to me; I am angry so I need to hit; I am wounded so I must howl.

The doctor's mention of long-term consequences including being a "rude doctor" makes an excellent point that drives home the need for early social development, role models, and interactive socialization from an early age.

Here is the original post.

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