Politeness and Social Niceties
Archived Q&A and Reviews
My 4 year old daughter has lovely manners but won't use them with anyone she doesn't know well. She's growing out of it but she's always been pretty slow to warm up to new people. I've resisted making the ''She's just shy'' excuse for her because I haven't wanted to label her. I do sometimes prompt her to use her manners but I don't force the issue. Now that she's getting bigger I feel like people expect more from her. When a cashier at the store gives her a sticker and she won't look at them or thank them it feels awkward. People will often kindly say, ''Oh, are you just a little shy?'' which doesn't help. After I give her a chance to say thank you (and she doesn't) I try to model a nice way to respond-- ''Thanks for the sticker!'' But sometimes I wonder if she just figures I'll take care of that part! I also have a friend who has expressed that we should be able to expect good manners as part of good behavior from our 4-year-olds-- because apparently 4 is all grown up! Should I just continue to let her manage her social interactions on her own or is there a way to gently help her understand that please and thank you are expected and to feel more comfortable doing it? Minding my daughter's p's and q's
We also have 2 shy kids (now 6 and 8) so we have struggled with this issue. And I was shy myself as a kid, so I am sympathetic to the fact that forcing a shy child to be social, or pointing out his/her shyness, will only make it worse.
We have tried to deal with it by considering basic manners as separate from chattiness or small talk that is beyond their comfort level. That is, we insist that our kids MUST do things like say ''thank you'' in response to gifts or compliments, say ''please'' when making requests, and answer basic questions from adults. But at the same time, we are very careful to not push them to be any more social than that, as in, ''why don't you go talk to those kids over there'' or ''why don't you go ask that grown-up where the bathroom is'' which would be easy for a more outgoing child but would strike terror into the hearts of our kids. So we try to be respectful of their comfort/ability levels while still making basic manners non-negotiable. As you said, people expect more from them the older they get, and soon it won't be acceptable (even from a shy kid) for them not to at least thank an adult for a sticker.
That said, it is an ongoing process. We worked first on please and thank you. You can of course start with those at home (requiring that they say it to parents) which is easier, and it helps make a habit. We still have to prompt them sometimes in public (''what do you say?'') but we don't ever say it FOR them, because as you said they quickly learn to rely on that instead of trying to muster up the courage to do it themselves. Now at 6 & 8 we are working on the next stage of manners, like making eye contact with adults, and on basic conversational skills. Like when an adult asks, ''Are you going to the beach this summer?'' instead of just shaking your head no, you can work on saying, ''no, we are going to my grandma's.'' You don't have to have a 5-min schpiel about grandma's, but you do have to be polite. Again it is an ongoing process and I try to be very careful not to push them too hard. But the point is to not let them off the hook for the most basic of manners if you don't want the shyness to eventually be seen as rudeness. 4 years old is early enough to begin this process. Good luck! shy mom of 2 shy kids
I want to assure you that your daughter is doing just fine and so are you. Children learn manners primarily through modeling. If you are polite with people you encounter each day your daughter will pick that up. Coaching her to say please and thank-you around the home with family and close friends is fine. But she is still too shy to practice these skills with strangers. Pushing for a thank-you with a stranger usually just makes everyone uncomfortable. Offering the 'thank-you' yourself models the kind of behavior you want. When she is ready she will say it herself. Four is still very far from all grown up. Katrinca
A kindergarten teacher friend, Jane, had children with the most lovely manners, but both girls were shy. From age 3 on, Jane stood behind her girls and prompted them gently and quietly each time they met someone, said thank you, said goodbye. She was right there with them through the entire process until she was sure it was OK with the girls to do it on their own. Both girls are now young adults, and they have said that their their manners have helped them develop coping skills for those stressful times when meeting new people, job interviews, etc. I had a very shy child myself, so I adopted Jane's strategy, and I know it helped her. I think it's OK to stand with shy children when learning how to address strangers, it's much harder for shy children than we really can understand. Parent of shy daughter
I predict you will get a lot of reply posts saying you should drop the mad obsession with teaching your child manners and let her be herself. I have been told by a fellow mom that it is damaging to take a child out of their comfort zone by insisting on saying please and thank you to ''total strangers.'' Having lived in the East Bay now for a while I am sorry to say that manners just don't seem to be a priority here. I struggle with this as I am like you, trying to teach my daughters that manners are simply a way of showing respect to yourself and others and that they matter. In your case, I would say just keep doing what you are doing. Talk about why it is important to say please and thank you. You can also explain to her that manners are expected and when she looks away, that's why people assume she is shy. Something like, ''They are trying to be further kind by giving you an excuse for your missing manners, but that isn't necessary when you simply say thank you.''
