We’re often told to respect our child’s individuality and encourage self-expression, because of its role in self-esteem. But kids also need to know that there’s a time and a place to say certain things. For example, they can’t just blurt out, ‘This party is boring!’ or tell off a teacher because they don’t agree with what she says.
Tact, diplomacy and politeness are all important social skills. Here are some parenting tips on how to develop these (and curb common rude behaviors) while still teaching kids to be assertive and honest.
1. Problem: He blurts out whatever he thinks.
There are three possible reasons for this behavior. One is misconception: they think that ‘free speech’ means the right to say what they want. Second is limited language skills: they are still developing their ability to articulate their thoughts and feelings, so what they say comes out wrong.
So, one important parenting skill is sensitivity to the situation: what did your child want to say, and what was the intention? Let’s say he says, ‘Grandma talks too much.’ Did he blurt this out because he thinks that he has a right to just say what he thinks, ‘because it’s the truth?’ Or did she happen to say something that hurt his feelings, and this is his way of saying, ‘I wish she would stop talking about….’
Here’s a helpful parenting tip. When your child says something inappropriate, first ask: ‘What do you mean?’ and then help him rephrase it in ‘better’ terms.
Maybe he’ll say, ‘She’s just so boring! She goes on and on about stupid things.’ Then the intention itself is mean-spirited. It’s a good time, then, to talk about respecting other people’s ideas, and also caring about what other people feel.
But if he says, ‘She always bugs me about how fat I’m getting, and how much I eat.’ Then, the parenting skill required here is quite different. You need to tackle self-esteem and self-image issues, teach him a polite way of telling her off (‘I’d rather not talk about it, Grandma,’) and then have a private conversation with her about the issue.
2. Problem: He doesn’t realize when he’s hurting someone’s feelings.
This often occurs when kids tease each other (or their siblings). They think they’re being funny, but don’t realize when the jokes are already insensitive.
It’s important for parents to realize that social behavior is learned. They have to develop the ability to decode body language and facial expressions, and know when to stop. It’s one of those life tips that they learn only with guidance.
One important parenting tip is to help them become more aware of their own feelings so they are more aware of others’. Ask them to complete the phrase, ‘I hate it when … ‘ For example, ‘I hate it when you take my toys without asking for my permission first.’ Teach them to control their emotions (for example, if they’re fighting with siblings, ask them to ‘cool down’ before they talk).
You can also use movies or TV shows to point out social situations and facial expressions. ‘See, she feels uncomfortable because she’s the new girl and doesn’t have any friends. See how she looks down at the floor? Do you sometimes feel shy, too?’
3. Problem: he hates admitting when he’s wrong.
Kids (and adults!) have a hard time saying ‘sorry.’ But this is one of those important life tips or life skills that help them build healthier relationships in the future. One way to remove the stigma and shame is to teach them that everyone makes mistakes or has accidents, and it takes someone who’s very brave and confident to say, ‘I did it.’
One of the best ways to teach kids to say sorry is to say sorry yourself! ‘I’m sorry that I lost my temper.’ Or, ‘Uh-oh! I burned the dinner because I got caught up in the TV show. Sorry!’ When kids see that adults can say sorry without being embarrassed or ashamed, then they’ll feel more comfortable doing it too.
The root of tactfulness is respect for others. Read more parenting tips on how to teach your child values. You can also find out how to teach tactfulness in everyday situations such as play dates.
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