goodManners: Words With Meaning Helping children learn to speak from their heart

I was recently with my family at Sea World in Orlando. Listening to a trainer answer questions about training killer whales made me chuckle to myself. Someone asked, “How do you get the whales to obey your commands.” She paused, smiled and replied “Oh…we NEVER command killer whales to do anything. We ask them. In fact, we ask them VERY POLITELY.”

Her comment made me smile. It was a powerfully simple point we humans sometimes forget in our daily communications. We sometimes forget that being polite and kind usually yields much better results than the alternative.

Using polite words is great, but it’s not enough. Polite words sometimes mean nothing if they are not coupled with heartfelt concern.

Have you ever had an encounter with a customer service representative that used his polite words but may as well have been a robot programmed to give a scripted answer, as opposed to someone who remotely cared? Maybe I’m being a little harsh, but it’s merely to illustrate the point that genuinely meaning what you say is extremely important.

This point is often difficult for children to grasp. We all want our children to use polite words. I think it sounds so nice when a child says, “may I please have…” or “I’m sorry for …”. Yet, simultaneously, I also think children should understand why polite words are really used. It’s a civil nicety used by modern society to convey respect and kindness.

It’s interesting that most of us teach children to use polite words via the “parroting method”. Meaning we use the word correctly than ask the child to copy us: “No – Jodi, please don’t say ‘gimme the ball’. Say, may I please have the ball.” However, as a child gets a little older it’s important to also explain that commanding someone to do something may make the other person feel badly and is disrespectful. Ask how she would feel if someone always commanded her to do something, instead of asking politely.

The goal is for children to use polite words because it’s the right thing to do – not because they simply remembered to “parrot” back polite words.

Once I watched two children building a sand castle. There was a minor disagreement on how the structure was being built. One of the boys then proceeded to stomp all over the structure. The mom of that boy intervened and made him apologize – he quickly huffed “I’m sorry” while looking in the opposite direction.

The mom pulled the boy aside and said “how do you think Sam felt when you destroyed the castle, and how do you think he feels now?”

She followed with “you didn’t behave so nicely, so now what are you going to do about it?”

He went over and said “I’m sorry I ruined the castle; would it be OK if I helped you rebuild it”. Eye contact was maintained while speaking and I thought it was a genuine apology.

Using polite words to fix a problem is just part of the solution. Teaching children to take responsibility for their actions and “right” a “wrong” is sometimes even more important. Learning to sync your words and your heart together is a powerful life skill.