Say “I’m Sorry”: Teaching Kids Good Manners

Well, actually, I figured out that it is not about “teaching kids to have good manners.”

It’s not about teaching my child to say please when she wants something.

It’s not about teaching my child to say thank you when she has received something.

It’s not about teaching my child to say sorry when she has hurt someone or something.

Those awkward moments grate on me, when others (or the voice in my head) expect my daughter to say or do something to show she is good-mannered. I want my daughter to feel what true compassion feels like, what true gratitude feels like, what a true request feels like. When I try to do these things we, as parents, should be “getting our children” to do, I have found these things hard to manage myself.

I have realized that my child’s manners are all about me and my most powerful parenting tool: my example.

It is about me saying please when I ask something of her.

How many times a day do you ask your child to do something or not to do something? How many times do you say please? When you are out at the store or running errands, how many times do you say please when you are asking someone to do something?

Part of Nonviolent Communication is to make requests (as opposed to demands). It is difficult sometimes to maintain a headspace where I am asking my daughter to do something instead of demanding or commanding. Saying “please” reminds me that I  want her to choose to do what I am asking, not just to do what I say.

It’s about me saying thank you when she gives me something or does something for me.

Out of the three of these, I do the best on this one, but only because gratitude is something I have integrated into my whole life. Still, I often have to make a point to stop, recognize and acknowledge the gratitude I feel for my daughter, who she is and what she does.

As parents, we give and give and give to our children. I feel joyously connected and humbled when my child says “Thank you, mama” for doing something that felt important to her. Makes it all worthwhile. (And keep my attitude in check!)

It’s about me saying I am sorry when I have done something I wish I had done differently.

Marshall B. Rosenberg, of the Center for Nonviolent Communication, has a powerful perspective on “sorry” and what we might say instead that would be more accurate and meaningful.) He describe the feeling of sorry without using the word sorry. It’s about me understanding what need I was trying to meet in the moment, doing what I did or saying what I said, and also understanding what need I did not get met by my actions and words.

It is much clearer for me, knowing and acknowledging what I wish I would have done and how I feel hurt/sad that I wasn’t able to meet the needs of myself and others, than saying “I’m sorry.” I actually say I’m sorry too much, almost without thinking. I have recognized this in myself and want to set an example for my children that is mindful.

~

All these efforts to use my example to show my daughter what we value as a family actually has proven to be effective in my life.

The most recent example went right to my heart:

My daughter was having feelings when I was attending to her brother for something. She hit me. (She’s been having bigger feelings, for the bigger number of years she is, perhaps.)

She stopped, her face fell from angry to desperately sad as she said, “I’m sorry I hit you, mama,” and crawled up next to me and then into my lap to sit and rock for a few minutes.

This girl knew what the meaning of sorry was. She felt that she was trying to get her need for closeness met but disrespected and hurt me in the process. She shifted to doing something that actually got her needs met, acknowledging with an “I’m sorry” that what she had done was, as Rosenberg says, “a tragic expression of an unmet need.”

We cuddled close like when she was a baby, renewing and reaffirming our bond as mother and daughter. It was a precious moment.

Spontaneous. Unforced. From the heart.

Just like “good manners” ought to be…

****

RESOURCES:

Hard at Work: Everyday “Chores” and Tasks for Children under 5

In the kitchen with my 3 yo and 10 mo, I was cooking and paying attention to the stove, when I saw my daughter grab a broom.

She often does this and wants to sweep. Usually she wants to do this when I am sweeping, intent on swiftly gathering a dirt pile and stashing it in the trash safe from baby’s fast fingers. My dirt pile gets swept all over the room again, and my frustration needs managing.

Today, though, I wasn’t protecting a dirt pile or a baby, so I didn’t notice that she was sweeping so intently after a minute. After 2 minutes. 5 minutes.

After about 10 minutes, my daughter had swept one whole side of the kitchen into a precise, neat pile.

“Can you get the dustpan, please, mama?”

Of course! I helped her pick up that pile and went back to cooking, only to find her a short time later asking for the dustpan for the dirt pile on the other side of the kitchen.

My 3 yo daughter had swept the entire kitchen.

This was blowing my mind.

A few weeks ago, she was messing with my dirt pile. Now she was carefully and confidently wielding a broom and sweeping whole rooms.

