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Trade Paperback
208 pages
May 2005
Revell Books

Taming Your Family Zoo: Six Weeks to Raising a Well-Mannered Child

by Donna Jones

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt




I hate spitting.

I never dreamed that I would be spit on by a monkey—especially a monkey that was my own.

It began like a thousand other days. The springtime sun warmed my arms as my children and I happily drove to the park—another perfect day in sunny Southern California. We were to meet several friends from church, along with their children, all roughly the same ages as my three. The sound of familiar preschool melodies filled the car as we cruised to our destination.

I pulled into the closest spot available in the crowded parking lot. My children quickly spotted their playmates and squirmed excitedly as they waited for me to unbuckle first one, then two, then three car seats. The older two, as eager as two racehorses in the gate, waited as patiently as could be expected while I placed their six-month-old sister in her stroller. When I was finally ready, off they flew, across the grass and down the hill, with the kind of pure and uninhibited laughter that somehow only children can muster.

They swung, climbed, twirled, and danced. They got dirt under their nails and sand in their hair. They dined on peanut-butter sandwiches and red juice boxes. They exchanged silly knock-knock jokes and private whispers. They were in kid heaven.

Truthfully, I was in heaven too. There was not a hint of hitting, biting, or tattling among anyone’s children. The other mothers and I got a few precious, uninterrupted moments to visit and laugh. And every so often one of us would jump up and swing or climb or twirl with our kids. We laughed almost as gleefully as they did. It was the perfect day—almost.

When the last juice box was empty and the last fishy cracker eaten, it was nearly time for us to head for home, so I prepared my children for our departure with the infamous “five-minute warning.” You know the one.

“Kids, we have five more minutes to play,” I called sweetly.

At two minutes I again reminded my children that soon it would be time to go. I gave one final reminder as “zero” hour loomed near.

At first my children ignored me. I chalked it up to being caught up in the excitement of the day, but a bit embarrassed, I walked over to my two oldest and repeated, “It’s time to go now.”

My three-year-old immediately grabbed my hand and prepared to go. My six-year-old was another story. First he began to whine. Next came the crying. Then the wailing. Finally, he stomped his feet in complete defiance. By this time my friends, along with every mother at the park, had stopped their conversation and become totally engrossed in our little display. I could feel every eye riveted to our scene, every mind wondering how I would handle this all-too-common scenario. We had become unwilling actors in a play whose ending was yet to be written.

What I wanted to do was bury myself in the sandbox. What I did instead, was try to regain control of a bad situation quickly going south.

So, with an infant-laden stroller and every sand toy known to humankind in one hand and a three-year-old child hanging on to my other arm, I somehow managed to take my son’s arm and usher him toward the car. I willed my eyes to face forward, trying to ignore the other mothers’ stares and my son’s incessant crying.

When at last I could take it no longer, I stopped dead in my tracks, bent down to face my son squarely in the eye, and hissed under my breath, “Taylor Michael Jones, we are going home. Stop this now!”

And then he did it. The unthinkable. The unimaginable. Every mother’s worst nightmare. My darling, normally well-mannered child spit in my face!

Eight years later . . .

It began like a thousand other days. The abrupt ring startled me out of deep thought as I reached for one dish, then two, then three . . . routinely unloading the dishwasher, relishing the quiet moments after my three children bounded out the door for school. I reached for the phone.

“Hello. Mrs. Jones?” said the unfamiliar voice.

“Yes. This is Mrs. Jones,” I hesitantly replied.

“Mrs. Jones, this is Mr. Orjeron, your son, Taylor’s, eighth-grade history teacher.”

Uh-oh, I thought. “Y–yes . . . ,” I faltered.

“Mrs. Jones, I am on my morning break grading papers. To be quite honest, I was getting very discouraged.”

“Yes.” Oh no.

“I’ve graded over one hundred tests, and most of the grades have been Ds or Fs.”

“I see.” Great. Just great.

“And then I came to Taylor’s test.”

“Yes.” Oh, Lord, what’s next?

“Mrs. Jones, I wanted to let you know that Taylor received a 100 percent. But that is not the real reason I’m calling.”

“It’s not?” Oh, my!

“No, Mrs. Jones, it’s not. I wanted to call to let you know not only what a good job he is doing at school but, more important, what a good person you are raising.”

Me, Lord? Could this be the same child who spit in my face?

“I wanted to let you know that you have a son you should be proud of. He is respectful, polite, well-mannered, and thoughtful of others. But he also has a great sense of humor and is well liked by his peers. And so, Mrs. Jones, I just wanted to take a moment out of my day to say thank you for raising a great kid.”

“Thank you, Mr. Orjeron.” Thank you, Lord. There is hope!

There is hope. Maybe your child has never done anything as disrespectful as spitting in your face, but if you are like most parents, I’ll bet there has been a time or two when you’ve wondered, Whose child is this, anyway? A moment of exasperation, perhaps, or a moment of embarrassment or disbelief. A moment when you were certain you were doing things all wrong as a parent. I’ve been there. We’ve all been there. Yet there is hope! The child that baffles you now can amaze you later—if you are prepared to guide that child armed with wisdom and knowledge.

Ten years later our family laughs at Taylor’s spitting episode. What once made me feel horrified and defeated now seems funny. And Taylor, at seventeen, can’t believe he ever did such a thing. The point? Whether you feel you and your family need just a few pointers where courtesy is concerned or you feel your children’s manners are something that could make the cover of National Geographic, you can tame your family zoo.

