The Minute With Molly series started with a simple question:
How can we raise compassionate children?
Honestly, it’s enough to make parents want to pull their own hair out.
The p’s and q’s of etiquette are easy. We can remind children to say please and thank you before grabbing that cookie from the table. We can show them the proper way to hold a fork. Those reminders are simple! But knowing etiquette’s p’s and q’s doesn’t mean that you can understand or even speak a mannerly language. You could have the best posture in the world or the most polished table manners – but no one would want to share a meal with you if you’re rude or unkind! Which brings us back to our first question.
How do we raise compassionate kids, if teaching them the rules isn’t enough?
But here’s what everyone trips over when they think about manners: it isn’t just about the rules. At its heart, embracing etiquette means adopting a compassionate mindset. Being mannerly isn’t about doing everything “by the book” or never making a social faux pas! Instead, it’s about living empathetically and learning to think of others’ comfort before your own. Think back to the child who asks for the cookie. By saying please before taking the treat, he tells the other person that he cares more about respecting the giver, than he does for the cookie. If they didn’t care about the other person, they might have just grabbed for it and run off, leaving the giver shocked and a more than a little put out!
Thinking of others is at the heart of etiquette – and thoughtfulness is a skill best learned young; you as parents and guardians should be modeling it from their birth in your homes.
Let me share an example. I remember reading a story in the New York Times once, about a food writer’s struggle with her picky daughters. Now, this poor woman was driven half out of her mind by her children’s eating preferences. At one point, she was even making two separate meals: one for the adults, and one for the girls. Then, one day, she hosted some friends from France. They too had small children – but when she started to prepare a separate meal for them, they very politely told her that whatever she had made for the adults would be just fine, thank you. Shocked, she served it! Her children, startled by the sight of others their age eating “adult” food, asked to eat the other meal. By the end of the trip, the formerly picky children had stopped selfishly demanding separate meals and ate – or at least tried – the adult food they wouldn’t touch before. The girls learned to think of their mother’s time and trouble before their own. The mother understood that she needed to encourage her children to be more thoughtful of others’ time.
The Minute with Molly program cards are meant to catch these problems early, and prompt productive lessons like these before parents feel forced into crazy measures like these. I’ve been working with children for a long time, and I’ve always wanted to create something that could help parents and caregivers teach children about etiquette and its three roots: compassion, honor, respect.
The first inspiration for the Living a Manners Mindset program came when I was visiting with my wonderful niece and her two young children. At the time, I was walking the children through a quick manners lesson. Now, a lesson on a Saturday – who wants to do that? It’s easy to imagine the kids losing focus and getting bored…but they weren’t, not at all! Molly made the difference.
If you’ve seen the finished cards or have ever met Molly, you know that she’s a cute-as-a-button malshipoo. Tiny, but with big eyes that just win your heart every time. She’s also the most patient and polite dog I’ve ever come across. Even as the lesson stretched on, the children connected with her, understood the topic through her. By playing “Manners with Molly,” the children were able to associate etiquette rules and feelings with their playtime experiences with her. Soon, all it took was a quick question – “What would Molly do?” – to encourage the kids to put themselves in a compassionate, mannerly mindset.
And after this, I just thought:
“Gosh, wouldn’t it just be wonderful if everyone could have a Molly in their lives?”
In the space of a few weekends, my small malshipoo solved a problem that had been nudging at me for years. As an etiquette educator, I’ve spent countless hours working with children in group settings. Now, the kids I work with are wonderful: cheerful, communicative, and completely engaged in our activities. But even as I close out our sessions with a few final comments and a stack of handouts, I wonder if anything they learned will stick.
Real understanding calls for repetition and experience. Otherwise, lessons fade into foggy memory. Think, how many of the dates and names do you remember from your high school history classes? I’m going to guess not many – or none at all! Rote memorization doesn’t work because even if a child remembers a point cognitively, she might not feel it in her heart if she doesn’t have an emotional connection to the lesson itself. Why would she open the door for someone – or even think of doing so – if she didn’t have a care for the comfort of the person behind her? We can’t lecture kids into having empathy for others, but we can encourage them to think beyond themselves.
