Summer means look out for barbarous bad manners

By JUDY LYDEN
Scripps Howard News Service
24-JUL-03

As summer progresses in the active life of a child, one of the things that quickly loses ground is that set of manners worked on until last spring.

Summer, it seems, is a perfect time to park manners in the cloakroom and retrieve the hooded costume of barbarism.

When "please" and "thank you" become "gimme" and "I want," when the very idea that a child should say "I'm sorry" becomes ludicrous in the summer heat, when a child thinks an apology for nearly anything is tantamount to throwing a mud pie, civilization sleeps.

It's easy to get carried away in the early weeks of summer with soft kinds of barbarism. After all, the moderating force of school is done, and the long, unhurried days of summer all lay lazily at a child's feet. Nonetheless, parents should look at barbarous bad manners and sloth, summer or not, with a cool and challenging eye.

Children do see lots of barbaric acts on their world tours. Hostile, rude, insensitive churls spit and push, scream and demand everything of the world and offer it nothing. Example never waits its turn or is even civil when it is a bad example's turn.

Barbarism is always fascinating. It's never really one of the preferred behaviors when the behavior is directed at us, but it's the one casually and comfortably slipped into when we are being the least thoughtful.

Thinking seriously about others is not popular today, especially with children and especially in summer. While passing Popsicles out the other day, I waited to hear which children would say "thank you." I was surprised as I watched 50 children reach into a bowl and take their favorite flavor.

About four children said "thank you," and each of these children is known as a smart child. These children already have the world by the tail, and when approaching that bowl each of them made eye contact, smiled, said something amusing or endearing, and then said "thank you."

Sometimes the child behind them heard and also said "thank you," but mostly they reached into the bowl and took a Popsicle and said one of the following: "I don't like these kind of Popsicles." "I want two." "Can we have another after this?" "Why didn't you bring these out earlier?" Response? "Un-huh."

Manners are an active personality component; in other words, it's something done that people see.

With twice as many Popsicles as children, the rounds last as long as there are Popsicles to eat. It's interesting to watch children move in on a second.

The smart ones have figured out that it's a gift, not unlike grace, and they don't have to ask. They just come up and say "thank you" again. The less bright wander around in front of the distributor whining about the heat and being hungry.

Response? "Un-huh."

One of the marvels of real barbarism is the child who is denied a treat because his behavior has been so poor that offering him a Popsicle would be an act of real hypocrisy.

"But I want one," screams the child. "Now."

Response? "Un-huh."

Separating summer barbarism from a child can be a difficult surgery. It does mean getting to the root of the problem, however. It's usually sleep deprivation and a hydration drying out on too many soft drinks. By regulating hours and paying attention to a child's diet, you may find it's really surprising to see that civilization can be born again out of the summer rubble.

Judy Lyden operates a pre-school in Evansville, Ind. Write to her c/o The Evansville Courier, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, IN 47702, or e-mail her at jlyden(at)evansville.net or at the Web site thegardenschool.com.