Finding the balance between the socially demanded manners versus what I really would rather do is tricky. Mostly, I find that my children use their manners, quite naturally, no prompting needed. Otherwise, for the most part in social settings when needed I use a mixture of modeling and hopefully what comes across as a more positive and gentle version of the prodding.
For instance, not too long ago at the playground, my four year old was playing with a ball. He threw the ball, intending to make it fly over something, but instead it caught an adult by-stander in the face. I was several steps away, but started walking over as soon as I heard the adult start loudly with “say you are sorry! Why did you throw the ball like that? How could you? Why aren't you saying you’re sorry?”
As I made it over there, the person was still going on, and I noticed my son was looking down and muttering quietly “I didn't mean to...” When my son saw me he said “She isn't hearing me say anything. Ugh!”
I gently interrupted the person with “I’m sorry for whatever happened, I did not see exactly but if you could give me a moment to speak with my son -excuse us.“ We walked away, my son told me what happened, how he wanted to throw the ball over the structure but his plan hadn't worked. We kept on talking:
Me: “So your plan didn’t work, the ball hit that person, what do you think that person is upset about?”
Him: “maybe it hurt. …oh! That’s not good.”
Me: “uhm…now what?” (My intent in saying now what is to give my son the opportunity to come up with his own solution/plan for restitution)
Him: “Well, she was saying a lot of stuff, really mad, I think she is really mad”
Me: “I think you are right. Maybe it hurt when the ball hit and she feels mad.uhm..."
Him: “I guess I can say sorry, could you come with me?”
Me: “Of course!”
So we went over together and my son apologized, because he decided to do so.
Sometimes situations are more rushed that that and then I may at times use a question to guide the way.
For example: If I sense that there is a lot of tension from the expecting adult, like another parent or family member I do catch myself saying things like “I’m going to say thank you for this lovely present, would you like to say something too?” or “It looks like Johnny is hurt. Is there something you would like to do to help him feel better?”
Asking questions like that feels like it appeases the adults and that social expectation of immediate gratitude or restitution but I do feel it does it without the totally forced custom of saying something along the lines of “apologize right now!” or “come on, say thank you!!!!” and the famous "what are you going to say???" Also, if the children decide that they don't want to say anything, I respect that choice and try to remember that modeling is by far much more powerful anyways and trust that another time they may be ready to express their manners on their own.
Occasionally, there are sticky social situations where I end up facilitating the process a bit and may whisper “do you want to say thank you?” because, well, because no matter how much I know that my kids get really excited or focused on other things and that they don't intend to be rude, others may not or cannot know this, for example we may be in new social situation, and not saying anything at all just seems like it would make things tricky, but even still I do try to do it gently and with kindness and the more mindful I have become about this process the more I feel secure in simply modeling or possibly gently inviting the children to join in if they feel they are ready to do so.
What about you, do you prompt your children to use good manners? Is there a difference for you in a social setting versus how it works at home?
Photo credit: TC . / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA