"Say 'please'," or not - What Really Matters

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. Is it from the heart? Or because they "should," a part of "being nice."  "Be nice!" is what many of us were told by our parents. While there is certainly nothing wrong with being nice, it can become an act that obscures honest and heartfelt appreciation and empathy as well as potentially upsetting but real feelings. Good social learning skills include integrating honesty without being offensive, and that means understanding the power of context and the creation of contexts. How we say what we say is often more powerful than what we say. How we say what we say is determined by a context. What we say is determined by our circumstances. We may not have a say in our circumstances, but we do have a say in our context. Here is an example:

I learned this from preschoolers in my classes many years ago. I would hear a preschooler ask her parent, "I want some banana!" and the parent would respond, "Say please!", and the child would say, "I want some banana (in the same demanding tone) ... PLEASE!" And she would get it. And I would ask myself, "what did this child just learn?" That "please" is a magic word?

Wouldn't you rather be asked in a way that respects you, that trusts you, that loves you, and know that you value that love and respect?  I never insisted that my own children or the children in my preschool classes say 'please' when asking for something. I did several other things, however. I let them know that "I want ... " is not asking anything, it is just saying what you want, and that we all want things that we don't have. If someone can get something for you that you can't get yourself, it works to ask for it.  Asking sound like this: "Mr. Marty, may I have some more juice?", or, "Will you pour me some more juice?" You may or may not get what you ask for at the time you ask, but people will enjoy being with you and will more likely feel good about getting something you ask for. It works to ask. By the way, you can say "please," but here (in our family or in my class) you don't have to and it is fine to add "please."

Having said that, we do occasionally say please with each other, we tend to say please as part of the asking in more formal social situations, and my children at home and at school did likewise. Finally, think about this: when a child is taught to say "please" as a magic word, the asking part - as a social skill - can then be ignored, and the please becomes a form of begging. It does irk me to see young children being taught to beg in place of showing how to ask (along with learning the difference between a statement and a question).


Broader Understanding: 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 learning (skills) (aka, SEL). "Should" is a problematic term in many ways, especially in a child's navigation of his relationship with his parents while successfully integrating his/her own autonomy and desire for learning how life really works.

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

NOTE: The revised second edition of Beyond Good Parenting - The Art & Science of Behavior, Learning, and Partnership is now available at Amazon.com (blue cover), or, if you are in San Francisco, I'd be happy to deliver a signed copy in person!!  (send me a message!) Marty


How to Help Toddlers Up Their Own Development ...

... by letting them play with (safe!) everyday household items.

Last evening, while all of us adults sat around the living room/dining room engaged with our own reading/working, my daughter let my grandson Phin (18 months) have the salad spinner on the living room floor, as his "Ama", one of his grandmothers, had showed him how to use it earlier. In addition to the three parts: the bowl, the spinning strainer bowl, and the top with the large push plunger to make it spin. Phin very elegantly found he could push the plunger down more easily with one foot when he stands next to it while holding onto a chair to keep his balance. Then he added, one piece at a time: a jar of diaper cream (with the lid on), a Frisbee, which just fit in the top of the bowl, and finally a 3-4” wooden shaker-rattle. He spent 20 - 30 minutes putting these things in the bowl in different combinations and trying to see if he could spin any one of them, any combination of them, or all of them. His experiment showed that he couldn’t (neither could you or I, if we put the smaller pieces in before the spinner bowl). It was inspiring to watch him examine each piece, examine the bowl and other pieces, and trying almost every possible combination at every possible angle, and really look at what was happening and what wasn't. And to notice that he never tried to spin anything without putting the inner spinning bowl shows he knew that the connection of the lid to that inner bowl was essential to the spinning, as was having the top seated properly on the outer bowl.

 Imagine how many neural connections were built during this process: that some things cause others to move, some don't, finger-hand-arm-eye coordination, balance, and repeating-movement patterns: ones that would help him understand how so many other things work in the real world and build his balance, confidence, and strength!

And how different it would have been if one of us had gotten up to show him how to put those things in the spinner!

 Read my post on Facebook re Alison Gopnik’s NYT article (Our kids don’t need to be taught in order to learn..)

Q: Why was he willing to spend so much time with something apparently (to adults) easy to spin and boring? That is, this was not some toy or set of blocks, supposedly designed to keep children's interest. My thoughts on this: 

First, he had seen us use these items frequently, though not exactly in ways that he tried. But the fact that he could put them together, whether the spinner worked or not, made his activity very experimental. (What "seems obvious" to us adults about how these items do not work together is not due to our superior intelligence, but to our own past "experimenting" and use of the items.) Children want to find out how things work, and the most effective way (which also develops eye-hand coordination, spatial acuity, and finer motor skills) is by experimenting. So, second, there was a huge developmental opportunity in his (all children's) innate motivation.

My last point here is that there has been a detrimental belief (perpetrated by various sources) that young children have short attention spans. Not so. Children learn very fast, and so get bored very quickly when they have little say in what and how they are allowed to see and do things. Being "taught" is a two- or three-dimensional experience, though children "adapt" when they have no choice - as most of us adults did. Boredom is a bigger problem for more children than is struggling to keep up (though it looks similar - a struggle - to keep paying attention). Phin's interacting physically and autonomously with the salad spinner is hugely multi-dimensional, exercising not only all the senses and developing sensory acuities, developing co-ordination and thinking/manipulating purposeful actions, but also is essential for developing a trust of self and responsible self-determination. The earlier value of my wife letting Phin watch and handle as much as she does when cooking lead to his exploring on his own how these utensils worked, providing 20 -30 minutes of development, the value of the sum of which later in his life is immeasurable. The value for parents? Sit back and read. Being encouraging when no encouragement is necessary is annoying - even to young children!

