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The Way I See It: Using 1950’s Parenting Methods

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 The older I get, the more I realize that I was greatly helped by old fashioned 1950’s methods for teaching children social skills. Mother had good instincts on how much to “stretch” me so I would learn. To develop, I had to be continually moved outside my comfort zone. In our neighborhood, the rules were the same at every home, and good manners were always expected.

When mistakes were made, I was given proper instructions instead of mother or a neighbor saying “No.” If I wiped my mouth with my hand, my mother would say, “Use the napkin.” The mistake made by many parents and teachers is to say “no” instead of giving the instruction. When I twirled my fork around my head she would say, “Put it back on your plate.” Today, too many people say “no” instead of giving proper instructions. In elementary school, I lapped a bowl of ice cream with my tongue. A teacher silently took it away and said, “You are not a dog.” She did not get mad, she just said it real matter of fact. Back then, manners were always taught in a calm, neutral tone.

At a young age, all the children in our family had to be party hosts and hostesses. My brothers, sisters, and I would greet party guests and shake hands with them. Unfortunately, I am seeing too many kids today who are not learning to shake hands. By age seven or eight years old, I was good at this. Even though I hated the parties, my brother admitted that learning to shake hands and being a good party host helped his career. Having these skills made it easy for him to make a good impression on his bosses at the bank and he is now a senior vice president.

In the 1950’s, all kids were taught to shake hands by demonstrating the act. I had to learn to use the correct amount of pressure and to do two or three shakes while looking at the person. Back then, young children were taught manners and social skills that are now reserved for older children on the spectrum.

Why not have the same expectations for children today? Reserve praise for a really good art project, don’t give it for normal things that are considered polite, such as saying “please” and “thank you.”

Recently I was at a formal dinner with a fully verbal 12-year-old with autism. When he started to eat sliced chicken with his hands, I said, “Use the utensils” and he did. He not only followed my instruction, he even tried some new foods! Teaching kids on the spectrum the formal social skills of the 1950’s can create a respectful child who will be respected.


Temple Grandin, PhD, is an internationally respected specialist in designing livestock handling systems. She is the most noted highly functioning person with autism in the world today. For more information, visit her at www.templegrandin.com.


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  1. Thank you everyone for your feedback! It is important to know what your ideas and thoughts are because you are the reader of this magazine. With that in mind, please be tasteful in your comments. Temple Grandin is the author of this article. We simply post it up for everyone to read. The article is simply what Temple was taught and what helped her. She is clearly stating that it is important to have manners.

  2. Nina says:

    I’m sorry but I disagree, I am recently diagnosed with autism and was raised in the good old fashioned way. Can safely say it has destroyed me. Constantly being told I’m doing things wrong and should do it another way destroyed my self confidence. I was left feeling I was a bad person for not knowing these things like everyone else. I felt broken, wrong, stupid. I became unable to make any decision for myself because I would probably be wrong. I have suffered years of depression, eating disorders, anxiety and self harm because of the way this style of parenting made me see myself. I don’t blame my parents, I love them very much. They did the best they could with a child they didn’t know was different. They saw this as the correct way to raise their children. I have taught my children manners etc but in a kind way, if they choose not to do it I don’t chastise them, I let them know that it’s their choice but it will affect the way others view them. I explain why we do things and I never tell them what they do is bad or wrong. This does not mean they get away with whatever they want. I have been complimented many times on the behaviour of my children. To me, the only correct style of parenting is one which treats each children as an individual and tries to view the world from their point of view. I want to build their confidence not destroy it. I can learn from the techniques of so-called 1950’s parenting but I will also learn from the many mistakes that were made.

  3. Dean says:

    Any article that uses “…with autism” is immediately suspect on its face.

    I am a thirty-six year-old white man who never gets a second glance in his local area, and yet the words “…with autism”, or separationist language as I call it, induce symptoms in me that are consistent with PTSD. Even describing this reaction to people makes my physical form twitch.

    So basically what we have here is more parental units writing their spurious opinions about how to treat autistic people, using language that an overwhelming majority of autistic people find offensive, and from a perspective of not being autistic themselves.

    So you will have to pardon me if I decide your advice is not worth following.

    • Lisa says:

      You are so very very wrong in your assumptions about this author. Temple Grandin has autism. She is probably the most highly respected writer and speaker today communicating about autism from the perspective of the people who have it.

      You might find it interesting to read more of her writing. Her website address is given.

    • Chris says:

      Dean, not to argue but just to point out, this article is written not by a parent but by Temple Grandin, PhD. She is also autistic and while you may not identity with her choice of wording, that does not devalue the entire article’s validity.

      She raises very salient points, no matter how you feel about identifying as autistic. x

  4. Veronica says:

    I always amazes me and half annoys me when people compliment myself or my sons for having good manners.
    Sincere compliment: “Oh ,you’re boys have such nice manners”
    Expected response: “thank you, we try!”
    My internal response (usually;) “they better….”
    It is an expectation, not a suggestion. My 4 yr old and my 7 year old (high functioning autism diagnosis) and even my 2 yr old all say please and thank you, excuse me and you’re welcome. They also know how to properly introduce themselves including shaking hands. Some rules and expectations must not and should not be adjusted. That does not mean they should not be taught in a different way than is currently being used most often. We have become so worried about hurting feelings that we often lose sight of direction that is clear and concise.
    My 7 yr old has been having a really tough time at school lately and came home after a particularly difficult day that included talking to the principal. When I got down to it with him as to what had happened and what needed to change all he could do was go over the things he was told NOT to do…..I had to repeatedly, and in different ways ask him what he needs to do, what actions should he take. It took a very long time to help him understand that knowing what not to do and know what to do are two very different concepts. Two concepts that are not being focused on properly. There is nothing insensitive or dominating about directly telling a child what to do, as long as you are there to show how them when they need help!

  5. Kathleen Foubister says:

    The best I advice I have read/heard in a long time.

  6. Laurena says:

    Awesome article. We have tried to raise our (five) children the same way. Although, I am ashamed to admit that the handshake was one we missed. We always get compliments on how well-mannered our children are. When our youngest was diagnosed with Asperger’s at age 7, we did not change our parenting strategy in any way. All the same rules applied to him as did to the older kids. We have never let him use ASD as an excuse for bad behavior and we feel he is better for it.