“The child shows the man, as morning shows the day”, goes the famous adage. In other words, the early experiences and attitudes of human beings find reflection in their future lives. It is in the fitness of things therefore, that children should be taught about the best and most important things of life, at a very tender age, so that they may imbibe these vital aspects in a rightful manner.
Now what are things that children must be taught? First of all they must be taught civility and good manners. That is because man is a social animal, who cannot survive without interacting with others. It is for this interaction that a precise code of social conduct has been drawn up in all human societies. Indeed good manners are in a way a pen portrait of an individual. They reflect his/her family background, upbringing, ideals and table of values and so forth. Good manners make social interactions smooth sailing and a pleasurable experience.
Let us confine our discussions to only the urban middle classes in our country. To begin with, a child must learn how to greet people in the right way, wish them good morning/afternoon /evening, Namaste. Adaab, Sat Sri Akal, Ram Ram etc (as per his/her family’s customs) or simply the universal Hello/Hi!. He/she must remember to shake hands with grown-ups as well as his peer group. He/she must know how to greet family members, family friends and intimate acquaintances with warm hugs and embraces, touching of feet and so forth.
Sounds like a laughing matter? But starting with teenage boys must be taught to offer their seats to ladies and senior citizens in buses, streetcars and local trains. Speaking from personal experience I have observed, boys in their late teens and even early 20’s declining to vacate their seats in spite of requests. More often than not, the doting mothers or aunts take sides with them, declaring: Bachha Hai, / Beta Hai,/ Yeh beemar hai and so on.Is this the blessed land where elders and women are respected, venerated as godly beings? I often wonder. In this respect at least, the youth of the western world deserve a pat on the back for displaying impeccable manners. The young boys must also be taught to open doors for the fair sex (irrespective of their ages), arise as a lady enters the room, and sit only after she is seated.
Next comes table manners and etiquette. If he/she is familiar with the western environment, a child must know how to use napkins, forks knives and spoons, leave the table, pass the dishes around and so forth. However, if he/she dines in the desi style, (squatting on the floor) he/she can still observe good manners v.iz. not piling food on the plate, not burping loudly, not licking his/her fingers and palm, not talking with the mouth full, not licking the plate, not using the water tumbler with the right hand and so forth.These hold good for table dining too.
Then there are other aspects of good manners, which relate to personal hygiene and cleanliness. For instance one must never pick his nose or ears, scratch his/her body parts in full public view. Girls and young women should always sit with their knees covered, when wearing short outfits. There are lots more According to prevalent Indian ethics, the youngsters must never sit with their feet dangling, pointing towards their elders. It is a sign of sheer disrespect.
Spitting on the roadsides, ejecting paan spittle out of bus windows are hardly examples of good manners. I have seen several of the so-called educated and well-placed adults indulge in such acts. Evidently they were not taught manners in their childhood. In addition to the above, the young children must be taught not to push or jostle but to wait for their turns instead.
Other instances of good manners include not pouncing on snacks and gooey goodies when they are offered to you, helping your hostess to lay the table, carrying dirty plates to the kitchen sink, (in case of small, private get togethers), leaving toilets clean after use, helping people around you to carry their luggage or shopping bags. In fact slightly grown up children can begin such practices quite easily instead of waiting for their youth to arrive.
Now how to go about teaching good manners to children? One must bear in mind that it is a continuous teaching learning process. The children will need to be constantly guided and supervised while they are picking up these manners. If and when they err, they must be chided gently, and not made to feel small. True, their actions might cause you some degree of embarrassment. But no flogging, thrashing or any other kind of physical violence please! They are out.
A word of caution. While teaching good manners to their off springs, the parents must make sure that they themselves have at least near perfect manners. For, you never know, growing children must just turn around and point out the flaws in the mannerisms of their parents or guardians. Therefore it is the parents who need to set their house in order first.