Question Hi Barbara,
Since you've lost a bunch of questions, I'll bite with an issue that I've been thinking about a lot lately....kids and manners. Friends of mine were recently posting an article on Facebook about manners kids should know by age nine.
I think it is a great list.
However, I have been thinking more about my preschooler. She's about to be four. I wouldn't exactly call her shy - sometimes she is downright chatty with a grocery store clerk or other strange adult. She's articulate and very, very social when she wants to be. But she selectively behaves rudely in public - by not answering people who say hello to her, refusing to say goodbye to people, or refusing to say thank you when, say, an ice cream cone is handed to her.
Last week I had to say to her "If you can't thank the lady for the ice cream, then you can't have it." She refused to say thank you. I had to hand back the ice cream (I still paid for it, of course) and we marched out of the shop. Needless to say, she was hysterical after that.
I know I'm opening myself up to huge criticism here - sometimes your readers are HARSH! But if there is one thing I stand by in my parenting at all costs, it is following through on my "threats." If I say there will be a consequence to an infraction, I make sure there is a consequence.
Am I expecting too much of her? My son (who is nearly eight) was never like this. He needed to be prompted occasionally, but he never downright refused to utter the general words of polite banter. Is it sufficient for me to thank, greet, or bid goodbye to people in her stead?
From: RH, Canton, MA
No, you are not expecting too much of a 4 yo. Manners are the backbone of a civil society (which we mostly are) and the building blocks of empathy. A few years ago, I did a story a about the Tobin School in Natick where they were teaching etiquette in pre-K class. I checked back in with the school yesterday. That program has been so successful, it's now used throughout the school.
Good for them. I'm not sure why parents are less comfortable teaching manners than in previous generations, but I applaud you for doing so and for following through on your consequences; when we don't follow through, we're our own worse enemies. Instead of insisting she the ice cream back, though, I would have just plopped myself down on a chair and said, "Well, we can't leave until you say thank you." OK, OK. I know that we don't always have the luxury of time, but when we do, this is a really effective strategy, including at home. Stop the world -- nothing else can happen until she exercises her manners -- but be sure you are calm and matter-of-fact, and yes, willing to tolerate her melt-down: "You know what, we can't leave the store until you say thank you/ we'll just wait for a snack until you say please..." Speaking of exercising manners, one of my all-time favorite books for kids is, "Mary Louise Loses Her Manners," by Diane Cuneo, illustrated by Jack E. Davis. It's very funny but makes its point and the illustrations are fabulous.
Your daughter is possibly using this behavior as a way to exercise some control or to get negative attention. Is it possible she thinks her brother gets more attention than she does? That old "Mom & Me" time with each kid, literally just five-minutes-a-day (and I know, there I go again involving time....It's what we need the most as parents, isn't it?) of doing something together, just the two of you, where your child knows she can have your undivided attention, can do wonders. And if she's about to go into kindergarten, it could have something to do with a 4-year-old's magical thinking & sense of power: "Wow! I'm a big kid, now; manners are for babies."
As for making manners stick, one reason young children sometimes get hung up with manners is because we are too vague about them. We say things like, "Be nice," or, "Use your manners," without defining what we mean. So be sure to be specific. Also be sure to tell her why manners are important -- they make other people feel special and that can make you feel good, too.
Also make it about your family: "In our family, we're proud of being polite. That means we always say please and thank you." Make it about family rules that you all follow -- and make sure you do. Obviously, praise her when her manners are good, and reinforce why manners count: "Thank you for saying thank you! That makes me feel so good."
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