To Get What We Need

/ / - Character Development, Articles, Blog, Encouragement


In your home, who is the resident authority on etiquette? Who says “Sit up straight,” “Don’t talk with food in your mouth” or “Please, chew with your mouth closed,” “Lower your voice” or “Use indoor voices!” “Say please, and say thank you,” “No hitting,” “No pinching,” “Don’t fuss,” “Use your words.” “Comb your hair and wash your hands before coming to the table.” “Don’t run in the house.” “No throwing in the house.” Is mindfulness taught in your home? Is thoughtfulness required? In your home, who rewards honesty, sharing, and kindness? Who has the last word?

Endless encouragement along with guidance in the nuances of comportment and social skills come to each child from every direction. Training begins with mother, father, and other relatives and teachers and continues throughout childhood. We soon learn that there are two things happening in life. First, somehow, we must manage to get what we need, and secondly, we must learn to share what we have. All the rules of etiquette and manners are built on these truths. For example, if we want a smile, we give a smile. If we want friends, we must introduce ourselves and our family to others. If we are kind, we must believe others are kind too. If others behave unkindly, we must respond with kindness because it is a way of sharing what we have in hopes they will find it of value and reciprocate the same.

In order to sit or stand up straight, one must have a basic understanding of human anatomy. We can empower a child with self-awareness both indoors and out by coaching them. Help them improve posture, stride, throwing, catching, and running skills. Good posture, clean hands, and combed hair show self-respect and a sense of place, just as not running indoors and not eating while talking show respect for others. Showing respect is another way of sharing what we have to get what we need.

Lessons implicit in childhood training show us how things are done under our parents’ roof, in our family, and in our community at large. At home, we learn how we are expected to behave. If we meet expectations, rewards follow. If we break rules, consequences follow, and we must try again until we learn the lessons. Occasionally, a creative child will come along and suggest a better way to do something or add improvements to how things are done at home. Clearly, this is not rule-breaking but negotiation, a valuable skill that should be encouraged within parameters of house rules. Such discussions are based on trust. The child trusts that you will accept their modification of the rule in order to get results that benefit all. This is a golden opportunity to empower a child with sharing responsibility.

Most house rules allow for negotiations. Few are cast in stone. For example, say a meteor shower is expected at 1 A.M. and the night sky forecast is clear, but it is a school night and bedtime is firmly set at 9 P.M. In this case, a little give and take is required. Dedicated stargazers would have to be willing to go to sleep an hour early, set an alarm for 12:45, watch the show, and go right back to bed at 2 A.M. This works because the underlying house rule is not really to go to sleep at a certain hour but to make sure everyone in the family gets enough sleep.  

Nature has lessons to teach as well. Without words, it teaches that we are part of something much bigger and more powerful than we are. Nature teaches lessons about the exchange of value for value. It reveals its mysteries through mankind’s accumulated knowledge about the Earth, including changes of the seasons, the migration of birds, the transition from day to night, and the moon and stars in the sky. Children learn quickly what nature provides, and they gradually understand how to interact with the elements to get what is needed. The rules of nature are at once universal and eternal, simple and immediate. One of the best ways for parents to help children learn to build trust is through vegetable gardening. It is the ideal family activity. Gardening and farming not only teach valuable survival skills but also provide opportunities for everyone to be inventive while sharing tasks and finding ways to optimize their labor, the soil, the sun, seeds, and water to get the best results, to literally ‘reap what they sow.’  

I think we all agree that it is not we who set the underlying rules in our home. Nor is it nature that causes a seed to become what it is meant to be. As parents, we strive to prepare our children to make their way in the world. We give them social skills to help ensure they will live in peace with others. Good etiquette uses simple words and phrases like saying “Please,” to get what we need. “Thank you,” to show gratitude. “You’re welcome,” to show honesty. “Forgive me” and “I forgive you” to express regret and give grace. Implicit in each of these words and phrases is a prayer. These little prayers are what we have to share. These little prayers help us believe we will receive what we need. They help us pay homage and give praise to the one who is the true authority, always has the last word and sets the underlying rules in our home.    

TK Reilly

Teresa Kathryn (TK) Reilly is an artist, writer, and instructional systems designer who resides in Florida. She is the owner of Etiquette Lessons Foundation, and her published works include such titles as Etiquette Lessons, Girls and Boys at the Table, Teens at the Table, and ORBIT Book One: Civility in Space. Her work can be found at:


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"Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6).