Children who are allowed to grow up engaging in rude, disrespectful or impolite behavior are generally not well liked by others, as kids and later as adults. Self-esteem problems often result when peers avoid that child and it’s tough to change others’ perceptions once the kid has been marked as rude or disrespectful. That’s why it’s important to confront the issue now when the child is sarcastic, impolite to family members or friends or schoolmates. Do not do the child a favor by looking the other way. These inappropriate habits are so easily formed yet so difficult to break.
If this sounds a bit like a child you know, please listen up. It’s probably time to tone down rudeness. Sometimes it may seem easier to ignore inappropriate behavior than to confront it. So let’s take a look at what we should focus on in order to help change the way that children interact with others by “Living the Law:”
1. Teach the magic words. “Please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me” are still the basics of a polite vocabulary, but don’t fall into the trap of believing that just because you remind children to use these words that they will do so automatically. As with any habit, it takes consistency to instill a new behavior. Expect children to need consistent reminders until the magic words become second nature. Discuss with the children what words you’d like them to use to get your attention — instead of interrupting, say “excuse me.” It’s important for teachers and parents to regularly use these respectful words and phrases themselves when interacting with children — modeling goes a long way toward teaching, reinforcing, and maintaining polite behavior.
2. Coach children to ask, not demand. Children get into the habit of insisting on privileges or your attention, rather than coming across as requesting it. Although their intentions may be appropriate (they think that they are asking, not demanding), many don’t understand how their asking is perceived by others. Teach them that a request is something that usually is in question form (May I or please), rather than a statement (Give me the . . . ). That’s a safe way of assuring that they’ll be perceived as asking, rather than as demanding. Most folks I know become ornery when kids tell them what’s going to happen (“I’m going to the mall.”) rather than asking for permission (“May I please borrow the car?”). It’s really the same process but put differently, and it results in more parental cooperation since the child appears to be more respectful when asking than when demanding.
3. Focus on tone of voice. Many children have no clue how they are perceived by others. Little ones can appear to be whiney when they believe that they are just expressing their feelings and teens often seem argumentative when they’re trying to make a point. Teach children that they are responsible for both their intent as well as the way that they come across to others. Stop it by pointing out the tone and its inappropriateness. Say, “You’re whining. If you’d like me to help you, you must ask politely,” or “I know you’re upset, but we don’t use that tone of voice in our house or school.” That’s a life lesson that is invaluable — many adults ruin perfectly good relationships by relating in an inappropriate tone of voice, pitch, or volume. Better to learn this skill now as a youngster than to pay the price later as an adult!
4. Teach the “I message” technique. We all become angry or frustrated by others’ behaviors once in a while, and for some kids, it’s an almost daily occurrence. Instead of allowing them to lash out, teach children the “I message” technique of describing what is bothering them. The basic structure of this technique is to state “I feel ——— when you ———.” For example, calmly stating “I get mad when you come into my room and mess with my stuff without permission” is significantly more palatable (and effective) than hollering “Get out of my room, you moron!” If nothing else, the perpetrator will get the blame from Mom or Dad, and the victim looks like a cool cucumber. And fights occur much less frequently when the annoying party is either ignored or given an “I message” than when they are attacked. Often this is seen as provocation and retaliation follows. The “I message” should also include what the child would like the other to do. “Please knock before entering,” or “Ask to play my Game Boy, don’t just take it” are statements that lead to better communication than verbal or physical attacks.
5. Insist on formal meets and greets. Even though this has become less and less common these days, suggestion to parents and teachers should assume that a formal introduction is preferable when it comes to meeting new people, especially adults. Mr. or Mrs., Coach or Doctor is all appropriate ways for children to speak to adults who are not family members. If the new friend wishes to be called something less formal, “Miss Sally” may be appropriate for little children or perhaps the person’s first name if it is a very close acquaintance.
6. Dial up manners. Perhaps, teachers should teach children how to answer the telephone in a polite way. “Davis residence” is not only polite but also lets the caller know whether the correct number has been dialed. Ask children not to give out first name, as the caller may be a stranger and shouldn’t be given this information.
Next week will tackle rudeness in children in a four-step process!