CALL the Manners Police!

From the desk of the Politeness Investigation Unit

– Scene of the crime: My kitchen, 11:30am February 4, 2015

Crime Report: It was a cold day. No different than any other winter day I’d seen before, but I get a sense, on this particular day, there might be some trouble brewing. I scan the room, and see something out of the corner of my eye. It’s a Caucasian female, 2’8” tall, about 30lbs, blue stained face, messy hair, holding something in her right hand. I think it’s a sippy cup, but can’t be sure, so I move in closer.

She asks me for something. She says she wants water. Right away, I know something is up. I know what she is trying to do. She’s trying to disrespect me. Yup. The evidence is clear. Yes, she is smiling and has asked me in a cute voice, but a closer look reveals the infraction. She asked for water, but there was no “please.” Well, not today sweetie. Not on my watch. No magic word, no water!!

Not backing down, the suspect advances- Watta dadda!

Now imagine me speaking into the collar of my shirt like I’m speaking into a police radio for back up.  “Umm. Call the manners police. We got an unappreciative toddler here: looking rude and uncooperative. Whoop Whoop. Someone’s about to get detained and interrogated.” Here we go. I spring into action:

Me- What do you say?

Daughter – I wan watta

Me – What do you saaaay?

Daughter – watta?

Me- Pardon Me?

Daughter – Watta, watta

Me – Excuse me? Excuuuuuse me? Excuuuuuuuuuuuuse Me?

Daughter – Watta daddy, sirsty.

Me – Knock knock, who’s there, Can I have some water? Can I have some water what? Can I have some water, Pleeeeas!

Daughter- Peas daddy?

With a sigh, I reach for the glass and fill it up. Shaking my head, I put the glass in front of her. “Your welcome,” I say, in a not so welcoming tone of voice.

I pat myself on the back. A job well done.

Back to reality:

Not sure when I snapped out of it and realized an important truth. If my child forgets to say or hasn’t quite learned to say please or thank you consistently, It doesn’t mean she is trying to disrespect me. It just doesn’t.

But, let’s say there is a moment or social situation where my child’s lack of manners is putting me in a tough spot and I decide there is just no way around it.  I’ve discovered something that work fine: I calmly and nicely, ask him or her to do whatever it is I think is appropriate. For example, “Could you please ask me nicely for some water”. “Could you please say thank you to Grandma for the present”. That’s it. That’s all. Simple.  And as an extra added bonus, I get to model the behaviour I think is important.

What if you’re really concerned about manners though, and the thought of a raising an unappreciative child keeps you up at night. You really want your child to learn his pleases and thank yous.  It’s not a quick fix, but the best way to teach manners is for a parent to use manners when speaking to a child.  I remember when I first heard that nugget of wisdom.  It can’t be that easy I thought.  But it makes loads of sense and it works just as well, if not better.  We can let go of the funny charades and snark attacks. It may take a bit longer (it may not), but it will stay with them longer.

When you read the story above, you might have thought. “Oh, jeez. I do I sound like that?” Don’t worry, we all do from time to time.  But here is the funny thing, there isn’t even a good reason for it and It doesn’t help. In fact, it can make things worse. It can get in the way of the relationship you’d like to have with your child. Tone of voice and how we speak to people matters.  Think about if someone in charge of you talked to you like that day in and day out.  How we speak to our kids tells them how we feel about them.  My son picked up on that early.

I believe that kids are worthy of the same respect we would give an adult.  Just because kids are small doesn’t mean they deserve less respect.  So, there is something I like doing to test if my behaviour is reasonable in this regard.  I ask myself. “Would I speak to another adult like this?”

So, Let’s imagine trying to pull this off in the office lunch room?  Say one of my co-workers asks me to pass him a mug.

Steve: Drew, could you pass that mug?
Me: (In my parent voice I say) Excuse me?
Steve: Could you pass me that mug there. The green one.
Me: Pardon me? I say (With my hands on my hips)
Steve: (Thinking that I might be losing my hearing, he raises his voice) THE GREEN MUG.
Me: I roll my eyes.
Steve: Blank stare
Me: I sigh. Uhhhh
Steve: Nothing.
Me: (Leaving me no choice, I take it to the next level) What you do say Steve?
Steve: (Looking confused) What do I say… are you kidding?
Me: What’s the magic word Steve?
Steve: (Now laughing) The magic word?
Me: I’m waiting. (Tapping my foot)
– People in the lunch room are staring in amazement. They seem to be enjoying the show
Steve: (Laughing harder) Could you please(??) pass me the green mug?
Me: Thank you, I say, handing him the mug and looking pleased with myself.

Now what is the difference between these two little stories? In the first story I have all the power.  In the other story, my power is limited, we are coworkers.  That’s it.  That’s the reason we can get away with speaking to our kids like that.  So, let’s not abuse our power.  Let’s speak to our kids the way we’d like to be spoken to.  It works just as well…and we actually strengthen our relationship with our child when we demonstrate respect for them.  On the other hand,  I believe that resentment can build up if we continually talk down to our kids.  We can experience these seemingly unpredictable and unexplainable bouts of “difficult” behaviour or non cooperative behaviour.  I think a lot of us would react the same if someone in control spoke down to us repeatedly.  Speaking respectfully to you kids will actually make your job easier.  Who doesn’t want that?

So, let’s review.

1. Ask yourself, “Would I speak like this to another adult?”
2. Forgive yourself if you commit an unjustified act of snarkiness. Move on.

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