You know when you're listening to the radio (mostly Radio 2 these days cause I'm old like that, UNLESS Ken Bruce is on - I don't know why but I can't have him) or you observe a conversation and you hear a word used that you've heard many times before but never really knew the meaning of - and then it clicks with you. You hear it in a way that makes sense. You finally get it. Then you pour over a reel of situations, text and chatter in your head where you have heard or read that word and kind of pretended to know what it means? I had that happen the other day. It felt like an epiphany! It's easy for us adults to just go - OH! I didn't know that's what that meant! - and then retain the knowledge and carry on (except I can't actually remember what that word was now - but if I read it again, by joe, I will be WELL informed). It got me thinking about our expectations of small children. The often unintentional ways that we place expectations on them that they aren't yet built for clicking with. One of the those things I've been thinking of is how we encourage our children to say 'please' and 'thank you'.
I'd be the first to say that good manners go a long way with me. I am all about reciprocity; in conversation, showing gratitude and being helpful but I wonder how much of that, much like every other thing we expect of our children, is better modelled over time than cajoled in the moment.
For instance, the other day Levi came home from School and straight away (like every other day) asked for a snack. "Mum, can I have a snack?". My first instinct was to reply: "What do you say...?", but this time I hesitated. I have heard this come out of my mouth, the mouth of other parents and my own parents so many times, it's as though it's programmed in adults to do it. Lately though, I just can't help but wonder if it's all a bit redundant. Maybe we do it because we want other people to know we are doing well as parents. I dunno.
What I do know, is that my kid is all about the body language. If he's up for banter, you know it. If he isn't, you KNOW it. I could tell by his excited body movements and his wide eyes and smile that he would be grateful for it. I gave it to him and he sort of hugged my leg. No words exchanged, no cajoling for a thank you, just the exchange and the quiet understanding that he was actually grateful.
I wonder how much of the unspoken language of our children do we really accept.
Is it important for them to verbalise their gratitude at three years old? At what age do our expectations of them elevate in this area? Should they?
Maybe had he grabbed the snack off me and run off I might have followed it up with a conversation about how it's nice to acknowledge when someone does something nice for you. But then, I know what it's like when your blood-sugar is low and you are tired and hungry. It's easy to forget to display your thankfulness even though you are.
There are so many times in my relationship with Dave that we do things for each other and the gratitude is just known. I think if the connection in a marriage or in a relationship is strong and efforts are mutual, then the thankfulness can be palpable, and often doesn't need words to justify it. That being said, sometimes a verbal acknowledgement of gratefulness can really cement things back together when a bond has become a bit frayed or weary.
The point is, I think I would rather have Levi really understand gratitude by seeing it modelled instead of rhyming off a social norm that is really just a lesson in remembering to say something at a certain time.
What good is it if someone says 'thank you' because they know they are supposed to without really being thankful?
I think I'm going to ease up on this. What do you think? Are you one of us - the serial prompter of politeness? Is there room for reformatting that for you, or do you think it's an essential? I'd love to hear your thoughts.