Friday, September 21, 2018

As Long As They Live In A World In Which They Experience Them

Parents are forever trying to get their kids to say things to me.

"Say 'Good morning' to Teacher Tom."

"Say 'Thank you' to Teacher Tom."

"Tell Teacher Tom your name."

I get it, of course, parents want their children to be courteous, or at least responsive, and when they aren't they coax them. Naturally, most of the kids don't yet know or have simply forgotten that a response is called for. When we say "Good morning" to someone, the convention is to respond in kind. It's part of the ebb and flow of social intercourse, one of those niceties that lubricate social interaction. There is a rhythm to the choruses and duets we sing with our fellow humans that many young children, being inexperienced in dealing with people outside their family, still have not learned.

"How are you?"

"I'm fine, thank you. And you?"

Our day-to-day life is full of these simple, friendly interactions. For most adults, we engage in them without thinking, a kind of call-and-response routine.

"Thank you!"

"You're welcome!"

I've thought a lot about this, and I can only come up with three categories of things about which adults are truly more knowledgable than young children, safety, schedules, and courtesy, and this is all part and parcel with the later. Learning to engage in these ritualized indications of goodwill is essential: we find adults who don't do it to be off-putting at best, but more likely we consider them rude or even suspicious. Learning about these simple day-to-day courtesies is one of the first things we must do when visiting another country, especially one where we are just learning the language. Indeed, these give-and-take courtesies are so important that they are typically covered on the first day of language class or the first chapter of the language book.

So, I get why parents prompt their children this way, it's important stuff, even if most of us haven't really even thought much about it. When our children don't play their part in this sort of dialog it hits our ears as strange, out of rhythm, or even off-key, and we react almost instinctively, directing our children to do their part.

"Say 'Good morning' to Teacher Tom."

"Say 'Thank you' to Teacher Tom."

"Tell Teacher Tom your name."

The problem with phrasing things as commands, however, is that humans are notoriously resistant to being told what to do. I can't tell you how often I've seen a child who may well have been inclined to respond to me suddenly clam up when ordered to do so. No one likes to be told what to do at any stage in life, it's part of our evolutionary heritage, and it's why, when we want another person to do something, commanding them is possibly the worst way to go about it.

No, I'd rather see parents strive for informational statements. For instance, a simple statement of fact like, "Teacher Tom said 'Good morning' to you," creates a space in which a child can do her own thinking, rather than simply obey or disobey. She may still not say "Good morning," but the odds go way up that she will, upon reflection.

"When people do nice things for me, I say 'Thank you'."

"Teacher Tom told you his name."

But, of course, the best way to learn these things is the way we learn all language: through role modeling and practice. Language is more than a tool for communication. It's a song we sing together, a way of connecting beyond the meagerness of words alone. Virtually all neurotypical children will learn it simply by living in and around it, the way they learn our preschool songs after a few weeks of repetition. The prompts might help speed things along a little, but in the end, our children will learn these basic courtesies as long as they live in a world in which they experience them.

I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you!

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share

No comments: