Dear Kid Whisperer,
I was your server last night when you came into my restaurant with your wife and daughter. You told me that if I “Liked” you on Facebook and emailed you the question that I asked you, that you would answer it. So I did and I am. So now, how do you get your daughter to be so polite? She said “please” and “thank you” not only to you and your wife, but to me too. My daughter is much younger than your daughter, but I would like her to be that polite by the time she is two. -Anna, Dayton, Ohio
Wow, that was quick! Thank you for signing up for Kid Whisperer Nation. Welcome. Let me first dispel one rumor about my daughter, henceforth to be known as “The Evildoer”. She is not an easy kid to get along with sometimes. From the very start, she has been hardwired to be a little difficult, strong willed, and has a tendency to try to manipulate whenever she can. If you give her an inch, she will take a mile.
With that being said, The Evildoer is extremely polite, so much so that it often stops people in their tracks to hear someone so young be so gracious. Part of this is due to The Evildoer being a bit verbally advanced for her age. However, we all know kids whom we wish weren’t so verbally advanced, by which I mean we wish they would not talk at all because they are jerks.
There are five steps to getting yourself a polite child. Before we get to those steps, there is one essential understanding that you must commit to before we move forward. If you cannot commit to this rule, then don’t waste your time reading the rest of this. Here it is:
Once your child is able to say “please” and “thank you”, your child no longer is allowed to get the things that they want without saying “please” and “thank you”.
Allowing your child to sometimes get what they want without saying these kind words while sometimes not giving them what they want is confusing and unfair to your child.
“But…” you say, “What if it’s a need like food or water? What then?”
To that, I refer you back to the above statement. A child missing a meal will not kill the child and does not constitute neglect. It does, however, create a logical consequence (the unpleasant feeling of hunger) for the unpleasant behavior of refusing to be pleasant.
If your child has gotten what she wants by being nasty over a long period of time and they are refusing to be polite in regards to non-nutrition oriented wants (toys, candy, asking for help, etc.) then simply keep not providing the want. If they really dig in with the food issue to the point of them actually having health issues (talk to your pediatrician about when this begins) then you can plan accordingly. Prepare two meals: one that is a delicious meal that they love, and one that consists of food that takes no time to prepare that they will hate but does provide enough nutrition. Then, calmly use this enforceable statement and do not repeat it:
I serve cheeseburgers to children who use kind words. I serve tomato juice and bread to children who don’t use kind words.
OK, now that we have done troubleshooting on that front, I can show you the five steps to getting a polite child:
Step #1: This one only pertains to very young children who are emergent speakers. If this does not apply to your kid, move on to Step #2. Every first time your child says “please” and “thank you”, make a huge deal about it. Cheer and applaud with enthusiasm. It doesn’t matter if they say it at the appropriate time and situation or not. By all means, if it is done in the right time and situation, give them the thing that they want if at all possible. “Please” is called the “magic word” for a reason: it should get you what you want. As soon as your child is able to say both kind words and know when they are used, always withhold wants until they use the kind words. Until then, just reinforce by celebrating each time they use kind words.
Step #2: The rest of these steps simply involve different scaffolding levels for prompting. On this lowest level, we prompt by saying ‘“Say ‘please.”’ Or “’Say ‘thank you”’. The amount of time that you spend at each level depends on the age and developmental level of the child. For an 18 month old we may spend months on this level, while for an 18 year old, we would stay on this level for as many seconds as it would take to say this once. If your kid doesn’t say “please”, simply smile at them for as long as it is convenient with the wanted object until she says her kind word. If she doesn’t say it, walk away until she says it. Once she says it, hand the wanted object over but keep your hand on it until your kid says “thank you”. If she doesn’t use the kind word, after five to ten seconds say “Uh-oh”, walk away and then repeat Step #2. Do this for as long as it is convenient. Walk away and continue living your life at your convenience. Once your kid has become proficient with Step #2, move onto Step #3.
Step #3: Follow the steps detailed in Step #2, but replace the words used with “What do we say?”
Step #4: Instead of speaking when your kid wants something, simply smile while holding the wanted object out of the reach of the kid.
Step #5: Ignore any requests that are not preceded by “please”. Continue to keep your hand on the object until “thank you” is said.
If it is help that you provide after a “please” and the child does not respond with “thank you” even after prompting, you can’t hold on to anything, so simply say “Oh, no, you won’t say thank you? Oh, man, this is sad. I only help people who can use kind words. I would be happy to help you when I know that you will always be kind to me.” The next day when your kid comes downstairs expecting to be driven to his soccer game, he will have to deal with some serious disappointment while understanding that mom really means what she says as she explains that she only help people who can be polite and that you hope that he has another means of transport to the game.
Follow each step, in order, as your “go to” method, but feel free to use a previous step whenever you really need your child to do something. For instance, you generally use Step #5, but you are running late for work, you’re on the phone, and your kid asks for a breakfast bar. Feel free go back to Step #2 if that may work better for you.
I hope this will help you to have a polite little one! Let me know how it goes!!!!!!
–The Kid Whisperer