Does your child remember to say please and thank you without being asked?
Sure, learning those skills is usually fun and painless for 2 and 3-year-olds. But after the thrill is gone, where's the motivation? It's more than a little bit embarrassing when they have to be prodded.
"Aunt Debbie gave you a lovely fruitcake, Stewart, "What do you say?"
After more years in early childhood education than I care to tell you right now, I discovered a trick. Well, it's really more like an easy game......but it doesn't matter what we call it because it's fun and fun always wins when it comes to learning!
Here's what to do:
Get a bunch of large colorful cable ties (12 in work well) and whatever you do, don't let the kids play with them, they're very dangerous. So keep them in a child-safe place and once they've learned the basics, you can build a chain, adding one cable tie for every time they say please or thank you without being asked.
If they say it after a reminder, that's all fine and good, but they don't earn a cable tie. No exceptions!
To make this super easy on myself, since I know it has no chance of working if it's difficult, I add a tie to the chain when we're all in the room and when we're not, I depend on the kids to keep track of how many ties we've earned. I can add them later or whenever I remember. If no one remembers, it's OK to guess. If I forget, they usually remember.
The chain hangs from the ceiling so only I can reach but I have it hooked up so I can pull it down easily to add a tie without straining to look up and do it above my head.
At first, I set a small reward and when they reached 50 cable ties, we took a trip to a favorite playground. I set the next reward for when we reached 150!
Fast forward a year later and we have a really long chain that wraps around the whole room a couple of times. I often remind the kids that every one of those ties means a great effort from them to be polite on their own.
We really enjoy counting the ties together and make the goal harder every time we reach it. We all notice when someone remembers their manners and in order to call it out we say "Ding! ding!". They win. I win. Win-win. We all win.
I always say that when a child is ready to learn a skill, a reward so small as a compliment can work but if they're not ready, a $50. toy bribe can prove useless!
I once rewarded a large collection of cable ties with a special "manners" meal. We used a white tablecloth and glass plates. I asked for suggestions for the meal from the peanut gallery and we ended up having marinated steak, applesauce, canned whole green beans, buttered noodles, and chocolate milk.
Now I know I'm never supposed to use food as a reward but since we were eating lunch together anyway, I thought it would be fun.
The chocolate milk, however, has come back to bite me in the butt because it's all they talk about. The upside is that I can get about 3-4 months worth of great manners for a single 4 oz. serving of sugary milk but seriously, if you want to do it right, you can skip the chocolate milk and save your conscious (or not)!
Hope this helps and makes you smile! If you're interested in discovering more free tips and tricks you can check out my weekly blog here.
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Nanci J Bradley, 60ish, is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, SELF-care facilitator, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.