You walk into a room with your child by your side.
He’s normally rambunctious and noisy. But when an acquaintance stops to speak to your little precious, he won’t open his eyes or say a single word. “That’s okay,” says the grown up. “I imagine he’s a little shy of strangers.” Problem is, you know there’s not a single shy bone in his body! You’re embarrassed by the rude response (or lack thereof) from your child. You know you’ll have to make teaching him good manners a priority. Especially when he says triumphantly “I didn’t even talk to that man!”
You know that he’s not just remembering “stranger danger.” He understands about talking to strangers when he’s with mom or dad. What he’s actually just done by being rude is show you how much he likes control. Maximum control.
Uh oh. He’s rude. Are you too late already?
You may have to take stock of what other signals are coming from him that he’s trying to rule the world. Is he allowed to refuse food he says he doesn’t like (even if he’s never even tasted it)? How about the way he addresses adults and talks to his teacher? Does he get to choose first all the time “because he’s the littlest”? Do you insist that big brother or sister include him in play with their friends, even though he’s four years younger?
Are you aware of the words you use about your child to others, especially in the presence of that child? “Oh, he’s pretty shy. He probably won’t talk to you.” “He doesn’t like squash. He probably won’t eat it.” Or how about (said with a little pride thrown in), “Yes, she’s always been active. She can’t sit still for a minute.” Your kiddo has his ears tuned to what you say, and he’s learning from you to make excuses for his behavior. Those simple statements turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. And each time it happens, he thinks that he really does rule the world.
So, let’s correct the rude greeting faux pas. Have a conversation with your young one about polite conversations. Make sure he understands that when adults speak to him, he is expected to look them in the eyes, smile, and use kind words to answer. No negotiations. No hiding behind mom’s back, no cop-outs of any kind. Your child may actually be an introvert, but that doesn’t mean he never talks outside his comfort zone.
Tools for tomorrow
Children who learn how to greet people politely and how to carry on a cordial conversation will have some of the tools necessary to land a job when they’re older. Teach them that others often make decisions based on first impressions. That’s why each time they meet someone, whether it is the first time or the thirty first time, repeatedly being polite and attentive leaves a positive impact. (Human nature being what it is, if there’s even one negative impression, that’s the one they’ll remember.)
I recently read an article about a family that had this very problem with their three year old. After carefully explaining their expectations, it was inevitable that he would test the limits. So they told him if he didn’t greet people as expected, when they got home, they would practice. They role-played a person speaking to their little boy. If he responded appropriately, great! Celebrate! If not, they kept on practicing until he got it right. By that time, he would do practically anything to be released from his “hello lessons.” And he knew that if he didn’t do what was expected in public, he’d go right back to practicing some more.
Rude is real
We once went out to dinner with a couple and their twin three-year-old girls. While we sat and ate our dinner, the children climbed over the chairs and under the table. Then they took a little trip around the restaurant to talk to all the other diners. They even helped themselves to the food on other people’s plates! Their parents thought their precious little ones were so cute that no one would mind being interrupted or having food stolen out from under their noses. When it became clear that the parents were not going to do anything to control their daughters, I finally got up, put the girls back in their chairs and warned them “Don’t move!” And you know what? They didn’t.
I’ve always believed I have two sets of children: the ones who live in my home and the ones who visit other people. Because invariably people they’ve visited with tell us, “Your children are so polite!” It’s a great feeling to know that those early lessons actually took hold.
Do you have polite, attentive children? If so, tell us how you got there. If not, will you try this solution? Why or why not?