“Get your elbows off the table!”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full!”
“Sit up straight!”
“Don’t wipe your mouth on your sleeve!”
“How many times do I have to tell you?!”
“Don’t, Don’t, Don’t, Don’t, Don’t!”
Sound familiar? How many times as a child did you hear these commands at the dinner table? Did you listen the first time? Did you listen after the fifth time?
Let’s be honest, you’d probably have to answer “no” to both questions. So, how do we teach our children all those “rules”?
I have found the answer to the question posed above. The proven method for teaching these skills is to use repetition as a discipline!
Let me share a personal story that illustrates this method of teaching manners from the days when my identical twin sons, Boyce and Chad, were still under my wing.
One night six-year-old Boyce put the last bit of macaroni and cheese in his mouth at the supper table. He jumped up from the table and headed to the playroom to finish his latest Lego® creation.
When he reached the doorway, I said, “Wait a minute, didn’t you forget something? Remember what we do before we leave the table? Back up and give me ten.”
Stomping his foot as he stopped in the doorway, he replied, “Awwwwww, Mom.”
He returned to the table with a scowl across his face to finish his exit the proper way—ten times!!!
Holding his dinner plate, he asked, “May I be excused, please?”
I replied, “Yes, you may.”
He stood with dishes in hand, walked to the sink and placed them in the basin. With a long-winded sigh, he reached in, picked them up again, and then returned to the table with an exasperated huff and sat down.
He began again, “May I please be……”
Again, I replied, “Yes, you may.
By the third request, his brother and I began to chuckle. Soon Boyce’s scowl became a sheepish grin, and he broke into laughter.
By the tenth repetition, I could barely stammer, “Yes, you may,” because we were all in stitches. The lesson learned from this silly event has never been forgotten by anyone at the table that night.
I know this method takes patience on the part of the adult in charge, but as you can see, this exercise is an effective way to discipline that’s fun, too. Remember the goal of discipline is not to punish, but to change a behavior pattern.
Let me give you an encouragement…
This method of discipline saves time, energy and heartache. If you are willing to stand by the “give me ten” rule with gentle firmness, you can change an unwanted behavior in only a few attempts. Rarely have I ever known of an instance when a parent had to repeat the same exercise more than three times to change a bad habit or instill a good one.
By the way, how many times do you think I had to remind Boyce to say, “May I be excused, please” after that night? You’re right, never again.
Chad, on the other hand, had to learn this lesson for himself two weeks later! But Chad was required to perform 15 repetitions because it seemed to me he should have learned something from his brother’s discipline!
Jill Rigby Garner, character education and parenting expert, nonprofit founder of Baton Rouge-based Manners of the Heart®, is also an inspiring speaker, award-winning author and the publisher of heart education programs and books for students, educators and parents. Jill’s deepest desire and calling are to bring a return of God’s principles of respect and civility to our society. Visit her online at www.jillrigbygarner.com