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Are manners still important in this day and age? Dr. Leman discusses the importance of etiquette in your kid’s behavior.



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Doug: Johnny, put the napkin on your lap. No. No. Don’t stand on the chair. No, no, no, no. No, no, no. We don’t use our hands. We use our fork and our knife. Are you ever going to learn any manners around here? That’s the question we get to ask Dr. Leman, should we teach our kids manners? Is it a good idea? And if so, how do we do it, and when do we start? Hi, I’m Doug Terpening.

Andrea: And I’m Andrea.

Doug: And I’m the one that has no manners at the table, and Andrea has perfect manners at the table. But if this is your first time with us, we’re so glad that you’re here. Want to let you know that this is for your education and entertainment purposes only. If the subject matter raises any concerns for you or your child, please go seek a local professional for help. So Dr. Leman, in your house, who has more manners? Is it you or is it Mrs. Uppington?

Dr. Leman: Oh, Mrs. Uppington by a long shot. She’s always one of those people that says, “Thank you for asking.” And she’s a gift giver, so she gives gifts, physical gifts to people all the time, but she gives verbal gifts to people. She is always good at finding the best in people and commenting on that. I’m much more quiet than she is, believe it or not. In fact, most people who have a great sense of humor tend to be quiet. Comedians, they tell us, tend to be quiet. When the light goes on in a television studio or the microphone is switched on, it’s like all of a sudden I become a little different type of person.

But teaching kids manners is important. In fact, all of our five kids have been home since before Thanksgiving. So with the pandemic, we have adult children who are working at home, and they have come from Chicago and from Los Angeles area here to Tucson where we live most of the year, and it’s a joy to have all five kids home. Well, we’ve got two grandchildren that are living under our roof with us, they’re four year old twins. And the other day asked little Olive, one of the four year olds, she wanted something and she said, “No, thank you, grandpa.” And I said to her, I said, “Wow, you know how to say, ‘No, thank you,’ that tells me that you’re really getting to be a big girl.” That was my exact counter to her. It’s really important that we try to reinforce.

Keep in mind, and I’ve said this for years, that kids are always taking emotional, spiritual, behavioral notes from us. So to answer the question, how do you teach kids manners? You utilize manners in your talk, in your way of speaking to other people, and they catch the manners. Now for you young parents, if you want to have some fun, Doug had mentioned in the introduction about, “Use your fork, not your hands.” A lot of the manners that we teach kids are manners that we want them to learn regarding table manners. And one of the things we did with our kids, of course, that was years ago, we played the penny game. Now I call it the quarter game, and you start dinner by giving everybody four quarters. So if you have three kids, you’re out $3 in quarters right there. But mom gets a stack of quarters and so does dad. And it’s sort of a fun thing to do during dinner, and the object is to catch somebody not using good manners.

And if you catch somebody reaching across the table, not using their napkin, whatever, you get to take a quarter off their stack and put it on yours. At the end of dinner, theoretically, you had three kids, that’s three, four, five. Somebody could make a few bucks on dinner. It’s just a fun way of sort of reminding. And when our kids were little, I would be the buffoon. I would be the one who would chew with my mouth open and somebody would point, “Daddy, you’re chewing with your mouth open. I get a quarter.” We made it a fun game. But I have to tell you, our kids are very polite. I have very thoughtful, polite kids. You have to train kids up, you have to train them. And when they’re young is the best time to train them, not when they’re 16 and thinking about going off to college in a couple of years.

Andrea: So you’ve mentioned that it’s important to teach our kids manners, and maybe not just table manners. Why would you say it’s important?

Dr. Leman: Well, I think the social graces impress other people. There’s been so many times. I remember a Thanksgiving where we’re all around the table, and my nine year old grandson at the time, he’s now 17, got up and he said, “I want to say something.” And he went around the entire table, there must’ve been, I’m guessing, at least 12 people around that table. And he put his hands on everyone’s shoulder one at a time and said why he was thankful for that person. And every one of those explanations were very different from the others. They were very personal. I remember thinking, “Holy crow, what a great job my son-in-law Dennis and their mom, Chrissy has done with these kids.” They’ve got two kids.

