Parenting Politeness

JR, 4

Have you ever listened to very polite children and wondered how their parents taught them to speak like that? For example, imagine the following conversation I recently overheard taking place over a lunch:
random chatter
Child A: "May I please have some more to drink?"
random chatter
Child B: "We forgot napkins!"
Mom: "Would you mind getting some please?"
Child B: "Yes, ma'm"
Child A (upon receiving a napkin): "Thank you"
Child B: "You're welcome"
random chatter
Child A: "Thank you for this yummy lunch, mom!"
Mom: "You're welcome."
random chatter
Child A: "Child B, would you please (whatever)"
Child B: "Just a moment, please, let me finish (whatever)"

Could you imagine? OK, so now I have to brag. That conversation took place over lunch today. Child A was my 2 year old daughter, M, and Child B was 4 year old JR. I have to admit, even I was surprised. But, I cannot take all the credit for it. S and I have been trying to teach polite speak for a while now, but were struggling with it. My kids were certainly polite by society standards, but we wanted to take them above that to actually using specific terminology such as "ma'm," "sir," and "May I be excused?." But it has been difficult to set the example with some of these terms. For example, I can't really ask to be excused from the table when I am the one excusing everyone (although I have tried that, but JR always told me "NO!"). About a week ago, I implemented another tip I learned from a recent book I read.
Here's the deal: you have a small jar labeled with each child's name. You explain to the children that they will receive a treat in their jar each time they are caught doing a particular thing. In our case, we have chosen to use M&M's since they rarely get candy, and they get one M&M each time they say "Yes/No Ma'm/Sir," "No, thank you," "Yes, please," "May I please...," "You're welcome," for complimenting someone else, or for going out of their way to be polite or helpful (ie. picking up a toy that is in the way, even if they didn't play with it). They only get the M&M if they do the things without being reminded. So, if one child says, "Thank you" for something, he will get an M&M, but if the other child then says it, he will not since he was reminded by the first child. This causes them to try to be quick about being polite. Then, as M&M's are collected, they can also be taken away if the child does something in particular. For example, a behavior that they may know not to do, but continue, yet, perhaps it isn't worthy of true punishment. With our children, they lose one for impolite behavior toward each other. For younger children, this can be a simple and painless, yet devastating and memorable consequence. Then, once a day, they get to eat all the M&M's collected in the jar. As the children's politeness becomes more habitual, you simply wean them off the treat.

M, 2

So, yes, the above conversation was technically due only to some good, old-fashioned bribery. But, hey, nothing else was working, so I figured, why not? And, no doubt, it seems to be working with only simple training sessions on my part. In just the last week that I have implemented this "system," I have noticed a tremendous improvement in the kids' politeness. Through the natural course of this little "game," they are training themselves to become more conscious and aware of their speech and terminology. Besides, a little candy-coated chocolate is good for the soul, right?! ;)

1 comment:

OurCrazyFarm said...

Good for you, Ma'm! What sweet little dumplings you are raising! It is great to see how proactive you are in raising your young chilren. You will reap great rewards in the years to come. What an encouragement to the rest of us Moms in blogland! Thanks for sharing your secrets.