Of course, in today’s society, it is not as simple as it once was. According to a 2002 study done by Public Agenda Research Group, nearly eight in ten respondents said “lack of respect and courtesy is a serious national problem; 61% blamed parents for not instilling courtesy in their children.”1 A similar poll done by U.S. News & World Report found that “eight out of ten of us, both with kids and without kids, agree that bad parenting—the failure to instill good behavior in kids—is the major cause of bad manners.”2 But perhaps most shocking of all is the telephone survey done by Rasmussen Research, in which eight out of ten respondents said that “children today display worse manners than in the past, when the respondents themselves were children.”3 Clearly, lack of manners caused by ineffective parenting has become a serious issue in today’s fast-paced society.

Raising a well-mannered child is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child—and yourself. Studies link good manners with success. Well-mannered kids have better relationships with their peers and with adults, and they are perceived more positively by others and feel more confident. Homes in which manners are practiced as part of everyday behavior are less stressful and more harmonious. And the benefit of possessing good manners doesn’t end with childhood. Well-mannered adults have more success professionally and personally than their less socially adept counterparts. Instilling good manners is not only for the rich or the elite. On the contrary, good manners should be the goal of every family.

But how do you do it? In an increasingly self-centered, etiquette-illiterate culture, how do you raise a well-mannered child?

In the pages that follow, I answer that question. My purpose for writing this book is to give you hope and help in raising a child who loves God and loves others—for that is what etiquette is really all about.

Since 1988 I have taught thousands of children good manners in my children’s etiquette class, Confidence & Courtesies. On the first day of class, the children learn that etiquette is “kind and considerate behavior.” Etiquette is not something we reserve for company or special occasions. Etiquette does not go out of style or become irrelevant. Etiquette—good manners—is something to be used every day and with everyone. Good manners are to be used at home, at school, in restaurants and stores—everywhere.

They are to be part of the way we relate to parents, siblings, teachers, and friends. Jesus taught us to “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). This admonition is the basis for etiquette. Etiquette is not about being “hoity-toity,” as my children like to say. No, etiquette is quite the opposite. Etiquette is about humility, unselfishness, and respect. Etiquette involves treating others as you wish to be treated.

And when you have a home filled with people who live like this, you have a home that is a safe haven, a sanctuary, a secure refuge.

Good Parents “Parent”

But I live in the real world. I have real children. Sometimes the peaceful haven I long for feels more like the local zoo at feeding time. Can you relate? As much as we love our little monkeys, they can wreak havoc on our idealistic notions of blissful family life.

I have never felt more out of control of my three little “monkeys” than on that fateful day at the park ten years ago. I questioned my parenting methods, style, and ability. Fortunately, my temporary defeat didn’t lead to despair. Why? Because I knew then and know now, two key facts:

    • Children are a work in process.

    • Good parents “parent.”

What does this mean? In simple terms it means that no child is perfect. Children are not miniature adults. Children are children. They are in the process of learning appropriate and inappropriate behavior. They are bound to make mistakes or poor choices along the way. It is our job to teach them to make the right choices.

Many parents unwisely and naively feel inadequate as parents simply because their child misbehaves. But we can learn to see our child’s misbehavior not as a failure but as an opportunity. Each time a child chooses an inappropriate behavior, we can seize that opportunity as a teachable moment—a moment to instruct, encourage, or discipline. When we see our child’s behavior through the grid of “teachable moments,” we are freed from the unrealistic desire to be perfect parents with perfect children. Instead, we can become wise parents who are in the process of raising healthy, happy, well-behaved children.

When my friends Rex and Andrea Minor, both now on staff at Willow Creek Community Church, had young children, their daughter Paige became unruly while sitting with them during an adult Sunday school class on—of all things—parenting. After trying unsuccessfully to calm her once, Rex lifted an irritable, inconsolable two-year-old Paige into his arms and quickly left the room. Later, on their way home, Andrea commented on how embarrassed she felt over little Paige’s behavior.

“Andrea,” Rex responded, “we should never be embarrassed that our child misbehaves. We should only be embarrassed if we fail to deal with our child’s misbehavior.”

I would be willing to bet, however, that you, like me, have felt embarrassed over your child’s behavior at one time or another. Why? Because somewhere in the deep recesses of our minds, we believe that if we were the kind of parents we should be, our children would never misbehave. We have bought into the false notion that we can somehow be perfect parents who raise perfect children. And what happens when our children behave like children? We end up frustrated, discouraged, angry, or defeated.

Our goal is not perfection. It can’t be, for we will never be perfect this side of heaven, nor will our children. No, our goal is wisdom—wisdom to raise children who love God and others.

When asked, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” But he didn’t stop there. He went on to add, “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt. 22:36–39). The good manners we teach our children are based on these two commandments. Our job is to wisely instill these principles into our children.

Sixteen years have come and gone since Paige Minor squirmed her way out of the third row at church; eleven years have passed since my son, Taylor’s, spitting spree. Now well into their teens, both kids are confident and courteous young adults who are a source of joy to their family and friends. Their character development didn’t happen overnight. But it did happen. And it can happen for your child too.

Children are a work in progress, but armed with knowledge, perseverance, and wisdom, you can help your child embrace good manners as a way of life. Doing so will increase confidence and decrease chaos. It will lighten tension and heighten peace. Now who wouldn’t want a home like that?



We should never be embarrassed that our child misbehaves. We should only be embarrassed if we fail to deal with our child’s misbehavior.