Jayne Dawson: Should your child make way for an adult? Absolutely yes

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A stranger left a note on a train thanking a young mother for teaching her child such good manners, and enclosing a fiver so she could buy herself a drink.

I’m not sure what I think about this - well, I am, I think it’s a bit creepy, but I’m trying not to say so because the mum in question has launched a Facebook campaign to find her fan and benefactor.

But on the question of children and manners, I am with him (the stranger identified himself as a he with an adult daughter of his own).

This mum had earned praise from her anonymous fellow traveller because she pulled her sleeping three year old onto her knee to free his seat for another passenger on a full train.

There was a time when that wouldn’t have been good manners, it would have been normal and expected behaviour. In fact there was a time when an adult would have asked a child to move, and pretty smartly, if they didn’t do so voluntarily, but that time isn’t now.

Now, no one would dare to ask another person’s child to do anything at all, for fear of an outraged reaction from the parent.

In recent years I have stood on public transport several times while trying not to glare at a parent who was allowing her child to occupy a seat.

Because I think children on public transport should make way to allow an older person to sit down, by either standing or sitting on their parent’s knee.

Are you with me, or are you shocked? Do you think children deserve to sit in comfort as much as anyone else or do you think an adult has the right of seniority.

My view is based on practicalities. Most children have young, strong legs that can stand pain-free for ages. Most adults don’t. They need to rest their weary bones.

At one time there wouldn’t have been a debate. Adults came first and children came second.

In shops, in the days, before self service, an adult would think nothing of jumping the queue in front of a child - I know because I was that child.

In that world, it was all one way. Adults had rights and children did not. It wasn’t a great system and, at its most extreme, led to adults getting away with brutal, abusive behaviour.

Even children not at the extreme but living mundane, ordinary childhoods could be very unhappy, since it was routine to completely ignore their feelings, hopes and dreams.

It wouldn’t be a good idea to go back there, but I do think we have rather thrown out the baby with the bathwater since then. In our attempt to treat children more fairly we have become, in our everyday lives, too child-centred.

There are still children at the margin living dreadful lives at the hands of vile, thuggish parents, but evil people have always existed and always will.

In the lives that most of us lead, we’re a bit too keen to give our young full rights, to allow them to make decisions, express opinions and decide what they want as if they were fully-formed adults and not youngsters with a lot to learn. So we hear a lot from parents about what their children will and will not do, about their likes and dislikes.

But good manners, when you get down to it, are about being kind and thoughtful. That’s all there is to it.

And I think it is kind and thoughtful for a younger person to move so that an older person can sit.

It’s a rule I have always applied in my own home - my children were well acquainted with “the dog shelf” when older visitors arrived and the chairs ran out.

Loving your child more than your life does not mean allowing them to do whatever they want. That’s not parenting, that’s an absence of parenting.

The little one is precious but not in charge.

And teaching a child that the right way to assert their worth is to be selfish is only setting them up for a world of pain.

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Sarah Champion MP

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