Polite vs Respectful, or ...

Doing What One Should Do, or Trusting Early Learning?

My grandson is now 25 months old, a ball of energy - exploring, and learning about self-determination. But let me back up ...

The most surprising as well as valuable thing I learned about very young children I learned in my first few years at Amazing Life Games, a community preschool I helped establish in 1972. What I saw was this: young children wanted things to work - everything. If a toy was broken or lost, they wanted it fixed or found. If someone was hungry, they wanted to feed them, if someone was upset, they wanted them to feel better.  If someone wanted help in doing something that they would benefit from, they wanted to help. And if someone was having fun, or was truly self-engaged in playing or building or fixing or (you name it), they wanted to join in. And these were three- and four-year-olds.  And, on the other hand, they weren't particularly interested in doing anything because we insisted or said they "should." (Hmm ... I will probably refer to this paragraph a lot in future posts. Much of our parenting strategy comes out of this from our own early years.) 

Fast forward 45(!) years ...

My family now knows that insisting that children say "please" and "thank you" will likely result in their saying that (especially in our presence), but whether others feel the gratefulness or feel the appreciation depends on whether it is authentic - from the heart - rather than because it is "nice," or because they "should," or because it is what we were told to do by our parents.  This key social-emotional feedback is a key learning opportunity that starts very early, and the sooner a skill is used, the more skilled the learner becomes over time.

At 25 months, P was talking, but not in complete sentences. Sometimes he would be "coached" to say "please" or "thank you" (coaching is emotionally different from telling or teaching), but mostly he heard us use those terms.  Soon, however, he began to say, "thanks!" and "please" in a way that is understandable, but not always. But when he does say those words, you can "feel" them ... they smack you in the head they are so meaningful. One morning I came up the stairs with a new sweatshirt on. He looked up at me, and at the design on the front of my sweatshirt. Then looked me in the eye and said, "Nice...s-shirt, Pop Pop!" He has made a point of using meaningful terms and phrases at surprisingly appropriate times that make others feel good - and he notices that, and at his level of language use, those words terms are becoming a significant percentage of his total speaking vocabulary and social attention. Of course, that comes along with "No, P not want nap - no way!!" or "My have snack ... I ... CAN NOT WAIT!!"

My point is not to brag about my grandchild, but to say that this is a way all young children can learn distinctly impactful social skills very early rather than repeat "thanks," "please," or comment because they had to - a very different experience for both speaker and listener.  This I also learned this from my preschoolers in my classes many year ago.  We could say "pushing" polite terminology as what one "should" say overrides the intrinsic experience of personally choosing to show gratefulness, appreciation, and interferes with development of personal responsibility, in having powerful social emotional skills (aka, SEL).

Upcoming post on "Say you're sorry!" as a human social skill - or being a parrot!

As P at 26 month old says to us at just the right moments: Enjoy!