Originally posted on June 25, 2014
So often parents and guardians can get caught up making sure the big things are taken care of they forget how much focusing on the little things matter. Getting good grades and staying out of trouble are vitally important, but when you focus on the smaller lessons, like patience and politeness, they can have a much larger impact than you think.
I was in the store the other day behind a mother with two children. The infant was snuggled into a baby carrier while the preschool-age daughter with the cutest smile and dishwater blond hair was sitting in the top basket behind the handle. As the checker was about to ring up Mom’s purchases, the girl made a sound and grabbed for Mom, who asked if the girl wanted to play a game on her smartphone. Initially I was thinking this was just a parent handing a child a phone in order to keep her quiet. When I stopped to really observe what was happening, I witnessed so much more.
Before handing the phone over, she asked her daughter to make eye contact with her and politely ask for the phone. The daughter buried her face in her hands, prompting Mom to ask her again to say “Mommy, can I please have the phone?” When she didn’t follow the simple request, Mom said, “Since you didn’t ask nicely, I’m not going to give you the phone right now.” There was no yelling, sighing, or frustrated tone. Mom wasn’t issuing an ultimatum, she simply was stating a fact. When the girl looked her mom in the eye and asked correctly, Mom let her use the phone, but not before reminding her: “What do we say?” “Thank you” the girl replied. A few seconds later, the child asked to be tickled, which the mom did, as she was talking to the checker and paying her bill. At no time did the cherubic toddler’s giggles rise above the general sounds surrounding us. As the mom left, she noted that her infant was squirming around and fussing a bit, but neither mom nor children made a scene of any kind.
Perhaps my amazement by this display is unwarranted, but I so often am used to the opposite from young children, who seem to run around and squeal without correction or comment. A few days back I was waiting to pick up some food from a restaurant when a child who had been wrestling with his younger brother or cousin ran into me, paused for a moment and then hit me with his cap for some inexplicable reason before walking walk. Mom and grandma, who both were nearby, didn’t even notice what was happening. I admit having 35 kids at once who typically are compelled by law to listen to me for 55 minutes is not the same as having 3-5 kids every night, all weekend and summer who may have a penchant for yelling and screaming when you are just trying to run some errands. And, while many parents tell me they would not have the patience or self-control to do my job, I would have the same challenges switching roles. In all things, I try my best to be understanding.
In neither of the two situations did I offer a comment. While pointing out the latter’s behavior might have had little effect, I would like to think my comment to the mother of two would have been appreciated. Since I cannot speak to her individually, I will share my comments collectively. You are to be commended when you politely but firmly require your children to display common courtesy and respect. By the time they get to my classroom, I usually can tell which ones were raised with such diligence and which ones were not. Those who were raised thusly are appreciated and assisted more often and achieve higher grades. Those who were not tend to be sullen, smarmy and struggle to succeed. You may not think the little things like “please” and “thank you” really matter, but they do.
So, if you want your student to do well in school and life, please continue to teach them these small, but valuable, lessons.
I have been a public high school teacher in Southern California since 2005 and writing since junior high. I have an affinity for chocolate, photography, sarcasm and well-written TV shows that refuse to talk down to their audiences.