I am a bit more of a hardliner in that a refusal to say please or thank you can sometimes mean that my kids don't get what kindness has been offered (e.g. no sticker from the cashier,) but you have to do this case by case because you don't want to take up everybody's time or create overly awkward situations with your parenting. I think most people will understand when you coach your daughter gently saying, ''Sophie, let's say thank you for the sticker now because that was very nice for John here to give it to you.'' And then you just make sure you, yourself say thanks in a simple and sincere way. She will watch you and catch on. Don't give up. You are on the right path. Good luck! Elizabeth
I used to do role plays with my son. I'd be the grownup giving the compliment or whatever and he'd practice his responses. What he enjoyed more was when he got to play the grownup and I played the kid. He could be very intimidating as the grownup and as the kid I would not always know what to say and sometimes would say the wrong thing - we would have a lot of fun with it and it took the tension out of the whole business.
My five-year-old has a button in the middle of her back for subtle promtpts of please and thank you. We find it a playful way to keep her working on it. --
I think it is especially telling that your daughter is unable to even make eye contact with strangers. It sounds to me like she is actually unable to interact socially, as if she is frozen, and not that she is willfully refusing to use her good manners. We used to deal with situations like this often, as our son had social anxiety and selective mutism. The most important pieces of advice we got are to take improvement in tiny steps, respond with understanding, and not apply pressure. A small step could be a physical gesture, like a nod. People who have no idea what's going on can be very judgmental about your parenting and say things that will make the child's self-conciousness even worse, so it helps to be really confident and to have a plan. One strategy that can help is to respond in a way that includes the child, to the extent that she is ready. Perhaps she can nod ''yes'' when you say to her ''I'm sure you'd like to thank this person.'' Or say, ''I know my child would want to thank you, but she is slow to warm up to new people.'' Maybe your daughter can brainstorm ideas with you, but not all kids can, and you need to be understanding if she's unable to follow through when the time comes. Parents of kids with social anxiety and selective mutism have a lot of experience with their children's inability to interact as expected in social situations, so you can find more suggestions at www.selectivemutismcenter.org and www.selectivemutism.org. She'll get there
My daughter, great kid that she is, also is exhibiting some bad manners. I know that manners are something that need to be instilled by parents- and we are trying and have been trying but we're hitting some walls. By bad manners, I mean that she is really, really resistant to saying 'hello' to people and if I tell her she needs to say 'thank you', the best I can get her to do is a little funny-voiced 'thank you' - that is directed to the floor. Both her dad and I gently point this out to her- privately- not in front of who she should be demonstrating her manners- but it seems that the more we talk about it, the more resistant she becomes. It seems like social niceties embarrass her, though fortunately she is making friends and is comfortable and happy in social situations. Her teacher says she gets along with everyone in her class.
The worst effect of this is that she is has been flat-out rude to my dad and step-mom. They're not local, we see them only a couple times a year, and I can see that they sometimes annoy her with lots of questions (she doesn't do well with the usual barrage of grandparental questions either). She pretty much refuses to talk to them on the phone- though, despite our efforts, she won't really talk to anyone on the phone- and when we saw them a couple of weeks ago, I could almost sense a repulsion to their style of interaction which seemed to be too much fawning for her. Regardless, they're her grandparents who love her and she's got to go with the flow. When we left, my dad told me he's concerned that she's becoming a brat- ouch. Any advice from any of you who have dealt with a similar situation would be much appreciated! Thanks
I could have written your post nearly word-for-word 3 years ago. The good news is we have made much progress and my daughter now says hello, thanks people and answers questions reasonably well. The bad news is that I still worry about her manners. In certain moods, she still gets a sort of nasty look on her face when well-meaning old people ask her too many questions or fawn over her in any way. Her shy/ uncomfortable face tends to be one that looks a lot like a sneer. So, you may want to take my advice with a grain of salt-- it is very long (sorry) so I will send it in two parts.
My daughter has always responded best to lighthearted reminders and discussions about manners. When she was your daughter's age, it was often like I was putting on some kind of vaudeville comedy act when I tried to talk about good manners in a way that she could accept. I made it silly and goofy and watched her reactions to keep her from digging her heels in about it. It was somewhat exhausting, but more effective than the direct, serious, but gentle approach, which made her very hostile, hurt and shut down. Now, I remind her as we are approaching a social event and try to be as specific as possible about expectations (''Look them in the eye and say 'thank you for having me!' loud and clear. If they don't respond, that means they probably didn't hear you so you have to try again.'') and even though she laughs about it and teases me for reminding her, I have noticed that it seems to help. ...
I also had good luck discussing with her the ways in which people express themselves with their whole bodies-- that it isn't just the words you say, but how you say them that tells people how you feel. It's easy to act this out in an amusing way and you don't need to approach it as directly about manners-- this helps if ''good manners'' have become a touchy topic. I was able to lead the conversation such that it was my daughter herself who made many of these connections. We talked about how when she looks at the ground and mumbles, or sneers at a well-meaning old lady, it could hurt feelings or send the wrong message. In this way, we have attempted to move beyond just saying the right words to focus on the meaning behind nice manners-- that it is about being kind to others and avoiding hurting feelings by accident.
