Sunday, April 5, 2009

OH! ... You Mean I Need to Teach Him That, Too?

A while back, my brother and his girlfriend stopped by to visit. My brother had a gift for Joey that he was very excited to give him. Joey opened the gift and showed interest by wanting to take it out of the package and prepare it for play, but beyond that enthusiasm, not much else was said. At one point, when Joey left the room for just a moment, my brother's girlfriend said to me, "Pssst... Hey, be sure to have Joey say 'thank you' to your brother."

Wow. I'm so glad you told me that,
I thought to myself, or I wouldn't have known.

Honestly, there really was no irritation on my part; I just threw that in because I've learned from the school of the "Master Sarcaster". I know she was looking out for my brother's feelings. But kids ... well, they're kids ... and some of them feel awkward saying "please" and "thank-you" at times. I actually remember being that way myself as a child. And despite his confidence in communicating with adults and peers, Joey is one of those kids. He knows to say "thank-you", but more often than not, he feels awkward saying it.

We rarely correct Joey in certain areas of behavior or knowledge, and it has served us well. I use that tactic of 'not correcting' in many -but not all- areas of teaching him right from wrong. For one example, speech. He has always communicated well beyond his years, but at times he says a word or phrase incorrectly, just like any other child. We rarely correct him - even when he was a toddler. We find a reason to repeat it back to him in the correct way during the course of our conversation, and he would catch on ... sometimes right away and sometimes many times later. Either way, he learned on his own, and it built his confidence.

So ... why-oh-why don't I do that when it comes to manners?? Because too often, I care too much about what others think. I don't want people to think I don't bother to teach Joey manners. I'd feel embarrassed if I were to allow him to turn the other cheek and not say a word while I am thanking the other person for him. (I even came up with a hand gesture to do as a sign to discreetly remind him; it became a little ridiculous as I struggled to get him to look at me to actually see the reminder!) Instead of allowing Joey to take my lead, following my example once it becomes natural for him, I 'correct' him. And that is usually in front of another person, of course. "What do you say to Mrs. So and So for having you over, Joey?" I'm not doing anyone any favors there - especially Joey! His confidence suffers a bit when I regularly put a tractor-beam on his lack of manners in front of others. What works for some, doesn't work for others ... and that is not how Joey best 'works'.

It took me a few years of lost or forced thank-yous to realize this connection. I then decided to bite my tongue and not prompt him in front of others - no matter how much it embarrassed me to blatantly overlook it! If he missed the opportunity, he would need to call the person afterwards. My brother was my first experiment. This time it failed, despite having talked with Joey about saying 'thank-you' before my brother arrived. But, it will take time and I believe it will eventually succeed. Joey almost always says 'thank-you' at home for the most minor things; I get a "Thank-you, Mommy," if I hand him a pen.

So if you're ever left feeling cut short by a little red-haired boy and his parents, please know he is thankful for your kindness. It will just take a little more time for this guy to say it on his own consistently ... all while I'm turning red ... and doing my best to make an eventual man.


AlisonH said...

As the mother of four kids now all in their 20's, (how's that for sounding self-authoritative?), when the kids were little I prompted them so they would know what was expected of them. But as they got older, it was something they needed to do themselves, something they needed to remember by my example of doing so myself anyway, and I prompted them far less often. I wanted them not just to say thank you--although that's an important social skill--but to BE thankful! Rather than begrudgingly saying a pat phrase because I made them.

They came out okay!

Momo Fali said...

Listen to that lady up there, she's a wise one.

You and I are going to have to agree to disagree on this, though I think if you have him call later it makes up for not prompting him to say it at the time.

My little one says thank you to everyone...for gifts, when someone says he's cute...whatever. It's the big kid who I can't get to say it, or to even appear grateful, even if she is.