Help Them Be Civil: Teach Your Children to Speak Politely

Help Them Be Civil: Teach Your Children to Speak Politely

The little cavemen that are our children aren’t particularly adept to polite and civil conversation, something we pretty much take for granted.

Just like learning to take the first bite of solid food, walk their first steps, ride their new bikes, decode the first syllable, polite speech demands a new skill that we should train them for and follow up on diligently in order to secure that skill for them.

Whine for a cookie?

Help Them Be Civil: Teach Your Children to Speak Politely. Teaching a child to learn to play piano note by note can be compared to teaching them to speak politely one word at a time.

Give them the script.

Literally, tell them the exact words to use and even have them “role-play” a couple of times before putting it into action. Much like you will not expect a novice to hammer out an entire tune flawlessly on the piano without first mastering the basic, note by note, measure by measure, you also will not expect your children to verbalize exactly what they want without supplying the script, word for word. Give them the exact words to use and have them parrot back. Teach your children to speak politely by helping them ask for things they want.

Grab the juice box that you just offer?

Delay gratification.

Gently but firmly take the juice box away. Get eye-level with the child and ask her to say “thank you” as sincerely as possible before you return the item again. Of course, the point of this exercise to emphasize the attitude of the child (being polite or even, thankful) rather than actually pronouncing the words, “thank you” correctly. You should have a fairly good sense as to when she’s being sincere or when she’s rudely placating you!

Not sharing his toys.

Learn to apologize.

Stop all activity and say in simple words why it is necessary to share with his sibling or friend. Depending on the language ability of the child, have him offer a simple apology ranging anywhere from a gentle pat on the hand to “Sorry!” to “I’m sorry for not sharing. Do you want to play with me?” Again, give the exact words to affect a satisfactory apology that focuses on the offending act, not on the person. (Inappropriate apology would be, “Sorry, I’m a bad boy for not sharing with you!”)

Now that he is sorry, what else should he do?

Offer a solution.

To avoid dwelling on bad feelings (either from the offended party or the offending party who is now embarrassed and vulnerable), help propose a corrected course and put it into words as soon as the apologizing part is over. If the child is too young to repeat the words or understand the concept of compromise, gently but firmly tell them that the contentious item will be put away until they are old enough to share peaceably.

Help Them Be Civil: Teach Your Children to Speak Politely. A toy helicopter being put away on a shelf.

If they are older, suggest one or two ways to settle the argument and coach them to repeat the agreed upon compromise such as, “Here, you can have two turns since I hogged it the last time when it was your turn” or “You can have half the Lego pieces so we can each build a helicopter instead of fighting over a big one!”

Bursting into tears over math homework!

Help Them Be Civil: Teach Your Children to Speak Politely. Complicated math homework with fraction.

Resist the temptation to help right away.

With older children who have acquired the bad habit to letting out their frustration in an outburst or meltdown, sometimes it is better to wait for them to realize that help is only an asking away. Withhold assistance until they have calmed down from their frustration and help them without referring to the outburst, if possible. If they can’t calm down or aren’t trained to unwind themselves, let them know that you’re available to help if they’d stop crying or stop slamming things around.

Calmly ask them what the matter is instead of “what’s wrong with you?” Maintaining an even keel and low-key attitude is one way to keep the emotions out and start working towards a solution.

Some final thoughts…
  • Help your children to put their feelings (good or bad) into words.
  • Rephrase their frustration into a request for help.
  • Give them the exact words to apologize properly, negotiate fairly, and compromise graciously.
  • Help them focus on solving the problems instead of dwelling on the issues.
  • If they have a relapse, resist giving in too soon in order to avoid a meltdown. Stand your ground and insist on them using their words. And politely, of course.

Help Them Be Civil: Teach Your Children to Speak Politely. Drawing showing a mother teaching her child to ask politely.

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