A child-friendly home is great, but I also need home-friendly children. Not everywhere we go will be a “please touch” experience. If I give my kids the opportunity to learn self-restraint at home, they’ll be comfortable and welcome in other places as well. If I leave them to their own devices, I won’t even enjoy them in my own home. I have to teach them limits.
This rules out padded walls, inflatable furniture, or living in a house that resembles a McDonald’s play place. My house can reflect the adults that live here, too. That’s a relief!
My husband and I are avid readers, so we have books everywhere. Paper page books, not all board books. We have electronics and candles and Willow Tree figures. My father-in-law was a professional artist, so we have some really nice paintings and pewter sculptures. We have antique furniture, an old typewriter that belonged to my grandmother, and we use porcelain dinnerware and real glass glasses for drinking.
We also have some kid dishes for our toddler, and many of our kids use plastic cups. We have stain resistant carpet, laminate flooring, and nearly-indestructible quartz counter tops. Grown-up things are up high, kid things are down low. Our house is a blend of the people who live here.
For weeks I’ve focused on creating an environment where kids can be free. It is so important to do so. But it is also important to create an environment that requires restraint. Our home is not free from rules, our kids are just free to live within them.
- What may we throw? Balls. Dolls, cars, blocks? Not so much.
- Where may we throw? Outside. Inside? Not so much.
- Baby dolls are great for dress-up. Baby brothers? Not so much.
- We write and color on paper, but not in paper page books.
- Books are for reading, blocks are for building.
It’s about teaching them stewardship, really. We want to use the things God has given us responsibly and to bless others. That is our main “rule.” It covers most of the possession related tensions in a house with children: sharing, hoarding, stealing, breaking what others build, borrowing without asking, using toys roughly.
Learning to live within this “stewardship” limit prepares our children to be outside of our home. If we ask them to show their friends how we play at our house, they are learning to ask what is permissible at a friend’s house. They also see that not all families do the same things – what we choose for our house is not “right,” it is not “gospel.” What we choose for our house is simply the way we do it at our house.
That is not to say there aren’t universal principles, and we clearly articulate the “non-negotiables.” Usually non-negotiables have more to do with caring for people than caring for stuff. We want them to know that they are responsible to obey their parents even when we are not present – unkind speech isn’t welcome in their mouths even if it is acceptable in a friend’s home. We don’t use name-calling unless it is a term of endearment, even at camp. Knife words are just that – words that can cut and there is a certain level of maturity needed before they can be used safely, just like knives. Caring for people and caring for stuff are two different categories, but sometimes they overlap.
So what makes a “home friendly child”? What helps our children to be welcome (more than tolerated) in public places and the homes of others?
- Being a home friendly child starts with good manners. “Please” and “Thank You” are never amiss. Same thing with “Yes, ma’am” and “Yes, sir.”
- Asking permission rather than forgiveness is a good virtue to develop. It encourages healthy communication and exposes expectations before an awkward situation arises.
- Asking forgiveness quickly is a helpful skill, too.
- We leave breakable stuff out. I keep a variety of adhesive products on hand. It is much better for them to resist temptation and learn to ignore breakable things in our home than at the home of an elderly friend.
- We use candles. When we are in the room, of course. We use our fire place. Fire is fascinating and I want my kids to enjoy it’s beauty and warmth. I also want them to respect rules regarding fire. By using candles at home, the novelty is worn off a little when we encounter them in other places.
- Table manners. From the time our wee ones can join us in a high chair we begin training with table manners. We begin teaching them:
- to keep their hands in their lap
- to chew with their mouths closed
- to talk with their mouths empty
- to wait for everyone to be served before eating
- to take small helpings – you can always go back for more
- to watch for mommy or the hostess to take the first bite of dessert
- to enjoy and be a part of the conversation – not to dominate it
- to wait patiently at the table for everyone to finish before asking to be excused
- to ask to be excused before leaving their seat
- to offer to serve others
- to pass serving dishes in a clockwise direction
- to leave their food on their plates and their drinks in their cups
- to use utensils as utensils, not as flags, drumsticks, or weapons 🙂
- We have even tried to teach them a kind way to refuse a particular food, a polite way to leave an offensive food on their plate, and a discreet way to remove inedible food from their mouths. Guiding our kids in proper etiquette while young saves a lot of retraining later.
Children won’t just manufacture pleasant behavior, good stewardship, and proper manners. It takes thoughtful and careful training. Just like every other part of parenting, it involves sacrifice. And just like every other part of parenting, we’re dealing in eternity. That perspective can help me remember broken china is better than a broken child.