Expectations about childhood manners have varied over time and between cultures. Industrialized countries have largely inherited the manners founded in Victorian Britain. These manners spread through the burgeoning middle classes because one way to identify breeding was through manners, especially in the young. Some doctors who knew of the theory of evolution reinforced the idea that babies came into the world like savages in need of taming and that a respectable family would train its children to be little gentlemen and women as soon as they could walk on two legs. Children were accepted socially only if they behave like adults. Other cultures created a system of manners based on genuine personal regard for one's fellow creatures, whatever their age. For such societies, manners were an expression of inner feeling, not a proliferation of commandments.
It is ironic that our methods of teaching children manners include bullying, pleading and threats. The code of conventional manners makes no demands on the behaviour of adults towards children. It is acceptable to interrupt, to domineer, shout and snatch. Pleasant manners are desirable in children as well as adults, but an authoritarian way of teaching them seems unlikely to give more than a superficial gloss. Perhaps the root of good manners lies not in focused and frenetic parental training, but in a society that honours and welcomes children. Manners have often evolved more from fear than from mutual respect and this may be why some parents today feel ambivalent about handing on to their young even a basic social code. "Thank you", "please" and "sorry" may be nothing more than sticking plasters patching up the general lack of respect between adult and child.