Imagine an eight year old child saying to a woman with a big tummy “You have been pregnant since forever, when are you going to give birth to your baby?” How do you think the woman would have felt? If you are the parent of that child, how will you feel? What message do you think blurting out such question passed across to the other person about your parenting skills? This is why it is important to teach children about etiquette.
Inasmuch as we tell our children to relate with others, know about them as much as possible / encourage their friends to confide in them, we should do this as a way of teaching genuine empathy not as a way of snooping around other people’s stories or becoming nosy parkers. To have empathy is to place yourself in another person’s position, to understand and share the feeling of another person.
How can we teach children empathy? It starts by teaching them to listen and relate with other people’s stories or situations for example, if your children’s favourite cartoon is Jake and the Neverland pirates, you can engage your young children in a discussion after watching an episode with simple questions i.e. Why do you think Jake helped greedy Captain Hook? What do you think Jake was thinking before helping Captain Hook? These questions are not just to encourage empathy, but by asking these questions you are pushing to expand your child’s mind and also give him/ her room for self-expression. Trust me, if you do this with children, as they begin to grow older they will begin to ask questions on their own about real world events and people to aid their understanding and experience.
We also must groom children to have good conversational skills. A good conversationalist is not just a good speaker but an extremely good listener too. Children need to be taught what to say especially when they are meeting people for the first time. Breaking the ice is not as easy for them when they don’t share common grounds with the other person e.g. attend the same school, share the same hobby, stay in the same neighbourhood, etc. However, we can teach them that the first thing to do when they are meeting friends for the first time is to do the following:
Smile, shake hands, tell the person your name, ask the person what his/her name is, ask where they are from and what they like to do.
When they are meeting adults:
Smile, greet in a manner that is acceptable in your culture, if the family is very westernized, you could ask other questions such as “How did your meet my parents?”, “Do you have pets?” etc. Nothing nosy and rude like “Why are you here?” or “Why are you dressed like this?”
Let children know that free expression and unbridled responses may be cute around the house , but they are definitely received with considerable less tolerance elsewhere and same may be used to judge them harshly as well as criticize them sternly. Also, it is important to listen carefully to the other person when they are responding to the question asked, interrupting is rude. If they must ask another question, they must pause a little to be sure the person is done talking before proceeding to ask the next question.
Knowing a few rules of etiquette will give children confidence in starting conversations because if they know how to behave wherever they are, they will be more at ease, and will be able to put other people around them at ease too. It is only when people feel comfortable around them that they will open up. When people open up, they share their stories and vice versa. This ultimately will avail children the opportunity of showing and receiving empathy thereby gathering practical experiences.