A family enters a coffee shop: dad, mom, two kids aged six and four. Just as the father is about to sit down in a comfy armchair, his young son slips behind him snatching the seat away. The father merely sighs, barely recovering his balance in time to stop the steamy drink from dropping to the floor and perches himself on a child-sized chair nearby.
The children grab drinks off the tray, tossing aside the straw wrappers.
Before settling onto her own hardback chair, their mother quickly picks up the debris discarded by her children. She attempts to initiate conversation with her husband, but is rudely interrupted, again, by her children.
The children argue. There are tears. Demands are made and accusations hurled between the children and toward the parents. The parents do all they can to keep the peace as they abandon all hope of meaningful adult interaction.
The parents’ full attention is focused on the children’s needs. They are clearly attentive and caring, selflessly serving their children. One wonders how they manage to patiently endure this level of bullying by their offspring.
We have all seen variations of this theme, and some may wonder if this is simply what parenting looks like. It may seem as though the early years must be endured before children grow into delightful, caring, independent, polite conversationalists.
And yet, is it possible to elevate expectations, even for young children? Yes!
Children are capable of taking turns and of interacting in a polite manner with both adults and peers. Here’s what parents can do.
Determine your goals and baseline for polite conversation. Deliberately teach words and phrases such as:
“I forgive you”
Your child will most likely not understand the meaning of the words when they are introduced. Establish the habit of participating in polite discourse and the implication of the words will develop over time.
We do the same when we begin to teach babies “hello” and “bye-bye” long before they completely understand their significance, and most babies master the skill of their appropriate use at a very early age.
Model the desired behavior
Children learn best when they are surrounded by positive role models and examples. Adults demonstrate positive behavioral patterns when they integrate polite words and phrases into their daily conversations with other family members.
Say “Thank you,” to your baby or toddler when they hand you a toy. Start a conversation with, “Excuse me…” when diverting a family member’s attention away from an engaging activity.
If a child makes a demand without asking nicely, simply say, “Could you please repeat that in a different way?” When your child uses an inappropriate tone of voice, you might ask them to try again.
By injecting a bit of humor into the situation and creating an opportunity for the child to correct his or her behavior without resorting to punitive measures, you can release the tension in the situation.
Introduce a pause button
When you overhear interactions and behaviors that are unkind or rude between siblings, take the time to “press pause.” Capitalize on the teachable moment by taking a break and pausing the play.
Give a quick summary of what you heard and observed. Briefly ask how each participant is feeling about the exchange and what could be done differently. Keep the exchange instructional as opposed to confrontational and give the children the opportunity to trade apologies and move on.
The pause button also works well at the dinner table, in the car, or anywhere families with young children interact.
Allow opportunities to practice
As children grow older, their social interactions will become increasingly complex. At times it may be helpful, particularly between siblings, to allow them to act out situations that might be potential trouble spots for them.
Pretend like you LOVE this pillow so much. Now your brother will snatch the pillow away.
How do you feel about that?
What could you have done instead? What should you say now? How about “I’m sorry”?
And what would you say after he says, “I’m sorry”?
As with so many aspects of being a parent, consistency is key. But don’t worry. Everyone makes mistakes. Learn to say “I’m sorry” and keep trying.
Prioritize time with family
One wise mom recently wrote to me:
We should never be too busy to have a do-over, say, or pull the van over to discuss some behavior, or move something out of the way to discuss an issue together as a family. I don’t want my kids to feel too busy for their sibling, to work something out, or just enjoy their relationship, now or in the future. And that means we may need to cancel something to focus on family issues.
Take on the role of instructor
It may seem awkward at first to require your own children to be polite to you. It’s much easier to remind them to say thank you to others. It may even feel a bit selfish to be a stickler for the rule within the family. But keep the bigger picture in mind. You are your child’s first teacher. What better place to practice useful life skills than at home within a loving environment?
If you integrate these principals into your family interactions, you will see positive results. Your children will become more polite and thoughtful. When unexpected problems and issues arise, you’ll find that you have the tools at your disposal to deal with them without drama.
This post was originally published on the author’s site, Nurturance.