Don’t we all want to think our children are nice when we’re not around? Don’t you want it to be your kid whom parents actually like having over? Don’t you want your child to be trusted and do the right thing when no one is looking? As parents, I’m sure we all do. We want nice kids with self-control because people notice and like these types of children!
Teachers love these polite kids; they appreciate them. They are the children who hold the clipboard and write down names if the teacher steps out of sight. They are the children who always get their full recess. They are the students who are asked to run to the office or help their neighbor. And, they are the kids who get good grades. Why? Because all of these responsible habits help form a good reputation, teachers like them, and behavior and grades are not exclusive from each other.
We’ve all had a playdate or two at our house where we feel more tired when our child’s friend leaves (and playdates should be a break for us, right?). Maybe they’ve asked you for ten snacks within the first hour because they’re hungry. Or, they run whining to you that your son won’t play with her. Or, maybe they never say please or thank you….And run around screaming the whole time….The list goes on. It’s always nice when your child has a calm and polite friend who is fun to be around because parents notice and appreciate it. We want them to keep coming over and for our child to be friends with this good influence.
As a parent and counselor working in a school, I have a pretty good idea of what is realistic to expect of kids and I think too often parents use the cop-out that ‘they’re just kids’ and set the bar too low. It’s not that kids cannot be taught what’s expected and how to act. We see it every year when an entire class just acts really nice and calm because their teacher leads like this and expects it. She models her expectations.
Many times, I start small-group counseling with children who don’t incorporate polite or friendly words into their vocabulary. But by using positive reinforcement and even giving them immediate ‘checks’ on their individual card for that group, they quickly realize they are rewarded and adults like it when they act nice, practice self-control, and take the time to choose their words and actions wisely. This is a technique that works magically in groups. I do believe in that you should
FAKE IT ‘TIL YOU MAKE IT!
Rewarding and reinforcing these simple, yet powerful habits will actually turn them real habits. And why is this really important?
My personal and family values may be different than yours’ because I love grateful and positive kids, and adults. But some simple habits in young children will develop into life-long habits that may land them a college interview, a spot on the basketball team, a part of the honor society, healthy and happy relationships, and even their dream job one day. What we teach children and expect now does impact your child’s chance of success and satisfaction.
So, what habits are the ones that matter most? Many employers are having difficulty finding qualified candidates. Both in minimum wage jobs and also college-educated positions, companies are having trouble finding people who have good work ethic, grit, and work well with others. One must interview well and not just look good on paper to get considered for the next step. You have to have a good personality and people-skills. And in this competitive market, what parent doesn’t want our child to grow up to be independent, liked, and happy? So, how?
What are the five habits adults notice? It may depend on you individually as a parent, and your idea of a ‘nice’ kid may look different than mine so I will focus on what adults outside of the family notice, be it a teacher, principal, or coach. If your child is pleasing and being noticed by these people, then they’re on the right track.
5 Habits we should be teaching and expecting of our kids now (because others will notice too!):
- Regularly using polite words like please, thank you (especially), and you’re welcome –This is probably one that parents and teachers notice first so I listed it first intentionally. It takes so little time but it’s simply a habit that not all kids practice. Are you modeling this habit and showing gratitude? Do you say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to others AND to your kids? This habit demonstrates to others that you’re able to think outside of yourself and recognize the actions of others. It’s a guaranteed ticket to getting recognized as a nice kid!
- Addressing people by ma’am or sir- This is one that I didn’t really practice growing up practicing and wasn’t big on my priority list for my kids either. However, working in schools, I have to admit it’s a habit that makes a child stand out. The child who addresses adults with a title of respect gains a reputation of being a respectful and obedient child. It’s a habit that I’ve changed my mind about. I now realize that power in choosing title of respect and I do it with my own children to show respect. It shows that they are listening and it demonstrates a level of respect. Adults in schools like and notice it.
- Cleaning after themselves (at school AND at home)- As a parent, boy do I notice this one! You have the child who comes over and makes a tornado of your house and then you have the child who takes their dirty dishes to the sink when they’re done. Which one do you want over for a play date?! Parents and teachers loves responsible kids who take the extra step to respect the space of others and help make their lives a little easier by keeping things neat. Now this ins’t a habit that comes naturally to many, and we are not neat-freaks in this house (never, ever peek under my couches or lift the couch cushions!). But, if you expect your child to make a habit of keeping their room tidy, making their bed, and clearing their plates- if you make it an expectation, something they HAVE to do, then it will become a habit.
- Looking people in the eye when they speak- Some kids are shy and take a little warming up, and that’s not what I’m talking about here. It’s the kids who have the habit of good, strong eye contact that are taken seriously. It’s harder for some and does take some practice but we can model this as parents too. Kids who stop what they are doing to look at others when they speak are showing respect. Again, it shows the world you care about someone other than yourself and you will take the time to show respect. And with the abundance of tablets, phones, and devices, I think we all need to make an effort to return to the simple act of making eye contact and stopping what we are doing when someone addresses us.
- Taking the time to think about and care about others- This sounds simple enough but if all kids were doing this, I wouldn’t include it. We notice kids who do. Kids need to be taught empathy; they are not born with it. School Counselors are teaching it in ‘guidance class’ but we all, as adults, need to model and talk about what empathy means and how you can show others you care. Why? First, it’s feels good and rewarding to be nice. No kid I’ve ever met really seems proud, deep-down, to be the ‘bad’ kid; you can see it in their eyes. And when they are acting ‘bad’, there’s a reason they are acting out this hurt. Second, it makes our society better. Adults complain and argue all day long about political decisions, criminals, and what to do with the poor. If we could all focus more on being the change we want to see in the world ~ Gandhi~ then we could be and would be a safer, happier society. Again, teachers, coaches, and parents notice and love kids who care about others, help others, and ask others how they are. It takes some work off of our shoulders when the kids step up and are part of a team and not all about themselves. Long-term, these caring kids can be a great addition to a company or team when they work well with others. And it’s obvious that they will have an easier time making friends and forming rewarding relationships throughout their lives.
There are so many other productive habits that many kids are practicing too. If you are a parent or educator, please comment and add your personal favorites. We learn from each other. I have shared the ones that makes a child stand out not only as parent but also as an educator and counselor in schools. Encouraging and practicing these habits at home will spill over to school. Not only will adults notice and actually like your child but you’ll be providing long-term life habits that will be lead to success in all areas of life!