[to see a video of a couple of minutes of his activity, request access to "Salad Spinner video" here.]

Who Is the Most Important Person in Your Family?

It is normal for a parent to put their own well-being - including R&R, exercise, and fun - last in their priorities (how selfish, one might think!). But the bottom line is, you matter, your well-being impacts everyone in your family in many ways, including learning how to take care of themselves. If your children don't learn the value of that from you, then from whom? And every child already knows that when parent(s) are happy, everyone is!  So here is a recommended blog post from Stephanie Owen ... it is worth reading here.  It is a great resource.

Discovering another ... re: anything

I love this quote on Farnam Street blog, taken from Krista Tippett on Generous Listening and Asking Better Questions. I've found it to be so true in my work with young children as well as with their parents:

"If I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned this: a question is a powerful thing, a mighty use of words. Questions elicit answers in their likeness. Answers mirror the questions they rise, or fall, to meet. So while a simple question can be precisely what’s needed to drive to the heart of the matter, it’s hard to meet a simplistic question with anything but a simplistic answer. It’s hard to transcend a combative question. But it’s hard to resist a generous question. We all have it in us to formulate questions that invite honesty, dignity, and revelation. There is something redemptive and life-giving about asking a better question."   - Krista Tippett

Let' say you just sat down face-to-face, eye-to-eye, with a friend/family member. After greeting each other, what could you ask to find out who this person is today, how have they grown since the last time you talked, even if it was only a couple of hours since your last conversation? Then listen generously. I haven't read Krista's book, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Art of Living, so I don't know exactly what she would say generous listening is, but I would say it is to listen as if it is you talking to yourself, in-the-world, (rather than in your head). No commentary, suggestion, or rejoinder, not even an agreement or disagreement with what is being said. Just know you heard every word, every intent, and accept it all (no matter what your mind wants to say). And then wait, not saying the first thing, or second thing, or third thing that comes to mind. Let the answerer lead. You could be on an incredible new adventure!

101 Language Dancing for Babies & Parents

Gaining the skills for playing soccer happens by playing soccer on the soccer field. Likewise, learning language and social skills for enjoyable and meaningful conversation is learned from being in social situations, where there is true dialogue.  You know what I mean: when you and your friends get together at a picnic or for a beer. And if someone is talking "at" or "to" you rather than "with" you, you will find a reason to have to talk to someone else!  

 For young children, being "talked to" and being "talked with" have vastly different results in the same way.  Being talked "with" is called "language dancing," where each partner - child and parent - in a both verbal and non-verbal "dialogue,"  responds to the "moves" (facial expressions, gestures, and vocalizations as well) of the other partner, just for the joy of relating - as older children and we adults do when we are out with our friends. 

In their research, Drs. Todd Risley and Betsy Hart found that the cognitive performance that children achieve or don’t achieve by third grade ...

... is all explained by the amount of language dancing, or extra talk, over and above business talk, that [the] parents engaged in [between birth and age 3].  It accounted literally for all of the variance in outcomes.   

(Quote from interview with Todd Risley)

By the way, there's nothing wrong with "business" conversations, like "time to eat, or "take your mittens out of your soup!"  A child can learn how useful these can be - but they are not as rich, interesting, or meaningful as everyday social talking between best friends. The focus of learning language is in social talk long before speech is mastered.

And if your baby is pre-verbal?  To see an example of a mom with a baby, request the link here, and ask for Language Dancing.  I recommend you watch it first without the sound, imagining what might be being said between this new mother and her baby.

What to love about this idea of Language Dancing is that it is also hugely joyful and fulfilling for you, the parent (or teacher, too!).  Enjoy.

Risley and Hart's book, Meaningful Differences in the Lives of Everyday American Children, and its follow up, The Social World of Children Learning to Talk, are must reads for educators. For parents, the significant points are covered in Beyond Good Parenting.


Firsts: First blog on new site, first blog from San Francisco ...

    Marty Dutcher

    Marty Dutcher

A successful relocation! We are here! I mean San Francisco - we've always been 'here', at least since birth ;). It took almost a year to pack up in Lancaster PA, then move, update addresses, auto registration, insurance, update IRS, Medicare, credit cards, bank accounts, blah blah blah ... and a change in clothing! But we are excited to start a new chapter.  

FYI, Carolyn (CNM) is retired from delivering babies and is now a Lactation Consultant, and I am looking forward to sharing my acoustic guitar music (hobby) and my parenting/relational expertise (professional) here on the West coast.  I'm happy to be in San Francisco and nearer to family, and particularly pleased to be able to play with, enjoy, and record our first grandchild as he explores and experiments during every waking moment (and sleeps more hours to seemingly process the huge quantity of facts and data he accumulates daily - like every baby and young child does).  Please come back as I am re-editing old and writing new blogs, and ** NEW *** adding some amazing videos, and will be posting the best for you!