manners, respectful parenting

“What’s the magic word?”

I try very hard not to force manners on my daughter… I like to model them instead, by simply saying “thank you” or “sorry” or “please” to her and in front of her, at the appropriate times. She’s doing an awesome job at picking them up and has been saying them for some time now!  “Tan choo” “Shorry” “Peeeeeeze”  So stinkin’ cute.

But it can be such a challenge to refrain from making those deeply ingrained statements like “what do we say?” and “what’s the magic word?”  There also seems to be some pressure to perform in front of other parents and when I don’t ask that question or coax a “thank you” from her I mysteriously feel like a bad mom. Well. I certainly don’t say “please,” “thank you,” and “sorry” all the time. And I don’t think myself a rude person (all the time).

Yesterday happened to be a bit challenging.  We were at a park, around other moms and kids, and the amount of “say sorries” “you need to shares” and “what do we say when someone gives us somethings” was almost mind-numbing.  And I couldn’t help but think that it really took away from any other meaningful conversation that was happening.  Between the adults and between the kids.  As part of the adult crowd, we were meeting each other, sharing great information on development, diapers, careers, etc… it was a fun conversation for a parent!  Or it could have been.  It was repeatedly riddled with interruptions such as “that’s not yours!” “you need to ask!” and “say thank you… no…say thank you!”  So much so that the meaningful conversation dwindled and disappeared.  It also hampered the oh-so-important natural interaction between the kids.  There were a couple of toys that belonged to one child, but all the other children wanted to use them occasionally, too.  What is usually a beautiful, dance-like, synergy that is child-to-child interaction, and something that I absolutely find so much joy in witnessing, was also repeatedly interrupted and riddled with those incessant reminders to be polite.  And I was guilty of it, too, even as I was thinking these thoughts.

Children are sponges.  They hear/see/understand/pick up more than we can imagine, and they imitate so very, very well.  If you want your child to learn to do something, all you have to do is do it yourself.  For most everyday things, very little or even no verbal instruction is involved. Modeling a behavior you want to see is a sure-fire way to teach your child.

I do feel it’s necessary to say that occasional reminders can be made, but perhaps using different language than those usual statements referenced above.  Explaining why you (yourself) said please, (“I said please because it’s really polite to do so when asking for something”) or even telling your little one what you want to hear in private or at home (“I like hearing you say thank you after someone gives you something”) is respectful and encouraging.  And, of course, praise after they’ve said it (“I LOVED that you said please!!”) will greatly increase the chances of your child saying it in the future.

There’s a quote that is attributed to Benjamin Franklin, but is actually derived from something the Chinese Confucian philosopher, Xun Kuang, wrote:

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I will learn.”

I’m sure you’ve seen this in nearly every classroom. But it’s true. When you simply interact with your children they are learning so much more than if you attempt to instruct them.

Not to mention, as an adult, have you ever had someone rudely ask, “What’s the magic word?” after you’ve inadvertently (or purposely) left out “please?”  How does that make you feel? For me, it feels condescending.  Or like a small slap in the face.  It feels like I’m being treated like a child. And there’s suddenly a small flare of dislike and distaste in my stomach toward that person and I get the urge to growl at them.  I remember as an older child, when an adult would chide me with, “What do you say?” I would begrudgingly say whatever it is they wanted to hear.  I didn’t mean it.  It was just something you simply said to get what you wanted.

I want my daughter to know that words are meaningful. Powerful. I don’t want her to feel forced into saying something she doesn’t mean.  I want her to learn, and then mean something when she says it.

So I’m going to be trying harder to keep my mouth closed when my daughter is playing with other children and interacting with adults.  I’m going to make more of an effort to let the communication and interaction flow, allowing for real learning and cooperation to take place, instead of interrupting and attempting to force a disingenuous statement from my otherwise super-polite daughter.