One of the tricky things about parenting is that our children copy what we do. They use us as their models for how they interact with and treat other people. We can use this to our advantage as we raise our children to be polite and considerate individuals.
This is one of the paradoxes of parenting that is important to hold. Yes, we are the ones raising our children, but our children do hold us accountable for how we are. So, when we say “Please” and “Thank you”, then we will more likely notice our children using this language more than if we tell our children to use these words.
But it goes beyond just language. It moves into showing our children loving interactions and non-verbal language. When we become less concerned with telling our children what to do and say, and know that it is natural for them to want to be kind because we are, then we will notice the spontaneous and unique ways they show their appreciation. For instance, the eye contact they give us in conversation, the little questions they ask along the way, and the way their eyes get big when there is a surprise.
When we engage our children with us in polite behavior it is much more easily incorporated as a habit. For instance, when we offer the polite interaction as an invitation to join us in what we are already doing then it doesn’t put the child on the spot. “Let’s call Grandma and Grandpa to thank you for the nice day yesterday.” or “Will you help me pick out flowers to bring home?” are examples of ways we can invite our children into being polite with us.
Our children will make mistakes. Sometimes we will insist that they say sorry. I encourage you to back away from the forced I’m-sorries and move towards helping your children solve the problem at hand. They can do this through a facilitated discussion. One type of dialogue like this that I used with the children ( ages 3 – 6) in my classroom went something like this:
Child 1: “I don’t like it when you poked me.”
Adult (to Child 2): “What didn’t she like?”
Child 2: “She didn’t like it when I poked her.”
Adult (to Child 1): “How did it make you feel when she poked you?”
Child 1: “Bad.”
Adult (to Child 2): “How did it make her feel when you poked her?”
Child 2: “Bad.”
Adult (to Child 2): “What can you do to solve this problem?”
Child 2: “Not poke her.”
Adult (to Child 1): “Would it solve the problem for you if she stopped poking you?”
Child 1: “Yes.”
Adult (to Child 2): “Do you agree to stop poking her?”
Child 2: “Yes.”
Children can shake hands or hug at this point.
Sometimes I had to facilitate more than other and sometimes I had to come up with the agreement. Regardless, the children had the opportunity to express their feelings in a safe conversation so that both parties knew how the others felt. It took a lot more time from me in the beginning, but as time when on I noticed that the children not only started solving their own problems, but also starting helping others solve theirs and in general be more polite and kind to one another.
What are your thoughts?
- Raising a Polite Child (ParentingWithLove.com)
- Repetition, Redirection and Reaffirmation with Children (rennyadejuwon.wordpress.com)
- Positive Alternatives to Common Negative Phrases We Tell Our Children (atlantablackstar.com)