A few months ago, I asked my FB group what areas they needed help with in the manners department. I was thinking of the “please” and “thank you” kind of manners, you know the ones that included sending thank yous to people who gave you gifts. However, I got a whole list of ones that weren’t even in my brain any more now that my boys are grown and out of the house. The parents sent in all sorts of requests:
- How to handle interruptions (this was the most requested one!)
- How to get kids to say please and thank you for meals
- Using “excuse me” when interrupting
- Dealing with table manners including the “eating with your mouth open” offense
The basics of manners is about teaching kindness and thoughtfulness of others, to allow our kids to see outside their often times very selfish world. Our mission as parents is to grow our children into people who are thoughtful, respectful and conscientious and manners are part of our responsibility in getting them there. This first lesson is about how to instill one of those foundational magic words into your kids – “please”.
How do you incorporate “please” into your family? Here are my ideas:
- Start young: I would very start young. There’s baby sign language for please. If you have a small baby, use it! You can do a google search and find lots of resources for it.
- With Older Kids Set Family Rule: A lot of you know that I think communication is really helpful and I love Family Meetings for doing that. If you have been struggling with “please” and other manners, hold a Family Meeting. It should be short and sweet. I wouldn’t lecture but I’d make a short statement about how in our home we treat each other with respect and using “please” and “thank you” are pillars of respect. Let them know how you’re going to start by encouraging the use of “please” in a consistent manner. Ask your kids what they think, listen to their feedback and you can schedule more meetings as you move through different manners.
- Practice! What does the dialog sound like? Well, in my home my routine was, when asked without a “please”, I would nicely say “And how do you say that nicely?” Then, if the child just said: “Please.” I would then say: “How do you say that in a full sentence?” I not only required this of my own boys but also their friends who were over constantly. I was even handed, not forcing just my own boys but the boys they were playing with to treat me with respect.
- Using a full sentence request
- Mrs. Eschen, can I have some gold fish?
- Sure, and how do you say that nicely?
- Nice try, how do you say that in a full sentence?
- Please can I have some gold fish?
- Of course, here they are.
- “Excuse me?” One mom when asked for something without manners set up a signal for her kids and that was: “Excuse me?”
- Mom, I need to go to the store to get poster paper for tomorrow!
- Her reply was: Excuse me?
- Mom, may we please go to the store to get poster paper for my project for tomorrow?
- Using a full sentence request
- Upgrade for Older Kids: As your child gets older you can incorporate “may I please” into your phrasing to upgrade their speech into a more formal and respectful tone. So, in our example it would be “May I please have some goldfish?” or “Please may I have some goldfish?”. You get the idea. It’s subtle but certainly an upgrade. Have a Family Meeting to talk about the need for an upgrade. Keep explaining that this is a Life Skill you are teaching, not a method of getting them to submit to our will for no apparent reason. People want to be with people who treat them with respect, that’s why we’re upgrading. It’s practice for life!
- Role Play: I gave you some examples already but I think that the use of role playing can be incorporated to hone your family’s skills while having some fun. Learning should be fun so put on your thinking caps and even incorporate your kids into the brainstorming of how to do that if you can. One idea might be to set up a special dinner with special plates and lots of different dishes on the table that have to be passed around. Then practice while you eat! “John, may I please have the rice.” “Andrea, please pass the mac and cheese.” Over exaggerate the whole meal! Maybe you have a special “Please” Meal once a week for a while? Maybe you have a “Please” Breakfast on the weekend? Or a “Please” Game night where you have to ask for the dice nicely each time. Come up with a few ideas and try them out.
- Consistency is Key: What can make all this work? Consistency! Yep, I said it took 10 years and I’m not kidding. I was loving and kind. I didn’t nag. I didn’t lecture. I just waited for the correct response and then, and only then, did they receive what they were asking for.
- Model What You Want to See: Modeling the behavior you want to see is hugely beneficial to your quest for any behavior but especially in the area of respect and manners. You being kind and using “please” will complete the loop. Your kids notice what you do. They are little sponges. They will know if you are sincere and true to this quest for good manners. Be it. Live it. Because, if you don’t, by the time your kids are tweens or teens you’d be amazed at how they seem to join the Hypocrite Police and will start throwing your poor manners right back at you.
- Leverage The Please: Keep in mind that you have leverage with “please” since it happens BEFORE something your kids want. If your kids want something it means you have currency to trade. If it’s help with math or washing their favorite pair of jeans or playing a game, you know their brain is in an open mindset to listen since they want something from you. Seize the day! Ask for the please and you’ll get it.
- Other Ways to Give Kids Feedback: I just wanted to throw out a few other ideas for how to request the “please” in your home, just for variety. Remember to always use a loving and gentle tone:
- You’re missing the magic word
- What’s that magic word again?
- I can’t hear you when you ask like that.
- Lastly, if they ask rudely for something give them a choice, you know how I love choices too, they can ask nicely or encourage them to solve their own problem if they don’t want to. For example, if they say “I need some milk!”, your reply might sound like: “You can ask for it politely or try to get it on your own.” Just make sure if they are sassy back at you and say things like “You never help me!” that you just give them love and not start an argument about their poor attitude. A simple reply of: “Hmm… that’s sad. Any what did I say?” Then go listen to podcast #41 on Disrespect to remember what to do about that sassiness.