Kids look cute in their Christmas finery but festive duds won�t cloak the fact that parents aren�t teaching youngsters their Ps and Qs. All the monkeys aren�t in the zoo. Many tykes are on the loose without social skills or discipline and, alas, manners matter.
We�ve just survived a Thanksgiving siege with out-of-town guests, a missionary couple and their four children who camped out in our finished basement. Obviously they embraced their call to the Biblical axiom �Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel� but it was clear they skipped �Train up a child in the way he should go.�
Our lower level has a bed, bath, TV, toys, videos, crafts, games and puzzles. Upstairs, I padded the dining room table and chairs, put away �irresistible pretties,� thinking, �Bring �em on!� Silly me.
The living room became Discovery Zone. My husband�s new leather chair doubled as gymnastic apparatus. Within two days towel bars were loose, chair legs scratched, carpets crayoned and toys littered the house. When the plumber hauled off a broken toilet, he muttered, �Better you than me.� The children�s father�s strongest rebuke? �Enough already.�
It�s rude to trim down another�s children so I persuaded my husband to try charm. But faced with pillow fights and crashing bodies, familial courtesy succumbed to panic. Simultaneously we barked, �Knock it off!� with such ferocity our wayward guests retreated to their subterranean digs.
Later when I had the kids alone I discovered they weren�t brats after all, just mildly uncivilized. A dash of Auntie El�s etiquette and clear-cut ground rules birthed a lovely transformation.
Granted, I was raised by a somewhat stodgy group and have routinely been ribbed about my propriety. Our church is California casual so I was teased when my kids addressed adults as �Mr. and Mrs.� Rather than �Hank and Babs.�
Even my family heckled me about keeping my two on a tight leash. Once while vacationing in a borrowed Hyannis, Ma. summer home I was outside drinking in the view. Mischievous chuckles came from a dormer window where my son and his cousins were inside lighting fireworks.
I yelled up, �Cut it out. You�ll burn up the place!� Surprisingly, my mother-the-matriarch yelled from another floor, �Pipe down, Ellen, you�ll wake the neighbors!� As I dragged my delinquent back to our wing in this very elegant house, I pondered just what the neighbors� reaction would have been to a five-alarm blaze.
Today�s parents don�t have it easy with discipline and I always second-guess myself. Childhood gurus float the latest theories. Plus potential child-abuse charges threaten even the lightest fanny whack. Yet, when asked, kids repeatedly chorus their desire for defined and enforced guidelines. It�s a balancing act and, for better or worse, I�m glad I�m done.
Last Christmas, our 3-year old nephew toured the Pensacola Aeronautics Museum at a velocity matched only by the exhibited jets� high-speed capabilities. During one pass, my husband grabbed hold of the pipsqueak tourist and, out of earshot of the indulgent dad, leaned low and growled, �Uncle Max says, �No running!�� The pop-eyed tot stopped in his tracks and sauntered civilly from then on. The two spent the next day on the couch as chums watching videos of �Victory at Sea.�
Family friction intensifies during the holidays and unchecked childish shenanigans tighten the tension rod. Junior isn�t cute when he dismantles grandfather�s clock. We need to rein in the unruly. If we don�t, kids run amok and I predict the ancient angelic announcement will evolve into a plea. �Peace on Earth � Please!�
article first appeared December 19, 1996, in The Denver Post.
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From 1985 to 2002, Ellen Brewster (Makkai) wrote for several major metropolitan editorial pages, a well-known website, Creator's Syndicate and a national Christian publication. Her columns provided a counterpoint to the vast majority of secular writers who frequently discount or insult the faith community. The small feature, "Bible Byte," offset daily horoscopes in one local newspaper.
Today�s parents don�t have it easy with discipline and I always second-guess myself. Childhood gurus float the latest theories. Plus potential child-abuse charges threaten even the lightest fanny whack.