Yet another wake up call to stop labeling my children (even “3 year old” is a label, says unschooling advocate Sandra Dodd). My children are capable of more than we are both conscious of in the moment. If we are to nurture and nourish what is growing within, I must work hard to balance my need for work to be done with my daughter’s need to know how to do the work of living.

What a gift to have the kitchen swept by my daughter; then I could say, “Food’s ready!”

*****

RESOURCES:

Baby-led Weaning: (Whole Olive for Baby?) The Pits!

During the summer, which seems so long ago now. I posted about giving baby whole fruit to explore and eat.

That one I had thought through and  felt confident about. I had never thought through giving baby a whole olive. Well, I didn’t have to, it turned out.

The other day, my olive-loving daughter was carrying around olives and happily eating away. My son got ahold of one (or was handed one?). Somehow, he kept this thing for a while.

My 10 month old crawled over to me. stood up and spit out a pit, the cleanest olive pit ever. 

He had eaten a whole olive and spit out the pit, but I hadn’t seen him do it. People are always talking about the dangers of babies and pits. My inquiring mind wondered…

What if I purposefully gave my son a whole olive?

In the mouth!

Turning the olive over and to the other side

Hmm, any more meat on here?

Picking off olive meat with chipmunk teeth

The pit, after the pasta became alluring…

RESOURCES: Baby-led Weaning/Solids

Related Posts

Siblings without Rivalry (Ch. 3): The Perils of Comparison

[This is the fourth in a series of posts for A Living Family online Book Club on the book Siblings Without Rivalry, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Whether you are reading with us, have read the book already, or can’t get your hands on a copy, please join the discussion!]

Consider the following (and please discuss in the comments):

How might your words be received by your children?

Do you ever praise one of your children? In front of the other? Ever find yourself, in anger or out of pleasure, exclaiming something that includes reference to both children?

  • “You’re a big boy.” (As opposed to the baby…)
  • “How come your brother manages to get home on time?”
  • “Your sister never talks to me that way.”

Both favorable and unfavorable comparisons are to be avoided.

When speaking with one child, how might you shift towards describing, without reference to the other? 

“Instead of comparing one child unfavorably to another, speak about the behavior that displeases you.”

  • Describe what you see: “I see a brand new jacket on the floor.”
  • Describe what you feel: “That bothers me.”

“Instead of comparing one child favorably to another, speak only about the behavior that pleases you.”

  • Describe what you see: “I see you hung up your jacket.”
  • Describe what you feel: “I appreciate that. I like seeing our hallway looking neat.”

FOR the BOOK CLUB:

  • Use this week to keep an ear out for comparing language when you speak to your children. Work on saying whatever you need to say to one child without reference to the other.
  • Please take some time to take notes or jot down your thoughts about the above questions. When you are ready (and willing), please share some of your thoughts here so that we may learn from each other, grow together and move forward, collectively, as mothers and fathers and caregivers.

***

NEXT UP: Equal Is Less

PAST POSTS:

Siblings without Rivalry (Ch. 2): Not Till the Bad Feelings Come Out

[This is the third in a series of posts for A Living Family online Book Club on the book Siblings Without Rivalry, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Whether you are reading with us, have read the book already, or can’t get your hands on a copy, please join the discussion!]

Consider the following (and please discuss in the comments):

An exercise for developing understanding for what our children might be feeling when they act “less than loving”:

Imagine that your spouse puts an arm around you and says, “Honey, I love you so much, and you’re so wonderful that I’ve decided to have another wife just like you.”

The exercise goes on to imagine how you feel when others ooh and aah over the new addition: “How do you like the new wife?” Other scenarios are giving away your things, the “new wife” being better at something or doing something more easily, sharing and other situations in which older siblings may feel threatened.

This chapter also covered some feelings younger siblings might have, from “hurt and confused by rejection” to “feeling the need to challenge older ones” to feeling discouraged about not being able to “catch up.”

How do you generally react/respond to the actions, words and behaviors that trouble you in your children?

Say that your child actually says what they might be feeling: “I don’t want that person in this house anymore. It’s making me very unhappy. Why can’t you get rid of her/him?”

