In late 2009, Addy and I took a fencing class together. It was a four-week introductory course. Besides being fun, the instructors taught their students lessons in courtesy, such as how to greet others. This was my kind of place!
As an example, their brochure read: “Please say hi to one of the coaches when you arrive and let us know when you’re leaving by saying goodbye. In classes, introduce yourself to students you don’t know. And be sure to salute your class partner and salute and shake hands after every bout.”
I wondered if courteous recognition was so lax among students the instructors felt compelled to spell it out for them?
A few days after asking this question, I got my answer. I walked into a gift store. The door opened. Out of the store walked a female tween. She neither greeted me nor offered to hold the door. Call me crazy, but the lack of courtesy bothered me.
What about what happens on elevators? A non-trained teen or tween waiting to enter the elevator usually means that I must wait for the youngster to board the elevator—minus a greeting—before I can exit. Hello?
Observing this behavior has actually turned into a source of amusement for me while providing perfect “what-not-to-do” examples for my daughter.
Something is wrong with this picture. And it’s up to us—the adults in their lives—to do something about it. I’d like to return to a world where fencing instructors didn’t feel compelled to spell out common courtesy in their brochure. Call me a dreamer.
There have been times—mainly when it’s a child I know—that I have talked to them about their inappropriate greeting or poor elevator boarding skills. When I ask why they don’t look adults in the eye or speak to them, I usually hear something like “it’s too embarrassing” or, “I’ve always been told never to speak to strangers.” More times than not, the child simply has not learned how to properly greet others, though for some, it really is about being shy or uncertain. Plus, I’m as guilty as the next parent. Yes, I constantly reminded my daughter “Don’t speak to strangers.” probably repeated this mantra more than I asked her to follow the Golden Rule. Your child will reach a point in his or her life when he or she will need to possess the skill of proper greeting. By twelve-years-old, your child needs to be on the way to mastering the art of greeting friends and strangers in their community. If you think your child is lagging behind, whether shy or under-instructed, there are ways that you can help.
Have your child start where she is. If she is shy, accept it. Help her be okay with it, but explain that it is time to start building the “how-to-greet-others” muscle. If she’s overwhelmed at the idea of conversation with a stranger, encourage her to just smile and make eye contact. The older the child, the more difficult it will be for her to stop with only eye contact and a smile. Tell him he doesn’t have to be the conversation starter. He simply can stand there and answer questions. Explain also that being nervous while speaking to another person is okay. The more a person does this and makes small talk, the easier the task becomes.
Being socially savvy will benefit your child for the rest of her life.
Allyn Evans (TheAlertParent.com) is a published author, professional speaker and consultant residing in Stillwater.