So, as parents, we don’t always make the best choices, but I think we’ve found one that works.
We don’t make our daughter say thank you. Or please. Or “sorry.”
Following from my beloved Alfie Kohn, we don’t push her to say anything that she doesn’t feel authentically. We want her to mean what she says, and not have to pretend – lie – whatever you want to call it, by saying something she doesn’t mean.
Of course, we also want her to say thank you, please, sorry, and every other polite word that is so essential to positive social intercourse. But, more than that, we want her to authentically mean them, to recognize when they are needed, and to want to say them. We don’t think that she will get there by forcing it.
Instead, we are using two main approaches: modeling, and meta-think-alouds.
We do our best to mean and say all the polite things we want her to do. I know, all parents do this. I totally acknowledge all of you reading this! And I want to commend all of you, because I think it’s a super important element. I see Alya imitating the behaviour of others more and more, and I really really really want to be someone worth imitating.
And what’s a meta-think-aloud? For me, this means calling Alya’s attention to the effect of actions on others. We talk about how our actions affect others, including her. And we talk with her about how her actions affect us, and affect her, and affect those around. I’m pulling a bit from Kohn and also Mayim Bialik, in believing that as she starts to see how her choices affect others, she will make kinder choices. We’re trying to make the moral choice the logical one, for her to automatically look for the consequences of her actions, to help her see the how and why of the right thing to do, and to feel the impulse inside herself to make that choice.
The result? Well, like life, it’s a work in progress. However, we’ve been so touched to see how often she spontaneously says “thank you!” to us when we do simple things for her. And she’ll be so specific – thank you for making me food, for getting books from the library, etc.
And sorry! She says sorry a lot too, and it’s very very sweet and spontaneous. The sorry part, honestly, is a bit problematic because sometimes she says it when I’ve gotten upset about her behaviour (am I scaring her into saying sorry???); and also, do I want to raise a female who apologizes all the time? Um, no. So yes, that one is more in progress. But overall: feeling like a win.
And frankly, the other part that can be a challenge is that if we are constantly drawing her attention to the impact of her actions on others, could she forget to tune in with her own impulses and emotions? We also make this something important that we do, however, so I hope we are balancing these two approaches.
One other great result: she makes conversation. At the dinner table. And includes us all in it. “What’s your favourite food, mama? Dada, what’s your favourite?” Melting with love, we are!