Next comes an exploration (by the adults in the parent group) of the reactions a child might have to some of the following common responses from their parents:

  • “You have no reason to feel that way.”
  • “You make me very angry when you talk like that.
  • “I don’t want to hear it.”
  • “We’re a family now.”
  • “Find a way to get along and don’t come running to me with every little thing.”
  • “I thought you’d like some companionship.”
  • “There is enough love in my heart for both of you.”

The adults cited feelings such as “guilty,” “defeated,” “powerless,” and “abandoned.” Some said they would come to the conclusion they are a bad person or unacceptable (as “the real me”). Overwhelmingly, the adults found that they felt like hurting or punishing the “new wife” or getting them into trouble, even at the cost of their physical safety or parental adoration.

The chapter closes with the parent group sharing how they would feel when adults simply acknowledged feelings. A distinction was made between “allowing feelings” and “allowing actions.”

“We permit children to express all their feelings. We don’t permit them to hurt each other. Our job is to show them how to express their anger without doing damage.”

How might your respond differently if your first focus was on acknowledging the thoughts and feelings your children may have?

The cartoons in this chapter outline some approaches towards acknowledging feelings (with words, wishes or creative expression) that can be helpful in the heat of the moment:

  • Put feelings into words. (“You sound angry!”)
  • Express what the child might wish. (“You wish he would ask before using your things.”)
  • Encourage creative expression. (“Can you show me your feelings with your doll?”)
  • Show better ways to express anger. (“Instead of name calling, tell him what you feel or what you would like.”)

Big Takeaways:

Insisting upon good feelings between the children led to bad feelings.

Acknowledging bad feelings between the children led to good feelings.

FOR the BOOK CLUB

  • Use this week to continue your observations as you increase your efforts to acknowledge feelings and empathize. This is not problem solving so much as a “simple” acknowledgement of what each child might be feeling in the moment.
  • Please take some time to take notes or jot down your thoughts about the above questions. When you are ready (and willing), please share some of your thoughts here so that we may learn from each other, grow together and move forward, collectively, as mothers and fathers and caregivers.

***

NEXT UP: The Perils of Comparison 

PAST POSTS:

Baby-led Weaning: How Can an Infant Eat an Avocado? (Hint: With Both Hands…)

Mmm….Squishy, slimy, creamy…

Need two hands to get it in my mouth…

Slippery little wedge…

Try that again…

Whoops! Almost had that one! (Avo in mid air)

Got it! YUM….

RESOURCES: Baby-led Weaning/Solids

Baby

Siblings without Rivalry (Ch.1): Brothers and Sisters–Past and Present

[This is the second in a series of posts for A Living Family online Book Club on the book Siblings Without Rivalry, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Whether you are reading with us, have read the book already, or can’t get your hands on a copy, please join the discussion!]

Consider the following (and please discuss in the comments):

What is the story behind the birth of child #2 (or #3, 4…)?

Did you want to have a second so the first wasn’t alone? Did you plan how much space there is between children? Was it all a surprise?

Parent feedback shared in the book showed that parents felt a gap between expectations about how things might be with the siblings and the reality the faced daily.

If you have a sibling, what was the nature of your relationship as children? How does it affect you now?

“Our relationshps with our siblings can have a powerful impact upon our early lives, producing intense feelings, positive or negative; that these same feelings can persist into our adult relationships with our brothers and sisters; and finally, that these feelings can even be passed on to the next generation.”

How do you feel or what thoughts enter you mind when you see your children playing well together? What about when they have a rough moment?

“Instead of worrying about the boys becoming friends, I explained, I began to think about how to equip them with the attitudes and skills they’d need for all their caring relationships. There was so much for them to know. I didn’t want them hung up all their lives on who was right and who was wrong. I wanted them to be able to move past that kind of thinking and learn how to really listen to each other, how to respect hte differences between them, how to find the way sto resolve those differences. Even if their personalities were such that they never could be friends, at least they would have the power to make a friend and be a friend.”

FOR the BOOK CLUB:

  • Use this week to observe. “What stirs things up?” “What incidents or conversations distress you?”
  • Please take some time to take notes or jot down your thoughts about the above questions. When you are ready (and willing), please share some of your thoughts here so that we may learn from each other, grow together and move forward, collectively, as mothers and fathers and caregivers.

***

NEXT UP: Not Till the Bad Feelings Come Out…

PAST POSTS:

%d bloggers like this: