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Teaching Respect, Not Compliance

by Caitlin
(Portland, OR)

Dear Annie,

I have two daughters, ages 5 and 2, and am wanting to parent in a way that allows them to be their authentic self and not "good girls" that comply.

What I struggle with is how to teach my older daughter to talk to me in a kind way (i.e. not be snotty and rude) without teaching her that she has to act a certain way or can't say what she really wants. I often model a different way for her to say things but still feel like I'm chipping away at her free-spirit by telling her, "That's not the 'right' way to ask".

Thank you!

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Clown Mommy Teaches Manners
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Caitlin,

It can be hard as a parent to balance teaching children to be respectful or to take care how they speak to others, but also not have them simply parroting social responses. Sounds like you are doing pretty well in that you are aware of wanting your children to be authentic.

Your concern with not chipping away with reprimands is a good one. Kids do learn to comply, but not necessarily out of a desire to be a happy loving little being, more out of a desire to avoid disapproval or punishment.

However, manners or learning social graces, do keep the social wheels turning more positively, so finding ways that kids can learn that is the challenge as a parent.

You say you model a different way for her to say it, but it probably is coming over as critical. Make it fun instead! Kids respond so much more when they are engaged and entertained. If she speaks rudely to you, then ham up your reaction. Pretend to be terribly hurt and cry big dramatic sobbing pretend tears. Throw yourself on the couch under a cushion and sob, "Oh, I can't come out while my feelings are hurt." Or act the clown and say things like "Oh My Goodness, I can't possibly do that, rule number 93 says I have to have magic words and cuddles before I can possibly even think about, I'll just have to start doing silly walks instead."

Then the other side of that, make it a point when they do ask nicely, of Mummy clown running around happy happy happy, jumping up on chairs, cheering, she asked me nicely, I'm so happy, wow this feels good etc.

Part Two Follows . . . .

Mommy Clown Teaches Manners - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

Just be creative about how you teach your children, manners and respect are skills for kids to learn. Mostly they do just come out and say what they want and they want it NOW. Figuring out they are more likely to get what they want when they ask nicely or with respect takes a while to learn.
Learning to be respectful and caring, means they have to have empathy for how others feel. By exaggerating your response you are helping them to gain awareness of how other people feel.

Even without going to that extreme, (like maybe in public where you don't want to run around jumping on chairs!) Make a fuss about it when they do respond well, make a point of saying, I really feel good when you ask so nicely, or I'm really impressed with how caring you were of your sister.

When you ask her to do something, exaggerate the pleases and thank yous. You are still being authentic, but you are just using that incident as a little lesson, and the more fun you have with your kids, the more you keep that positive energy flowing.

Don't worry, by the time your girls are teenagers, they won't want to risk you jumping around on the furniture in front of their friends, so they will have it mastered I am sure!

You might also want to read my answers to this question, where I spoke to a Grandmother about similar issues.

Manners & Children

Good luck with it all,
Most of all enJOY your girls.

Annie Desantis

Thank You
by: Anonymous


Thank you for your reply! In addition to just making me laugh, it does also seem it would be hard to be angry at being berated for the lunch you sent your child to school with (by said child) if I were to be running around acting like a clown. : ) A good reminder to keep things light.

I appreciate your response and time.


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