I’m the guy that wrote all the books. I’m just sitting at the end of the table and I’m just saying, “Wow, this is really something.” For a kid that had that kind of depth unprompted by the adults. Lots of times parents set kids up to do stuff like that, which is stupid, but when it comes from the heart and the kid wants to do that, you sort of stand back. So I think it’s important to teach kids manners. When that young man meets that young lady he likes in her home and is introduced to the father, who’s not real high on you going out with his daughter to begin with, and you’re showing great manners and respect in that conversation, trust me, your stock just went up in that father’s eyes. When you’re in the business world, it’s absolutely necessary to show good manners at all times.

Doug: So what manners are we talking about? Are we talking about table manner?

Dr. Leman: All kinds of manners. Opening doors for people, thanking them for their question. “Thanks for your interest. I’m glad to share that with you.” I talked yesterday in a professional development meeting about the power of the handwritten note, teaching kids to write thank-you notes to aunts and uncles and grandmas for gifts and things is important, but in our professional world, at Leman Academy of Excellence, I’m always telling our teachers, “Write the personal note to the parent.” The personal note, I got a note from a lady the other day and she said, “Dr. Leman, you cannot imagine how your short note to me last week just brightened my day.” And she said, “A guy as busy as you are, and that you took the time to respond to me in the way you did really encouraged me. Thank you. And by the way, I love working here at Leman.”
So it’s a part of your life, taking the time. I tell our teachers, we have a scholar that’s not in school for two or three days, what do you suppose my suggestion is? I’m going to let you take a guess at this. What’s my suggestion? You’ve got a scholar, he hasn’t been in school in three days. What do you think that I would tell a teacher to do?

Doug: It’s the parents issue, and they’ve got to get the kids to school. [inaudible].

Andrea: I was going to go with give a call, but …

Dr. Leman: And that’s exactly right. Again, we revisit this topic a lot. Who is the smarter, Doug or Andrea? Ka-ching. Andrea just won the contest. Yeah. You pick up the phone and you call home. What does that say? I think it says to the parent, “Hey, that school and that teacher, Ms. So-and-so, they really care about us and our family.” I asked the question yesterday in the PD, professional development, I said, “I want to see a show of fingers about who believed in you as a kid. Why are you here? Why are you a successful teacher today? Why are you the successful person you are today? Who had your back? Who believed in you even if there wasn’t reason to believe in you? I want to see a show of hands. Put them up.” Show of fingers, actually.

I said, “I know what the average is because I’ve asked this question hundreds of times.” And of course, the average is about three. You’ll see some with one, some with two, some with three. Once in a while you’ll see a four or a five, but usually it’s two or three. And I said, “What was it about that person that made you just say that? What are the traits that person had?” And you will see sincerity, authenticity, believing in you, all those things. And see, this is all part, I think, of teaching kids manners because you’re getting the attention off yourself and you’re getting onto other people who have been kind to you. Who’ve done thoughtful things. And it’s a two-way street. They just feed each other.

So teaching kids how to meet people. You’ve got a little one, four years old, and you want him to meet Mrs. Johnson and the kid hides behind your skirt or your dress. Your legs. How do you deal with that? That shy little kid obviously isn’t meeting people well, probably hasn’t had a lot of confidence in doing so. And do you talk with them then? Do you embarrass them in front of Mrs. Johnson to try to teach him a manner? No, you talk with him afterward. Lots of times parents think that correction is got to be immediate, and nothing could be further from the truth, because those kinds of corrections are best after the fact when you’re in the car and you’re driving home from that event.

Andrea: As you were talking, I was thinking how expressing manners is a form of selflessness, and-

Dr. Leman: Yes.

Andrea: … teaching our kids to be selfless rather than selfish.

Dr. Leman: Yeah.

Andrea: Because I could take it to the table. I’m reaching across because I want the butter right now, or I can wait. Or I can wait and open the door for someone or I can take the smaller cookie. All of those are practice at being selfless and thinking about other people.

Dr. Leman: I’m going to tell you this … Oh, go ahead.

Andrea: Oh, I was going to say down to writing those thank-you notes and showing gratitude.

Dr. Leman: Yeah. Did I ever tell you the story about one of the reasons why I got thrown out of Cub Scouts?

Andrea: I think we have a story coming.

Doug: I don’t think so.

