Many of you may have seen this article about the mom who sent a general message hoping to apologize and make up for her daughters’ inappropriate behaviors. In case you haven’t, click on the photo below to go to one of the articles about it.
I’ve heard much discussion about this. Some people admire this mother and her attempt to teach her daughters. Others criticize the public manner in which she did it. And, then, still others feel a little of both of these emotions. It provides a great springboard to address some parenting issues; parent expectations, appropriate discipline and social media.
I believe we can all agree we want our children to behave well – especially in public. In addition, we probably value manners; expecting our children to be polite. These two things seem to be at the root of this mother’s actions.
As parents and teachers of young children we are laying the ground work for these expectations. Tailoring our teachings to the child’s age is going to work best. Here are a few of my ideas of appropriate expectations at various ages.
- Infants (zero to 1 year – yes, it begins this early): At this age I feel we can begin to model and encourage behaviors that will lead to positive social interactions and manners.
- Encourage children to look at people when spoken to. If you see someone engaging your child through body language (please don’t think I’m a stalker but I can’t resist smiling and engaging a baby sitting in a cart in front of me at a check-out line.) encourage your child to look and smile. Do this yourself. Your baby is watching and will take note of how you interact with others.
- Play the “thank you” game. Babies love to give you toys and then take them back. By including simple “manners” as you play you are already teaching what you expect. Say “Thank you” as you take the toy from the child. Ask for it by saying, “May I have it please.” When you give it back you can say, “Your turn” or “I’ll give it to you.”
- Teach a quiet voice. Babies, by nature, have different volume levels. For those that are more naturally “yellers” model times when you would prefer a quiet voice. At the dinner table talk in a quieter than normal voice. If your child yells for more food simply reply with a quiet “shhh” and then model how they could say the words such as “More apples?” You can say “more please.”
- Speaking of that please word. Very young children have limited vocabulary and often they are asking for things and gesturing. If you teach the word please very early they can incorporate this into a wide variety of situations. Baby sign language is very helpful to non-verbal infants and please can be a very easy sign to learn. Here is a video showing the motions.
- Toddlers (one to two years old): During these ages children become much more able to understand expectations even more. All of the suggestions above are more readily understood. Once you feel your child understands it is effective to “require” these types of responses.
- Be consistent. As always I would suggest avoiding the full-on battle. However, giving in and responding right away to the “whine” or urgent “request” without a reminder of the appropriate way to communicate is inviting even more of that inappropriate behavior. I don’t know how many of you remember biology from High School but you probably learned of an experiment about reinforcement and how it increases behaviors. Intermittent reinforcement (meaning the wanted reward is not given every time but only sometimes) was found to create a behavior that is the hardest to break. In this instance, however, if (at times) you give what a child is asking for without demonstrating the preferred method of communicating needs it will be reinforcing the inappropriate behavior. Through repeated demonstrations of the correct way a child understands and learns what you expect. (This is one of the reasons I often say parenting is the hardest job a person will ever attempt.) Here is a short article about this principle.
- Act out play and public interactions. In a previous post I described how playing with children and giving examples and experience with appropriate social interactions can encourage those behaviors. You can find that article here.
- It’s time for “Thank you.” Children these ages can be encouraged to say “Thank you” when given something. As caregivers we give our kids things all the time: snack, the cup they can’t reach, a time for reading books, help tying a shoe, attention as we play a game, and the list goes on and on. Did you know it’s okay (and I would even encourage you) to say, “I helped you tie your shoe. When someone helps you it is polite to say, ‘Thank you.'” I remember when our kids were little and my husband asked me, “Why do we have to make them say ‘Thank you’ and ‘Please’ EVERY time? It’s just us.” I replied that what they learn at home they will do in public. It becomes habit. I also reminded him that we deserve as much, if not more, respect than others. Here is little song video that teaches about saying “please” and “thank you.”
- Waiting your turn: At two years of age children can begin to learn about waiting for things. Granted this will be a short wait but it’s a skill that can begin now. Throughout the day structure some situations in which you require him or her to wait. At first the wait should be for maybe only seconds. Then praise your child for waiting quietly. I remember we made up a silly little song for my granddaughter when she was learning this. It was to the tune of Farmer in the Dell. The words went something like this: I can wait for things. I can wait for things. Sometimes I just have to wait. I can wait for things. Singing this song gave her something to do and eventually she tired of the song but understood the idea. (Hint, you can sing along with your child while you are preparing lunch, etc.)
- Preschoolers (three, four and five year olds): Children these ages are really beginning to understand social norms and situations. They are also beginning to understand the world doesn’t revolve around them and can begin to recognize how their actions can affect others.
- “Please” is great but not a magic pill. By now, your child should be pretty consistent in saying “please” along with a request. It is okay, now, to explain that it is appropriate to ask for things that way but that it doesn’t mean you will always get what you ask for. An explanation for a denied request will help a child accept it better. I also like to help kids handle disappointment by giving them words like “bummer” or “oh shucks” as a way share their feelings. (Of course you can at times go into a much longer talk about how disappointment feels and ways you can mange that.) There is an old Discovery Toys game that is great for helping develop this skill that is actually called “Oh Rats.” You can find it here.
- Interrupting is okay for emergencies. This is a tough one. Children feel like everything they need is an emergency. This post gives a very simple technique they may work for your family.
- Apologizing is an important social skill. We all make mistakes. It’s important to help your child realize that. For some reason I easily find moments when I have done so. I usually point it out to the children around me and either laugh about it or say something like, “Wow, I really need to work at doing that differently.” Just as we model behaviors to young infants we can model social norms to our children. I have also modeled how to apologize. I have told my child, “I am sorry. I shouldn’t have raised my voice. I know that felt kind of scary to you and I don’t want you to feel that way. I will try to always speak to you with a calm voice.” This does bring up a touchy subject for me. I am not an advocate for making a child say “I’m sorry” every time he or she does something wrong. Sometimes I don’t feel sorry – yet. Sometimes I don’t want to say those words but I still want the other person to know I care. Apologies can be a hug, a simple act done for the other person, fixing something I broke, a note or letter . . . . Be open to giving your child lots of ways to handle situations that require an apology.
Whew! I guess I REALLY have a lot to say on this subject. The areas I covered above do not cover every social expectation. I guess the main thing I would say is to remember you are modeling your expectations EVERY moment of EVERY day! Kids are watching and learning from you always.
I am going to make this a THREE PART series. I hope you are interested in hearing about appropriate discipline and social media in regards to parenting soon.