The Most Well-Mannered are the Most Well-Socialized

Most parents who ask me about socialization mean well. Their general perception is that homeschooled kids are isolated from the world and lack opportunities to be with their peers. What I find interesting is that parents can be more concerned about the number of friends their children interact with rather than their social development.

I like the way this site described social development in children. “Social development refers to the process by which a child learns to interact with others around them. As they develop and perceive their own individuality within their community, they also gain skills to communicate with other people and process their actions. Social development most often refers to how a child develops friendships and other relationships, as well how a child handles conflict with peers.” Social Development in Children

The reality is, I seldom meet a child who is unable to make friends, whether homeschooled or not. Children are relational, some may be more quiet or reserved than others, but if you put two children who do not know each other in a room together, they will gravitate towards each other and be friends in no time.

As parents, our greater concern ought to be equipping our children with social graces. Are they well-mannered and polite? Do they know how to be sensitive to cultural differences? Are they comfortable at formal occasions or gatherings? Do they know when to avoid drawing attention to themselves?

Three weeks ago, Edric and I realized how important it is to prioritize our children’s “social instruction.” Both of us decided to take our kids to Isabela without bringing along our house help. We said,”Wouldn’t it be great to bring all four children without any yayas? Let’s try doing everything ourselves!”

After being with American homeschooling families (who had an average of seven children), Edric and I thought four didn’t seem like too many. He was going to be preaching at a church in Isabela that weekend but I didn’t have to do anything except watch the kids so I was totally okay with that. I usually like to be really hands on with the kids anyway.

At first, I thought that things were under control. From eating, to bathing, to brushing teeth, to walking in a particular order, to seating arrangements and sleeping places, to responsibilities, the kids were complying. Then, a mortifying thing happened. During a special dinner that was prepared for us, one of our older sons blurted out,”I hate this food!” Not only was the comment totally rude, it came at the worst time. Edric and I had just been talking about home education and all its benefits. (Isn’t it amazing how God teaches humility?!) Since we were at a restaurant with fifteen other people, we waited till we were alone with the children to talk to them.

Edric used the occasion to teach all of our boys a lesson on social graces. He shared that we must always consider what we say, reminding them of Ephesians 4:29 which says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” He explained that there is a positive and polite way to say that you don’t like something. Furthermore, he encouraged them to focus on being affirming towards people and circumstances.

The boys took it well. The very next day, our son who had made a mistake during dinner tried to apply what Edric told him. He sincerely complimented a friend with whom we spent the next morning. “Thank you for being so nice,” our son said, “You stayed with us at the airport, helped us with our bags, gave us food…” (He enummerrated several things that he appreciated.) Edric and I told him that we were so blessed and proud of him for obeying and applying what he learned about positive words.

Even though our children are pretty responsive and in agreement that social graces are important, so far, we are on an uphill climb. We find ourselves having to remind our boys of little things like…

“Please don’t pick your nose in public.”
“Please let women through a door before you enter.”
“Please don’t run into an elevator when people are exiting.”
“Please modulate your voice so you are not being loud.”
“Please say ‘please’ and ‘excuse me’ and ‘thank you’.”
“Please do not interrupt adults when they are talking.”
“Please ask permission from the host of a home or occasion when you want to borrow, play with, or go somewhere as a guest.”
“Please modify your behavior when you are getting too rowdy in a public place.”
“Please answer and look people in the eye when you are being spoken to.”
“Please say ‘nice to meet you’ when you are being introduced.”

The list goes on and on. Sometimes it feels like trying to take the jungle out of three Tarzans!

However, Edric and I are committed to teaching our children manners and etiquette. As much as possible, we do not let them get away with inappropriate, discourteous, disrespectful, or socially ignorant responses to situations. We try to do one or a combination of the following when we need to address their behavior:

– We have a family conference, dialogue, or Bible study on the character trait that applies.
– Edric or myself will take a child aside to have a serious talk with him so he can apologize or correct the person he has wronged, and change his behavior.
– Our children are disciplined if a clear rule or command was broken.

Teaching manners can be so overwhelming so we emphasize the essence of it, the “what.” This is found in Philippians 2:3. “Do nothing out of selfishness or empty conceit but with humility of mind consider others as more important than yourself.” This is the character trait of “deference.” Deference is about putting others before yourself — making their needs more important than your own. When I was a child, my parents also made Matthew 7:12 a golden rule for relating to others. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.”

But even beyond the “what” is the “why”, the higher motivation for social graces. When I said to Edric, “Hon, maybe we are passing on the pressure of appearances to our children by being particular about their behavior.” And he was quick to correct me, “Hon, I don’t agree with you. Appearances are important when you are representing the Lord.”

As I thought about this, I realized that he was correct. 1 Peter 2:12 challenges us to live an exemplary life, to live in an excellent way so that people will glorify God by our lives. Matthew 5:16 also says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

If we claim to be followers of Jesus, but our children behave in all kinds of socially inappropriate ways then how can this bring glory to God’s name?

We are not called to be perfect, but we are called to pursue a standard of excellence. At the same time, this does not give us the right to criticize others or look down on families whose children have not been taught right conduct. It does mean that we are accountable for the testimony of our family. And our children need to understand that if they claim to know Jesus and have a relationship with him, then their lives have to reflect this in the most excellent way.

Fortunately, because of homeschooling, Edric and I are around our children alot and they are exposed to what Chris Klicka called, “real world” socialization. According to Klicka, “Homeschool kids are completely prepared for the ‘real world’ of the workplace and the home. They relate regularly with adults and follow their examples rather than the examples of foolish peers. They learn based on ‘hands on’ experiences and early apprenticeship training.” Socialization: Homeschoolers Are in the Real World

Since our children have many ‘real world’ socialization opportunities, we are given the best contexts in which to teach manners. We don’t cover a book on “good morals and right conduct” as a subject, although we have a great etiquette book and character book as references. Instead, we watch our children’s social behaviour closely and train them as a way of life. I believe this is a benefit to homeschooling that is worth mentioning. But every family can have well-mannered children, whether homeschooled or not.

The reality is, we all need help in this area. Parenting our children so they have a heart for God, as well as obey and respect us is enough of a challenge. So to imagine having to go further to raise them to be ladies and gentlemen seems equivalent to the feat of climbing Mt. Everest. Few try and few make it. Haven’t people been saying for years, “chivalry is dead.” And add to that a comment I read on a site by a disgruntled man that went something like this, “I don’t get why women complain so much about men not being gentlemen when women these days are far from lady-like. They want a man with traditional values but they don’t know how to be a traditional woman.” Touché.

So there is a shortage of both species today. But we, as parents, can do something about it by beginning with our families. If you feel helplessly flawed and incapable of reaching this standard, take comfort in this verse which has been a comfort to me. “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) This verse tells me God knows my flaws as a parent. He knows Edric’s flaws and my children’s flaws but if we do our part to stay connected to him, he will supply the grace and power we need to live the life he has called us to.

Let’s aim for the highest standard, not for ourselves, so that we can look good or so that our children will use it for personal gain, but because God has called us to be radically excellent for his glory.

And remember, homeschooled or not, it is the most well-mannered children who are the most well-socialized!

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