Dr. Leman: Well, Mrs. Marschand, who was the den mother, they’d always bring a treat. A snack. You had your meeting, but you always had to feed the little Cub Scouts. So she brings out this big platter of cookies, okay? Now I ask you, how did I know that that platter was her great-grandmother’s favorite china platter? I didn’t know that. Nobody said to me, “That’s a china platter that’s got great sentimental and dollar value to it.” So I see the cookies. Now, Andrea just said, “Take the smaller cookie.” I did a roundhouse. I sort of wallop the plate as I grabbed a couple cookies and I smashed that plate in quarters.

Now, was I polite kid? Not very much. Not very often. And that’s one of the reasons why I got thrown out of Cub Scouts. Not many people and say, “At age 11, I was kicked out of Cub Scouts,” but I was. But I look back now and I think, “You little jerk. Somebody should’ve taken you out back and beaten you with a stick.”

Doug: Well, I’m glad to see that you have many talents, and one of them is getting kicked out of Boy Scouts. That’s impressive. That really is impressive, actually. Not many people I know can say-

Dr. Leman: My wife and I, yeah, we got kicked out of Bible study too, that’s a good one.

Doug: Wow, you’ve-

Andrea: With Sandy? Oh, poor Sandy.

Doug: Moving on, I have a question for you, but first, I want to make sure I get the eBook in. Planet Middle School is available now and until the end of February of 2021 for $1.99. And again, we’ve asked the publisher to do this for you, believe it or not, so that you get a chance to get these books when they’re super cheap. And for $1.99, it’s amazing. And Andrea, you have something?

Andrea: I do. I have another review on this book by Purple Cat.

Doug: That’s fun.

Andrea: “Absolutely brilliant book, totally down to Earth, realistic, up-to-date with current times, and helpful with insights and suggestions.”

Doug: That is true. It’s one of the newer books that he’s put out.

Dr. Leman: Yeah. A lot of people use it as a small group study. And my guess is that Purple Cat probably came from Manhattan, Kansas, where Kansas State University is located. They are the Wildcats, and I think their mantra is, “Purple pride,” so that’s probably somebody from there. But let me suggest to you, if you have a small group of people and you’re studying that book, download it for $1.99, now y’all have it in front of you. And then I have a six-part video series called Have a New Kid by Friday, and use that video series in conjunction with Planet Middle School, and you’ve got a dynamite small group right there. That’s a life-changer.

The reviews on Planet Middle School are basically what we just heard from Andrea. People really love that book. And it’s a time where all of a sudden this alien shows up at your home, your kid does all these changes before your eyes and you don’t know what hit you, and that little book is a stabilizing force for families. But don’t miss an opportunity to get that video series. You get that at, Dr. Leman, L-E-M-A-N, it’s $25, well worth it, and you can use that as your focal point as you use it in that small group study, if that’s of interest to you. People really do love that. Thanks.

Doug: Great. So get it between now, not that one, but the eBook, between now and the end of February. And now, a no-nonsense parenting moment with Dr. Kevin Leman.

Dr. Leman: Well, we’ve all done it, parents. Haven’t you said to your son or daughter, “Did you take your brother’s bicycle?” “Did you swipe his candy bar?” Well, you saw him get on the bicycle and take off. You saw him take the candy and stick it in his pocket. Why would you ask a kid if he did it? I’m not going to say we’ve all done it from time to time, but doesn’t it make more sense to say something to your son or daughter like, “Honey, I see you took your brother’s candy. Do you want to talk about it?” “No.” “Well, I do want to talk about it.”
Just use a direct approach with kids. It saves you from setting your kid up to lie. So if you’ve seen your son or daughter do something, just state the fact that you saw it, and then be ready to talk turkey to your son or daughter about their theft-like tendencies.

Doug: So Dr. Leman, you already used the example of hiding the kid behind the skirt when you want them to come say hi. The question I had is, what about the thank-you statement? So somebody gives your kid something and you’re like, “Okay, Johnny. Tell Mrs. So-and-so thank you.” Do you do that, or how do you teach your kids to say thank you?

