We’re weird about manners here. You can put your elbows on the table all you want, we rarely get out thank-you cards (what’s the point if we said thank you in person?), and no one cares if you burp (though an “Excuse me” is encouraged). We’re not reserved and no one here has an ounce of poise, much to the horror of one of my mother-in-laws. The manners we like to focus on are the ones that aren’t just out of some weird tradition. We like the sort of manners that translate into respecting and being kind to other people. And on this, we start ‘em young.
I’m pretty sure Jonas’s first phrase was “Thank you”. Only it comes out more like, “Dank-oooooo.” It’s super cute, and he’s been using it correctly since he first said it months ago. We didn’t teach the words “thank you” to him intentionally, he just picked them up because we say “thank you” whenever he gives us something. It’s unconscious, but we mostly tell him “thank you” as a positive reinforcement so he’ll give up something he’s not supposed to have. Example: Jonas tris to eat a crayon he found nestled in the couch cushions. We say, “May I have the crayon, please?” and hold out our hands. He either gives it up then, or runs. If he runs, we have to chase him down and pry it out of his hands. Either way, we say “thank you” once we have it. Having consistant words and motions like this help him to understand the rules through repetition.
He’s also figured out that “please” is something to say when you want something (there’s been a lot of “pup-py, pweese?”), but he’s started to get todder-y lately: skipping the “please” when he really wants something and going straight to mini fit throwing.
So we channeled Pavlov. And we bought chocolate shakes. Which Jonas, of course, wanted. He whined for them and reached out his hand and bounced up and down. “Be nice,” I said. “Say please,” Jake said. Jonas still went with the fit throwing. So Jake, Eliza, and I spent about fifteen minutes role playing with the shakes. “May I have a drink, please?” Jake would ask me. I would hand him the shake. “Thank you,” he’d say. He’d take a sip and make big, loud yummy noises. Then I’d say “please” for a drink or Eliza would, and we passed around the shake in this way. We’d ask Jonas if he wanted some every time, but he’d cry. “Be nice,” we’d say. “Say please.”
It took several times of skipping Jonas. He was to the point of big, fat crocodile tears. But eventually he took a deep breath, didn’t whine, and said, “Pweese?” so we gave him his own bowl with a bit of shake and he said “dank-ooooo”.
So… this might seem like a bit of bribery. But it’s not really: the difference between giving a kid a shake because they’re whining to get them to stop and giving a toddler a shake to teach them to not whine is huge. The former is temporary and actually teaches a kid to misbehave. The latter just uses a really awesome prize to teach a lesson. Doing things like this takes a lot of patience. You have to be consistant, and you might have to fight down feelings of guilt that you’re torturing your kid through the process (I know I do). But look at it this way: kids are way smarter than we think they are. They figure out quickly how to get what they want. Don’t let breaking you down be the way to get what they want: let being nice be the way they get things. It will be easier for everyone even if it sucks at first, we promise.
This parenting experiment took place a week ago, and has made a huge difference in Jonas’s toddler craziness. When he starts to whine for something, all we have to say is, “Be nice.” in a calm voice and he takes a deep breath, gives us big pouty eyes, and says, “pweese”? It’s nice to not get yelled at every time the kid wants a water refill, we’ll tell you that.
We should also note that this does not correct any fits that may come when the word “pweese” is met with the word “no”. But at least we’ve got a polite, well-mannered baby most of the time.
If you liked this post, you’ll probably want to read about Eliza’s Reward Jar.
The photos in this post were taken with our phones and posted to Instagram. Our Instagram user names are @Megan_NerdNest @Jake_NerdNest.