This scenario seems to be playing out almost every single day at my house:
Small boy, at the top of his lungs: “Mom! I can’t get my shoe on!”
“Mom! I can’t reach my shirt!”
“Mom! I dropped my snack!”
“Mom! My jacket is stuck!”
“Mom! I need to go outside and I can’t open the door!”
And on and on and on and on. I have tried to politely remind my children not to scream at Mommy. I have tried waiting with a ridiculous look on my face for them to rephrase and try again. I have even tried just ignoring these outbursts all together (nine out of 10 times this does NOT work, FYI).
Then I realized that I had been part of the genesis that created these demanding little minions. My children would just shout out their problems and then I immediately would respond by fixing them. For example, when my daughter yells out from the back seat, “Mom, I am cold!” I instinctively turn down the air conditioning. I realized that I am teaching them to expect me to act when they have not asked for my help in any way, shape, or form.
I have to make a conscious effort to tell them, “If you ask me, I will help you.” And I get that manners are one of those things that must be instilled over and over in your kids, so it seems that I am doomed to repeat this mantra a thousand times more. But I truly want my children to think about the way that they speak to others, whether it is just to their mom, their teacher at school, or a server at a restaurant. Basically, I want them to grow up and not be jerks. Is that too much to ask?
A close relative of this problem is the scenario that I like to call “Mom is Not a Table.” For some reason, my children will walk up to me and just hand me things: drinks, trash, their half-eaten snacks… I am apparently a welcoming presence who implies, “Yes, give me ALL the things.” I remember being at a birthday party talking to several other moms when my oldest child came to deposit her empty paper plate into my possession. I tried to use my sweetest voice when I reminded her that I am not a trash can. And my friend standing next to me said, “Oh my gosh, I have never thought to tell my kids that. I always just take their stuff!” Mamas, is this you too?
If we are going for the manners trifecta, there is also a game I like to play called “Is Mom Talking to Herself?” In my opinion, having three kids is eventually going to pay off since there will be lots of extra hands to take over all the chores at which Dad and I have been slaving away all these years. Doing dishes, mowing the yard, washing cars…this is why we keep teenagers around, right? But for now it seems that it will take more diligence on my part to reinforce the required action when I call out to one of my brood with a simple request to feed the dog or come help me in the kitchen. My children’s faces seem to take on a dazed look and/or faraway gaze when they must surely be contemplating the odds of their mother just hypothetically mumbling out commands truly meant for herself. At this juncture in time, there does not seem to be a magic number of repeated statements that jolts them into action, but I am sure that continued research may yield a result. Does anyone else play this game at their house?
All sarcasm aside, please excuse my kids as we keep working on these manners. Someday they will hopefully grow up to be thoughtful and kind (maybe even helpful without being asked, dare I say?). If you find yourself in these same trenches, please share any helpful tips or tricks that are working for you and your littles.
*Bonus manners tip from my amazing friend Kara: When her kids were little, they had a tiny habit of badgering their parents when they were talking to other people (e.g., “Mom. Mom. Moooooooom!”). To teach them not to interrupt, she instructed them to place their hand on their parent’s arm as a way of saying, “I am waiting here for my turn to talk to you.” Then the parent would respond by placing his/her hand on top of the child’s as a way of saying, “I know you are here. Thank you for waiting patiently.” See if it works for you!