We have also attempted to give her positive ways to deal with feeling shy or put on the spot. We have focused on the importance of smiles, which do not come naturally to her when she is feeling stressed or shy. We try to give her helpful phrases to use to change the topic when a line of questions is starting to annoy her. We have explained that people who ask her a series of annoying questions about school are simply trying to connect with her, so they will be happy when she changes the topic to something of more interest to her. It helps if we ask ''would you like some examples of how to change the topic, or do you feel confident that you can do that already?'' If she has asked for help, she is more receptive to it. We turn this into little skits where we act out social situations to practice manners-- my kids find it hilarious, but I do think it helps.
I still get pretty frustrated over this issue-- I do feel like we're a bit behind in the social graces with my oldest, who finds every goodbye and thank you so painful, whereas my younger child is one of those kids who is always ready to charm with a ''Thank you so much for coming! I hope you have a nice day!'' to anyone who crosses her path. But I do see lots of improvement and I like to think we are moving along the right path. With my younger child, I really can just instruct her on manners and that's the end of it, and if I didn't have a daughter like yours I might just say, ''Oh, just insist on nice manners! I do!'' but I know very well how it can back-fire and turn into a battle of wills. I know my oldest doesn't mean to offend-- she just feels stressed and embarrassed by simple social niceties even though she is completely capable of holding the limelight and speaking in class and having wonderful friendships. It's a funny sort of specific shyness that requires a careful approach, I think. Another mom of a great kid with sometimes lousy manners
Is it really bad manners or just reserved behavior? Your daughter barely knows these grandparents -- You say they come just a few times a year. And she seems annoyed they fawn over her. It sounds reasonable to me! Some adults, even loving grandparents, are completely insensitive to a child's need for space and are out of tune with a child's temperament. (Learn about ''slow to warm'' temperament.) And the harder these adults try to force a response, the more they push the child into escape mode. Not all children are comfortable with hugs, kisses, or even verbal exchange with people other than their parents and siblings. Give her time to truly develop a closer relationship with these people she barely has contact with. Encourage them to tone it down, fawn less, focus their attention elsewhere so your daughter won't feel on the spot, the center of attention. They might be pleasantly surprised at how much she seems to enjoy their company when they back off. Your daughter might be one who has a rich inner life and is taking in info, processing, thinking ... rather than externally demonstrating the behaviors you desire. When she's a teenager, you'll be grateful she's a thinker. Mom of reserved child
Sounds like she might be a little on the shy side. I was a shy kid, and can relate to this. I remember going into that ''embarrassed'' mode when my dad told me what to say and expected me to repeat it like a puppet. It was just the usual niceties of what to say to the lady at the checkout counter, etc. but I couldn't bring myself to do it. Then standing there with them waiting for me to say the words just added to the mortification. What if you try play-acting before the grandparents visit, and make it fun? You be the grandparent, and barrage her with kisses and the usual grandparent- type questions, so she can practice her responses. Throw in a few joke questions to make her laugh and make the practice play fun. You can practice phone skills and increase her comfort with phone conversations by doing things like enlisting her to ''help'' you call home from the store to ask your spouse if you need to buy milk. With some advance coaching, she can be more prepared and feel less put on the spot. I liken it to the feeling you might have if you're at a meeting, and your boss asks you to speak impromptu on a subject for which you are completely unprepared.
I think your daughter's behavior is very age-appropriate. My kids were the same way. My younger son is now eight and is just starting to speak more easily to adults, say hello and thank you without prompting. When my kids were so resistant in the way you describe, I would not make a big deal about their refusal to talk and might say, ''he doesn't feel like talking...I'll say thank you for him.'' My younger son also used to hide for a long time when grandparents showed up for a visit. I'm sure it hurt their feelings a little. You might talk to your daughter away from such situations and tell her how others may feel when she snubs them. ASP
It's normal for kids to be shy at this age, and that's what you're describing - shyness, not rudeness. My older daughter, now 6, has _never_ been comfortable with enforced affection during hellos and good-byes, particularly with people she doesn't see very often. It's hard to remember that your own parents, so infinitely familiar to you, for her are just semi-strangers that she sees a few times a year. Aren't you so glad that she is clear about her body boundaries with people she doesn't know well? Don't you want to encourage that? That said, I totally relate to your discomfort about what feels like ''rudeness'' to you - it can be really awkward when extended family and friends encounter my daughter's clear recoil from a hug. I try to diminish their hurt feelings without pushing my daughter too much, ''Oh, she doesn't like hugs'' or ''She's feeling a little shy/tired right now.'' I also worked out a deal with my girl that puts a gloss of good manners on things - if she's too shy for a hug, or even to say hello, she does have to wave. She can usually manage that much, and it'll do for now. they will grow out of it - don't push
What's worked very well for my reserved and not-socially-savvy son is role- playing, where I play him and he plays the other person. I try to keep it light. He comes up and says ''hi'', and I respond 3 different ways - once murmuring with my head down, once meeting his eyes and saying, hi, maybe once doing that and adding his name and smiling. Then he chooses which felt the best to him and we talk about why. (We do this about other things, too - a kid bullying at school, where he plays the bully and I play him, and he sees which response is most effective.) I think you could adapt this to the grandparent situation? mom of a shy one