Excerpted and adapted from the award-winning Amazon bestselling book, What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children.
Letting go of prompts is a serious commitment. Offering children cues is a verbal habit that is hard to break. But overuse of prompting usurps kids’ personal power. And it becomes exhausting for the adult too!
Here are three classic prompts that you can avoid with a little practice. I’ve also included Reading Tips because reading books with children that promote courteous behavior and respect for others is an effective way to send these messages without nagging.
What’s the magic word?
Most adults want children to have good manners. We certainly don’t remind and nag at a baby to start crawling, and it isn’t productive for learning other behaviors like manners. Ironically, asking repeatedly for please or thank you can cause a child to overlook these graces. Why should she remember to say the magic words if you always jog her memory?
I have effectively taught children to use polite phrases by simply always using them myself. In social situations where you would feel rude if a child didn’t say the right thing, speak for your child (he will hear you) without sarcasm or a mocking tone: “Thanks, Aunt Trudy. Frankie will love playing with this truck.”
Rude Giants by Audrey Wood. Ages two and up. These unruly giants get some etiquette help.
You have to share.
During their first five years, kids struggle with sharing sometimes. (If not most times!) Children near age two have particular difficulty with sharing. (Have you read The Toddlers Creed?) This is normal and to be expected.
You might have heard a child scream “No! Mine!” at the top of her lungs if another child makes even a slight move toward a toy or cookie she is holding. Experts claim that at the peak of the “mine” stage, a toddler’s perception of a toy she possesses is that it is an actual part of her. When someone takes away that toy, she feels the same as if an arm or leg has been taken. This certainly explains all that wailing, doesn’t it?
The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog! by Mo Willems. Ages six months and up. A pigeon wants to eat the hot dog himself but decides to share in the end.
Sheila Rae’s Peppermint Stick by Kevin Henkes. Ages one and up. Sheila Rae doesn’t want to share at first, but then something happens that changes her mind.
Go say you’re sorry.
Forcing a child to apologize is usually frustrating for someone—the child who has been given no choice in the matter, or the adult if the child refuses (Most likely, both.) I’ve seen moms and dads have major “say you’re sorry” showdowns with children who have just begun to speak: “We will stand right here until you say you are sorry for hitting your friend!” It is upsetting to watch one child hurt another, but trying to save face in this situation is a trap.
Children under five are still developing empathy and don’t benefit from a forced apology. The best response is to describe what occurred. It helps the child understand the connection between cause and effect—you did this, and it caused that. A great example for toddlers is for an adult to handle the wrongdoing and apologize to the affronted child or grown-up: “I’m sorry Helen pushed you and took that toy. Are you okay?” At a later stage in development (around age three-and-a-half), ask the child to check in with the friend she has offended or injured. This works like a scaffold to help the apology be included, which it usually will if it has been demonstrated often enough.
I’m Sorry by Sam McBratney. Ages one and up. Two young friends want to play together, but first they must mend hurt feelings.
How to Lose All Your Friends by Nancy Carlson. Ages two and up. This “how to” tells you exactly what not to do if you want friends.
A realization that might help you give up prompting entirely is that kids are wise and capable and they will figure it out. Sometimes it takes a few reminders to trust our children, to remember that they are inherently good and smart. We are all capable of both “good” and bad” behavior—read here about the internal battle we all have involving two wolves. In my line of work it is often said that you grow what you measure. Let’s assume the best and measure the good stuff.
Please comment on this post about prompts you notice. Your comment enters you in the eBook Giveaway — to win an ebook copy of What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children, in the format of your choice: PDF, epub, or Kindle format. Sarah will be giving away one copy at each blog stop and will announce it on the comments of this post tomorrow. Be sure to leave your email so we can contact you in case you’re the winner!
Other stops and opportunities to win during this Blog Tour are listed on Sarah’s blog.
Sarah MacLaughlin has worked with children and families for over twenty years. With a background in early childhood education, she has previously been both a preschool teacher and nanny. Sarah is currently a licensed social worker at The Opportunity Alliance in South Portland, Maine, and works as the resource coordinator in therapeutic foster care. She serves on the board of Birth Roots, and writes the “Parenting Toolbox” column for a local parenting newspaper, Parent & Family. Sarah teaches classes and workshops locally, and consults with families everywhere. She considers it her life’s work to to promote happy, well-adjusted people in the future by increasing awareness of how children are spoken to today. She is mom to a young son who gives her plenty of opportunities to take her own advice about What Not to Say. More information about Sarah and her work can be found at her site and her blog.