This is where Molly comes into the picture.
Not everyone is in a position to have the interactive experience my family had – and even though Molly is certified as a therapy dog, she can’t be there for every child. Even if she could, most parents don’t have the teaching experience (or time!) to build a curriculum around her. But this idea stuck with me, and I kept wondering if it was possible.
What if every child could have a Molly in their lives?
What if every child could have the guidance they needed to thrive in their etiquette lessons?
This is when I started to imagine the program.
My niece’s children connected with Molly because she has a distinct personality they could relate to. Having her physically present helped, but it wasn’t strictly necessary. After all, what more powerful teaching tool exists than a child’s own imagination?
Think back to your childhood books and television shows. Now, raise your hands if you can remember a character that stuck with you, or one who taught you lessons that you only understand as an adult. Who taught you to be kind, courageous, or adventurous? Like Dora, or Mickey Mouse or Elmo. See, you might not remember the details of plot and story, but characters? They tend to stick with you, all the way into adulthood.
As Dr. Seuss once said, “Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.”
Now, I’m the first to admit that sounds wonky. It took me a while to puzzle through it myself. But what Dr. Seuss is trying to say in his usual topsy-turvy way is that fantasy and imagination allow us to turn the telescopes on ourselves; to look inward when the rest of reality is looking outward. To quote an academic paper from a child psychology journal that puts his point a little more clearly:
“Fiction creates situations in which emotions are simulated. Readers are asked not only to understand what characters think and feel but also what they think and feel about each other’s thoughts and feelings.”
In other words, a child’s connection to a character helps them build their emotional literacy skills, and ultimately guides them towards finding compassion for others in the real world.
And compassion, as I’ve said before, is at the very heart of manners.
But how could I make Molly into a character? So much of her charm is in her endless patience, her sweet spirit, and her cute floppy ears. How could that three-dimensional liveliness translate onto a two-dimensional card?
At first, the answer seemed obvious to me: how better to convey Molly’s mannerly interactions with children than to take photos of her doing just that? I reached out to a photographer friend of mine and asked if she would be willing to stage a photoshoot for me. It was a riot! My friend brought her young son – a student of mine – to be Molly’s co-star and promptly set to work. We arranged props, called instructions, and snapped pictures for a whole afternoon. I have to say, I’ve never seen a dog quite so happy to put pearls on! The day flew. By its end, we had a sheaf of adorable photographs ready for use.
But something didn’t seem to fit. Even after we paired the photographs with the lesson cards, the sense of lively creativity and vibrancy I’d imagined just wasn’t there. Ironically, the photos I’d hoped would capture Molly’s creativity were just too realistic for the character I needed her to be. How can children connect to a character if there aren’t any parts of the character left to imagine? The cards were cute, but they didn’t capture the imagination the way that the real Molly does. There wasn’t quite that sense of wonder.
I went back to the drawing board – literally. If Molly’s curiosity and positivity couldn’t be captured in realistic photographs, then maybe it would be better to lean into the character and create a fictional world for Molly herself. I admit, I was excited. I brought in a professional artist and asked her to reimagine the lessons with a cartoon Molly and her friends.
Boy, did she deliver.
The new version of the cards had that vital sense of liveliness the last batch lacked. Molly was a full-fledged character in her own world; a fictional friend that children could connect to and empathize with.
The kids who use these cards might not be able to play with this Molly’s floppy ears or shake her paw, but they can have a similar emotional connection to the lessons because they understand her as a character. Just as the real Molly has helped children learn etiquette in person, her fictionalized self will guide the children she can’t meet in person. These cards will give children the building blocks they need to develop their emotional literacy, communication, and mannerly skills.
But in the end, Molly can only go so far without our help. The hard part – the teaching and reinforcement – comes down to us, the teachers and guardians.
