Since September, my next-door neighbor has been watching my 2 sons (8 & 9 yrs) after school. My neighbor is deaf, she easily reads lips and can speak – somewhat. She also has a 3-year-old daughter. A few weeks ago she sent the following e-mail to me at work: (condensed version)
I didn’t sleep well last night because I was upset about what happened yesterday afternoon and I will need to have a long talk with them this afternoon. I didn’t feel respected by them. I am going to talk about being polite, respectful to me and my daughter. I will explain to them how important it is to say “Hi” to me when they show up. I always have to remind them to say it. That is the minimum about being polite.
I am also going to talk about taking care of my daughters toys. Sometimes they were rough with the little trains. I told them to be more careful. They throw some toys or play roughly with her dolls, especially one that is very expensive. I am going to forbid them to play with dolls.
If they are not careful with things at my home, they are going to lose the privileges to play. I am going to explain to them to be respectful of things that are in our house. I will give examples to help them understand – e.g. they would be upset if I went to their bedroom and damaged their stuff.
I am going to talk to them about noises. They were too noisy and my daughter could not nap. I am also going to talk to them about respecting people. I am deaf and yesterday, I felt like your sons took advantage of my deafness. This is a good opportunity for the boys to learn respect for people with a handicap. The 2 most important issues to me are being POLITE and RESPECTFUL.
My first reaction was anger. How could she say this about my wonderful boys? They are respectful, I teach this concept to them everyday…whether it is treating adults with respect and practicing good manners or not talking back or earning privileges with good behavior or illustrating how I treat them with respect as they form new ideas about who they are.
I stewed over her e-mail for at least 20 minutes and then it dawned on me. She was right. I could visualize my boys walking into her house and not saying hello – because I wasn’t there to remind them, not looking at her when they spoke – because I was not there to remind them, having fun throwing little baby toys – because I was not there to remind them. When are they old enough to remember the concept of respect without mom reminding them… how do we teach this concept as a life long learning lesson?
I wrote a long apologetic e-mail back to my neighbor. That night I had a long talk with my boys. I made them write apology notes to her about what they did wrong and how they would correct their actions. I talked (again) to the boys about people with disabilities and how there is no excuse for not looking directly at someone so they can read their lips. They are doing a few chores around my neighbors’ house to “pay” for some of the toys that were broken.
Perhaps my sons need to be brought to and shown higher standards and that they will earn respect by meeting these standards. As a parent, I teach my sons to be helpful, and eventually, helpfulness may turn into chivalry. Perhaps eventually they will develop the kind of manners that chivalry entails. But for now, I am using every environment to help my sons learn and gain respect.