Dr. Leman: You don’t prompt the kid to say thank you. You don’t say, “What do you say to Mrs. Springer?” That makes no sense whatsoever. What makes sense is, you have the gift. You’re in the car and the kid is about to open it, and you take possession of the gift. You put it in the backseat. You put it on the floor where that child doesn’t have access to it. And you talk about how disappointed you were that your son or daughter didn’t thank Mrs. So-and-so. And that child does not get to open that gift. And this goes off the principle you find in Have a New Kid by Friday, and that is B doesn’t start until A gets completed. Think about how profoundly simple that statement is. B doesn’t start until A gets completed.

So when the child calls her on the phone, when the child writes the note and it’s in the mail, then and only then does that child, who would love to know what’s underneath that gift wrap, only then do they get to open that up. Now that’s training. That’s reality discipline. That’s teaching a child. And you’re not embarrassing your child, by the way. So those are a couple ideas. Parents, I have said it for years. You have all the gold in your back pocket. Your kid wouldn’t have socks or underwear on if you didn’t buy it for them, so you have full authority over your children, and you have to stand up. Seize that authority, use that authority in the right way, and it’s going to make child rearing a lot easier in your home.

Doug: I really like that way better than telling the kid, “Say thank you to so-and-so,” and all of that. Andrea is the card writer in our family, and she’s passed it on to, for sure our second child who writes cards, but it’s been more by example. You had all our kids sign thank-you cards to grandparents when they were younger, didn’t you?

Andrea: Mm-hmm (affirmative). We’ve done cards like that, but I was going to say earlier that you are really great at writing notes to people, and it’s not necessarily a thank-you note, but especially in your work, writing handwritten notes to people.

Dr. Leman: Well, wait a minute. Let’s tell people what Dougy-boy does for a living because this fits in real good.

Doug: Well, I help one of the small non-profits. I’m executive director of it. Is that what you mean? And I help-

Dr. Leman: Yeah. Yeah.

Doug: … especially in the area of raising funds and getting the staff motivated and clear. And it is true. The other thing about manners that kind of plays into that you bring work in is, it’s just being nice to people. And the fun part about my job is I just get to be nice to people. And if you do that, I guess it is just being selfless, isn’t it? Huh, interesting.

Andrea: Well, it is. And I think as we practice it before our kids’ eyes, they’re going to see. If you’re teaching selflessness, then hopefully those manners will come out naturally.

Doug: But you know, Dr. Leman, something you said at the beginning really does stick in this whole is thing, is if we model it, our kids will pick it up. And if we don’t model it. So like at the table, Andrea is the proper eater, I’m the sloppy one. Half our kids follow me, half follow her. We used to do this thing where I was tired of all the slouching at the table, so if you slouched at the table, you had to stand up eating your food the rest of the time and the plate had to stay on the table. So one day, one of the kids turned and said, “Well, doesn’t it apply to you, dad?” And I was like, “Yeah.” They nailed me so much. I stood at the table so much because I’m a sloucher. Do you remember that, Andrea?

Andrea: Yes I do.

Doug: And our kids loved it.

Dr. Leman: That’s why kids love the quarter game, they love to catch daddy. Daddy could be the buffoon. It’s a fun way to teach them. But basically what we’re saying is, the modeling that you do, parents, and if you try to push this manner thing too hard, it’ll backfire right in your face. They’ll go out of their way to be miserable around you.

Andrea: Our kids, with their friends, I’m just remembering this now, I’ve got a song in my head. When they’re eating a picnic with a bunch of friends or we’d have a group over, there’s a little song about putting your napkin in your lap, and if they caught somebody without the napkin in their lap, they’d start singing this song, “Round the table you must go. You must go,” and they’d have the kid have to run around the table and get back in their seat while they sang a song about them not putting their napkin on their lap. So anyways, just a funny little-

Doug: Nothing like social embarrassment to get people to conform, baby. Right there.

Andrea: Of course, with a group of friends they might have done it on purpose because it became a game.

Doug: True. True. Well, we hope this helps all you parents who are wondering about how much should you do for manners or not, and it is nice now to have big kids. You’re right, Dr. Leman, you’ve got to start young because if you don’t, it doesn’t happen later. So, appreciate the question and answers and that we get to add your parenting toolbox, that you can love those kids more and more, and manners actually do play a part in that. So thanks for being with us today. It’s a joy to be with you.

Andrea: Have a great week.

Doug: Take care.

Andrea: Bye-bye.

Doug: Bye-bye. (silence)