Hey – We’re on vacation!!! And for more about how we got here (as in what we had to do to make it here), check out Natalie’s post.
One of the things I noticed as we traveled through four airports and across the entire continent was (you guessed it) the parenting going on, and the ways grown people relate to children. I have begun through diligent effort to attract views of parents treating their children with kindness, adults looking lovingly at their own and others’ children, and generally a more respectful kind of approach in the parenting I’ve witnessed. I say, “through diligent effort”, because I have actually sought to change the kinds of interactions I was attracting (and therefore witnessing a lot) just by working with my expectations.
So I was glad to see that, for the most part, that was working – and that if there were kids out there being mistreated just for being kids, I wasn’t having to sit through it with my tongue between my teeth. BUT… one of the things I did see a lot, and which still gets my proverbial goat (almost every time), was the numerous attempts by nervous (brow-beaten?!) parents all across the country to enforce the strict, artificial gratitude-politeness nebulously demanded by our culture.
I can not tell you the innumerable times I hear(d) parents say, “What do you saay?” to their children after some miniscule kindness afforded them by another grown-up or child. Where the *#%* did our society get the idea that if you want kids to say “Thank you” you have to badger and remind them every single time with the phrase, “What do you saay?”? And further, why do so many parents seem to feel the need to coddle the egos of all the other adults in the world by employing this ridiculous method? And even further, when is someone going to succeed in making parents understand this method sucks?
For starters, and in case you, dear reader, have never noticed, this method doesn’t actually work, as is obvious by the mere fact that parents say it so much! If it was a functional method, children would be saying “Thank you”, instead of being told to say it. Also, even if your kids are now remembering to lob the phrase when appropriate, I’ll bet you anything that they deliver it with no (or next to no) meaning. You’ve heard this version a lot I am sure — the gratitude uttered so blandly, flatly, and quietly as to be virtually inaudible, and certainly meaningless.
I am also of the opinion that the prompting method is demeaning, both to the children and the parents. Have you ever seen this? Person gives child something, parent looks wistfully at gift-giver, then quickly to the kid and says robotically, “What do you saay?” then the kid says (just as robotically), “thnkue”. Then the parent looks back at the other person, with sort of an embarrassed, “hope-that-was-good-enough” look, mingled with a “see-we’re-all-compliant” demeanor and then tries to move on. Again, I’ll bet you anything, that even if the parent doesn’t feel uncomfortable with this scenario, the kid does. And more importantly, the child probably also feels sold down the river, embarrassed, disrespected, and (remember this one) resistant. You may want to tell yourself this isn’t true, especially if you learned the prompting method from your parents or other parents you know, but let me reassure you, kids don’t like to be reminded of things like this, and being publicly reminded is almost always embarrassing — to anyone. I am sure you can think of examples from your own life. Oh, and just so you know, there is no evidence out there that proves embarrassing children is a successful way to make them learn something (except maybe that their feelings don’t mean that much to you…).
Another thing I want to mention here is that I know the social pressure feels like a ton of bricks. I know parents want to look capable, and want their kids to be considered “good little ones”. I know it seems like our culture demands our compliance. I know, too, that parents want their children to be kind, respectful, polite, and even gracious. And I know that prompting is the method most in vogue, and most posited as “the way to do it”. But the bottom line is that it doesn’t work and it doesn’t feel good.
After moving through all the different time zones, different concourses, and different social hubs, and finally arriving at my parents house in the deeply polite South, and witnessing all the prompting and discomfort, I was realizing and telling Natalie, our children say “Thank you!” more frequently and fervently than any other kids I know or see.
At the time, I wasn’t so much bragging as I was marveling, though I was aware that my parents overheard me. So when we went to the science museum and IMAX theatre the next day, and our kids did not thank my dad directly for all the fun they had — though they did say they had a lot of fun — I got a little antsy about how my dad would feel about it. I came very close to actually whispering to the girls, “Hey do you want to let your Grandpa know how much you appreciated the fun outing?”. And I think that would have been all right, but I chose something else instead. I let my own appreciation be known, and in earshot of the girls I thanked my dad a couple times for all of us.
And if I have suggestions for other parents in this area it would be these:
- Model appreciation to your children — thank them often, and say please when asking them for something. I cannot stress the efficacy of this method enough. In fact, if there is anything you want your children to do, let them see you doing it. As I’ve mentioned before, they are biologically designed to take their cues from you and will follow suit in almost all cases.
- If you want the other person to feel some appreciation, and your children aren’t delivering, give it yourself. This handles the social pressure a bit, and models the idea in another way for your children to see.
- Talk to your children about the concept of appreciation. Tell them about how good it feels (to adults especially) to have someone express appreciation to them for a favor. Tell them how it feels for you to be thanked. They will identify with the feelings more easily than almost any other explanation you could give about social norms.
- Finally, realize that social nuances such as these are complex and take awhile to master, and give your children and yourself a break. It isn’t the end of the world if some stranger, or friend, or even a family member happens to think your child is rude today — they’ll get over it, and a lot faster than your children will if you embarrass and shame them into compliance.
You may find it hard to change a deeply entrenched habit such as prompting, and/or be wary of bucking the conventional methodology in this case, and that is completely understandable. And you may think it is so important that you are willing to embarrass your children to avoid feeling embarrassed yourself if they don’t properly express their appreciation. And again, I think I can understand feeling that way. But may I encourage you to give it a shot anyway. See how it feels, and imagine or ask your children how they feel about it. You may find it easier than you think, and you just might discover it feels better to all of you as well. And even if no one else does, let me at least say Thank YOU for choosing your children and your relationship with them over pleasing the politeness police.