Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How can I teach my “teenager” to be polite?

All parents hope that their child will be the kid on the bus that says “excuse me.” But how do you make that happen when your child is never polite around you?
Last week I talked about modeling the polite behaviors you want your child to learn from infancy. However, what if your child is no longer so young? What if your nine year old and rarely looks you in the eye, let alone EVER willingly says Please? Will modeling behavior actually work? In this case, being the example of politeness for your child is just the first step.

Many parents can get on board when I say you should not require your four year old to say please and thank you. However, I strongly believe that it should continue with older children as well. If your twelve year old child needs or wants something from you and asks you without using polite words or tone, most parents would naturally react with frustration telling him that he has to change his attitude and words.
However, this won’t help your child want to say please or thank you. It won’t even help him understand why he should say them. What it does is create a power struggle between you and your child. I don’t know about you, but I have enough power struggles with my pre-teenagers.
This conflict did not exist before you made the demand. You have now made the issue about obeying you instead of learning to be grateful. Now, if your child refuses to obey, you have to make a choice between not following through and disciplining him. Why do that to yourself and your child?
There are a few words and phrases that CAN aide you in the endeavor of creating gratitude and courtesy in your child. “I like to be asked,” “Please talk to me like I am someone you care about,” and “I try to use polite words when I talk to you, and I would appreciate it if you try to as well” are just a few things you can say AS you respond to your child’s request. These phrases can take the place of “what do you say” so that when transitioning to this new way of looking at teaching politeness and gratitude, you have something to say.
When you make the choice to not require your child to say please and thank you, the biggest stumbling block will be when you are in public. You will feel every eye on you the moment everyone expects you to utter “what do you say.” Instead thank the person FOR your child or repeat the request with a please. This will do 2 things. One it will relieve some of the pressure you feel to make your child say it. Two it continues to model the behavior for him.
Not every family has religious traditions, but even those that don’t can incorporate gratefulness for at the dinner table. It does not need to be a forced “let’s go around the table” kind of event. It can be spontaneous and start with you. Just talk about your day and in the course of discussion say what you appreciate about your life. This habit, consistently performed will at least teach children there are things to be grateful for in everyday life.
The truth is that it is up to your child to take these cues and learn from them. You can provide the atmosphere, explanation and examples of gratitude, but your child needs to choose for himself if he is going to show politeness. Making him say thank you does not make him feel thankful.

As parents and caregivers it is analogizing to watch your child show little gratitude to yourself and those around him. Check back next week and I will talk about how peer pressure affects your child's lack of civility.


Sherri Boles-Rogers said...

so true, so true. I'm glad you brought in the piece about the pressure parents feel to have their children be models of kindness and respect in public. It's often so much about us, and not about what is the best example for our children. I wholeheartedly agree that modeling and requests work better than prompting and demands. Thanks for another article to ponder. I look forward to the next one.

Anonymous said...

My teenager can't stop being rude to me and my younger son. Even with this article, his attitude hasn't changed. I don't think it's the advice, it's just how my son acts. I do feel this could help other teens who act like mine.