I like to say that children are like little mirrors. They reflect our values, our behaviors, how we interact with other people. If we’re kind and honest, our children will also be kind and honest. If we sneak cookies out of the cookie jar – well, can we really blame our children for doing the same?
The cards help us compile the positive behaviors we want to model into a year-long manners-based curriculum for kids. The time frame was important to me. When I designed them, I imagined them as a long-term solution to my own frustrations as an etiquette teacher. Finally, I would know that young students would have the encouragement they needed to practice the ideas they learned, rather than let them fade into memory like those names and dates from history class.
The set is simple and easy to use.
At the start of every week, caregivers will sit down with a child to go over a new lesson.
The Living a Manners Mindset Program comes with a set of Minute with Molly set contains fifty-two cards, one for each week in the year. Each card builds on the ideas put forward in the last, so the child will not only practice new skills, but also refresh the ones they already know. Once they finish the deck, children will have years’ worth of foundational mannerly skills at hand.
The cards themselves are designed in a flip-tent style; set upright, the message to the children faces front, and the Parent’s Note appears on the back. Ideally, the open card will sit between a child and his parent, giving the pair a chance to go over the lesson together. The main point of the lesson is on the child’s side, so that he can read and discuss the message aloud.
The Parent’s Note is, as you might guess, on the other side. It provides caregivers with ideas for how they can model and further incorporate the card’s lesson into their child’s life during that week.
Let’s go over an example.
Let’s say that over the weekend, your son decided to run about the house with his sister’s favorite stuffed bear and tripped. Now, he was just fine after the fall, but the bear has an awful rip in its arm. Naturally, your daughter is very upset about all of this. But when you talk to your son, you tell him to think back to the card you both read earlier in the week and ask: “What Would Molly Do?”
The text from that particular card reads:
“Oh no, what should you do? You broke your brother’s favorite toy! Don’t try to hide. Don’t lie about it, either. Be honest and own up to it. The owner may not be happy you accidentally broke something. But he’ll be more understanding if you say you’re sorry and help fix what was broken.”
Now, this card can open up a positive dialogue between you and your children. Instead of casting blame, the children can work together to brainstorm positive ways to solve the problem.
The Minute With Molly cards provide activity ideas on how to turn a bad situation – or a broken toy – into an opportunity for thoughtful learning. Let’s turn to the Parent’s Note.
“When your child breaks something, teach him a valuable lesson: encourage him to own up to the incident and take responsibility for fixing or replacing the item. When he does the fixing, replacing, and apologizing for the accident, it will mean so much more than if you simply replace it yourself.”
I can imagine what you’re thinking. Judy, this is nice activity, but what if my child doesn’t break anything? What if this situation isn’t so conveniently timed?
Well, here’s the kicker: it doesn’t need to be. You probably won’t have a well-timed broken toy to illustrate the point. But this card isn’t just about fixing a toy. It’s about taking responsibility and solving problems. It asks children to step back and consider how their actions may have hurt those around them. The lesson put forth here is just as relevant when a child rushes by a family member in the kitchen and accidentally knocks a dish from their hand, or when they leave their toys scattered over the front walk. It encourages children to ask:
How can I fix my mistakes and make the day better for someone else?
That is compassion.
Katherine Patterson, best known for her children’s novels, once said: “It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations- something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own.”
This is how we raise compassionate kids. This is how we “live in a mannerly mindset”. We engage our children’s imaginations and communicate in a way that inspires them to think beyond themselves and to connect with others. Molly, in all her quirky behavior, is a character children can relate to. That connection will inspire compassion and encourage mannerly behavior.
It is my earnest hope that using these cards will help families and teachers alike keep up a dialogue of civility in their homes, classrooms, and after school programs. After all, manners will matter regardless of where the children are! In our fast-paced society, this program offers, quick, invaluable skills for children, and parents to use in their daily lives and are ideal for families, teachers, and daycares. I truly hope that you have as much fun using them as I had making them.