Tuesday, October 28, 2014
What About Manners?
You probably would like it if your young children would develop “manners.” Do you want your 4-year-old to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you?’ Wouldn’t it be great if your 5-year-old would apologize when someone gets hurt by something he did?
The secret learning method for young children is imitation. Instructing, explaining, scolding, threatening, bribing and moralizing are not effective methods and in fact the young child doesn’t learn at all from these methods, though they can be ‘trained’ or ‘conditioned.’ True learning only happens when the will of the individual is engaged. When the initiative for action is coming from inside the person then there is a possibility for learning to arise. We only learn when we do it ourselves.
Imitation is the young child’s modality for taking hold of the world around her. The impulse for imitation is external - what is sensed by the child all around her. The will of the child is what takes hold and does the imitating.
So...manners. If you want your child to be polite, you have to model politeness for her. I have to interject that manners and politeness are not universally consistent. What could be considered ‘good’ manners somewhere could be considered rude and discourteous somewhere else. So you have to choose the manners that you are aiming to transfer to your child. And then use your manners. In interactions with your child, in interactions with your partner, in interactions with the cashier at the grocery store, and everywhere.
You don’t need to bring it to your child’s attention - you simply do it. You don’t need to say,”Honey, did you notice how I said ‘thank you’ at the coffee shop? I’d like you to say thank you’ too when someone hands you something.” In your interactions, use kindness, courtesy and politeness and your child will likely follow suit.
Additionally, you can magnify the possibilities of imitation by speaking courtesies on behalf of your child. For instance, 4-year-old Tommy says, “Give me more raisins.”
So, while handing him some more raisins, you say, “Please can I have more raisins?”
That way you are planting a seed for his own will to take up in imitating your example. You are speaking the words you would be happy if he used. In contrast, Tommy says, “Give me more raisins.” You say, “Tommy! Say ‘Please’ and then I’ll give you the raisins.” Tommy won’t actually learn anything from this method. He will do as he is told because he wants to be ‘rewarded’ with the raisins. I won’t be from Tommy taking in kindness and manners and enacting those out of his own actions.
Similarly, if we notice our 5-year-old daughter knock over another child. One response could be, “Sally! Say you’re sorry.” And she probably will because we are demanding it. If instead the adult says, “Susie is hurt. Is there anything we can do for her?” then Sally is free to take action out of herself. Her own will can engage and she can offer help and comfort to the injured child in her own way.
So instead of ordering your child to use manners, instead of demanding they say certain words, I suggest considering how best to utilize the learning mechanism of imitation to achieve your goals for manners and kindness. We adults can create situations where the will of the young child can take hold of the wonderful examples we offer through how we say and do things. Try it and see what happens. It works, it really works!
P.S. If you try this method out, please let me know how it goes for you. I’d love to hear.