The Possibility of Polite Preschoolers

Recently my husband and I took our kids, ages 2 and 3, to lunch at a friend’s house. My children sat politely at the table, asked for what they wanted, thanked the host and hostess, and asked to be excused when they were finished. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not always like that. Sometimes they are holy terrors and I wonder what kind of precocious imps I’m raising, but on this occasion, as on many such, they behaved almost exactly the way I expected them to. 
People are frequently surprised at how polite my preschoolers are, and frankly, I’m surprised at their surprise. It really isn’t difficult to raise polite kids, it just takes a lot of determination. So here are my top tips for raising polite preschoolers:

#1: Let them know what’s expected

Kids need to know what you expect of them. Knowing their boundaries makes kids feel secure and loved. Pushing those boundaries is their way of asking how much you love them, and giving them the structure that they crave is one of the best things a parent can do. Make sure the rules are clear and simple, and the consequences of breaking them are the same each time. 

Johnny, you know that we don’t throw food on the floor. You also know that the consequence for throwing food is leaving the table, so you may be excused, now. 

(Remember, if they leave hungry once, they will probably remember it and decide it’s not worth it, next time.)

#2: Be consistent

Just as they need to know what is expected, they need to know that it is always expected. My kids, even at their young ages, know that it is always expected that they ask to be excused before leaving the table. They also know that if they don’t, I will always make them come all the way back and sit correctly in their chair and ask politely before excusing them, whether we are at home or not. 

#3: Insist they be polite and respectful

This used to be a no-brainer. Children spoke politely and respectfully to adults, and ideally, to each other. When my children are spoken to by an adult, any adult, if I’m with them they are required to answer. (Yes, we have had the ‘stranger danger’ talk, and they know that is a different situation.) We do not permit our children to hide or ignore adults when they are asked a question. I once watched a child ignore a (very resonable) request by an adult caregiver and hide her face in Mom’s leg, and to my shock, Mom excused the behavior instead of correcting it. Unfortunately, in this situation, Mom just set herself and this caregiver up to fail, because now the child thinks she can get away with rudeness and disobedience to adults and Mom doesn’t care. 
When we walk into church or the grocery store and our children are asked, “How are you, today?” they know they are supposed to answer, “Fine, thank you” if they can’t think of anything else. If they utterly refuse to be polite, they are removed from the situation, receive a reprimand or a time-out, and then are returned to the adult to try again. Don’t ever, ever let it slide.

I know that all these things are exhausting. I know that there are going to be times when we Just. Don’t. Feel. Like. It. But we’re raising little humans and it is so worth it to make them polite, productive members of society, and it absolutely must start when they are tiny, malleable humans instead of stubborn, teenage humans. 


Personality Differences

Yesterday I took my kids to Target to pick up new shoes to complete the flowergirl ensemble for my sister’s wedding. They are gold and sparkly and all the way through the store, said flowergirl giggled and told everyone who would listen that she got new ‘parkly shoes. 
On the way home we stopped at the local grocery store, where she skipped through the store, holding my hand and saying ‘hi’ to everyone in earshot, and begging for bananas and avacados.
At one point she let out a Tarzan yell and tried to swing from my arm through the deli section, much to my mortification. Every day is a new adventure, every stranger, a new friend. 
Big brother, on the other hand, had a very different experience. He was perturbed when the shoes we wanted didn’t come in the right size, and hesitant about getting different ones. Walking into the grocery store, he was so focused on getting a handheld basket instead of a cart like normal, that he ran straight into a chip display. Then as we gathered our items he carefully checked off the list in his head from things I had told him we were low on. “Mom, we need eggs. And we need cheese, and lemonade.” This shopping trip was serious business for him. Just the facts, Ma’am. Structure and schedules. Consistency gives him comfort. 
Their love languages are just as different. My son has the same love languages that I do: Physical touch and words of encouragement. His favorite question is, “Do you need cuddles?” My daughter is young, yet, but she seems to value quality time and acts of service (just like Daddy). Her new sentence is, “What a nice Mommy!” (her version of ‘thank you’) 
With so many differences in such a compact age gap (only 17 months between them!) they provide some unique challenges for teaching, discipline, and emotional needs. Sometimes I feel like it’s not “fair” for there to be different rules/consequences for each kid, but when I look around me at the parents I know, the most successful are those who don’t try to apply the same rules the same way to different kids. I think my daughter is going to be more of a challenge since she is so different from me, she’s going to re-teach me everything I know about parenting. 
What’s your biggest personality challenge with your kids? How do you deal with it?