It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Raising the Bar

“I’m thirsty!”

“Well, that’s funny. I thought your name was Tyler, but if you say so… Hello, Thirsty. Pleased to meet you.”

Emily starts to giggle. At five, she knows what’s going on here. Tyler stares at me for a longish moment.

“But I’m thirsty!

“So I heard, and I’m pleased to meet you, Thirsty. Even though I think your name is really Tyler.”

More giggles from Emily. Another longish moment from Tyler. Clearly, the boy needs a prompt.

“You are telling me something, when I think you really mean to ask a question. Is there something you would like?”

“Yeah, Thirsty. You need something?” Big sister Emily dances around, pleased as punch to know something he doesn’t.

“Emily, that’s enough. It’s okay to laugh if something’s funny, but now you’re just showing off. Shush and let Tyler think.”

“I would like a drink!” He clearly thinks he’s conveyed this perfectly adequately. He’s not annoyed, only baffled. What on earth is my problem??

“Well, then, you need to ask for one politely.”

The puzzlement clears. THIS he knows how to do!

“May I have a drink of water, please?”

I let joy overcome my countenance. NEVER have I been happier to serve.

“OF COURSE you may, lovie! Let’s go get that drink.”

‘Polite’ is an evolving target at this age. When words are scarce, “Drink, peas” is perfectly acceptable. A little later, they can manage the entire polite sentence. And by three-and-a-half, declarative sentences intended to make the adult hop to it without being asked politely? Not acceptable.

And when a nine-year-old tries it?

They stay thirsty.

May 12, 2011 - Posted by | Emily, manners, Tyler


  1. I so enjoy your attitude toward parenting. I feel like other parents think I’m mean when I insist on such things. I shouldn’t care- at least I’m not creating spoiled brats.

    Thank you, and no, you shouldn’t care! Here’s my prediction: In ten or twelve years, your teenager(s), even though they will still do silly things bytimes, will be generally polite and respectful young adults… and those people who think you’re being mean now? They will be SO JEALOUS (and they will think you’re “lucky”) because their kids will be rude, disrespectful hellions. (And it couldn’t be because of anything they did or didn’t do when the kids were younger, nooooo, no, no…) Hold that thought in your discouraged moments, because it’s what happened for me! It can happen for you, too. 🙂

    Comment by My Kids Mom | May 12, 2011 | Reply

  2. I think I loved my husband even more when we went to a friend’s house one day with chocolate chip cookies. The friend’s four year old marched up to my husband and announced,
    “I want a cookie.”
    “Do you?” said my husband, eating a cookie.
    “That’s interesting.”

    There was a long pause while they studied each other. My friend said “say please, son,” and the kid finally said “please,” and my husband dispensed a cookie, knowing that “may I please have a cookie” was simply not in this kid’s vocabulary.

    How sad that at four, the full and polite sentence isn’t in the child’s vocabulary. Someone hasn’t been doing their job… PH, however, is showing excellent parenting instincts and responses. Babby is going to do well!

    Comment by IfByYes | May 12, 2011 | Reply

    • Yeah, the parents are loving and not overly permissive – they make him eat his vegetables and such – but they’re still too permissive to my taste.

      “I want to watch digimon” and the mother turns on the TV without another word. That sort of thing.

      Comment by IfByYes | May 13, 2011 | Reply

  3. Ah! So that’s what I say to an older sibling who is showing off. 😀 We’re in an ‘I want it!’ stage. In stereo!

    Yup. Identify and quash.

    Stereo? You’re the mother of twins. You get everything in stereo, you poor thing! On the bright side, it’s over all at once, right??

    Comment by Kat | May 12, 2011 | Reply

  4. So glad to read this – it’s exactly the stage we’re at right now, and it leads me on to what might be a related topic. My 3-and-a-bit year old can be pretty good at asking but he does need reminding to say “please may I have a…” instead of “I need a…”. That’s fine except that since he turned 3 there has been a sudden increase in Attitude. So when I remind him to ask properly then he often replies with: “Please. May. I. Have. A. Drink” with every syllable deliberately over-done (complete with a world-weary look on his face). I don’t accept that and I tell him to say it properly and eventually we kind of get there, but this is just one small example of the smart attitude that’s wearing me down every day. And my biggest fear at the moment is – if this is what he’s like at 3, what on earth am I in for in the teen years?? So… 3 year olds and back-chat / attitude – got any advice?

    I agree with Helen’s strategy below. I’d also add a bit of outrage. When a child treats me disrespectfully — and what you’re describing is very disrespectful — I get right into their face. Nose to nose, my hands holding their forearms. And then I say, with just enough ferocity to widen their eyes, “That was rude. You. do. NOT. speak to me like that. Ever.” And then the time out, as per Helen’s suggestion.

    If you deal with this firmly, now, it just won’t be much of an issue in their teens. Not that it won’t happen, but it’ll be far milder and infrequent than children whose parents didn’t deal with it firmly at the age of three.

    I have no tolerance whatsoever for disrespectful treatment. We make so many excuses, and there just aren’t any. They may be tired and cranky, or even downright ill … but they may NOT be rude or disrespectful. None of those are excuses for disrespect. They may also be angry, but they will express that anger constructively. And I start with this from the very first example of disrespectful behaviour. A child old enough to display that kind of attitude knows what they’re doing, and they know it’s wrong. What they don’t know is whether you’ll take it.

    Don’t take it.

    Comment by Kate R | May 13, 2011 | Reply

    • I remember going through that stage! Then my mother said something about how I always USED to be so polite, and I was like, “really?”

      It totally redefined my self concept and I was never rude again.

      You, my sweet, were the world’s easiest child.

      Comment by IfByYes | May 13, 2011 | Reply

      • That’s entirely possible. My mother has said as much. I have a feeling Babby will not be.

        Comment by IfByYes | May 17, 2011

    • Not a parent or caregiver, only an aunt, so take this with a grain of salt. What I’d do in response to that is a time-out, half a minute per half a year of the child’s age. The whole schtick — kneel down, explain at eye-level that talking to me in that tone is not acceptable, place in time-out spot, any escapes from the time-out spot or screaming get the clock reset to zero, when time-out has been accomplished appropriately, a reiteration of what the problem was, followed by a make-up hug, and everything’s fine now.

      This means the kids still didn’t get the drink and is still thirsty. For a child who is old enough, I’d leave it for them to figure out to try again. For a younger one, I’d finish up with reminding them they know how to ask for a drink nicely, and would they like to try? Followed by the huge beaming smiles routine if they then do it correctly.

      This is excellent.

      Comment by Helen Huntingdon | May 15, 2011 | Reply

    • Thank-you for that, and thank-you to all for all the comments – all very helpful and as from today this house has a zero-tolerance policy for disrespect!

      Comment by Kate R | May 16, 2011 | Reply

  5. My kids are all older than 3.5 now and a declarative statement such as “I’m thirsty!” is likely to be met with a thoughtful, “Yes, me too. Would you mind pouring me a glass of water when you get your own, love? Thanks, sweetie.” All said very sincerely, lovingly, and without a hint of irony. The child in question usually ends up standing in front of the fridge pouring two glasses of water, with a “How the heck did I get here?” look on their face. Heh heh.

    I LOVE this. I’ve read this four times now, on different occasions, and it’s made me laugh every time. I am so stealing this strategy!

    Comment by mamadragon | May 14, 2011 | Reply

    • That? Is brilliant.

      Comment by IfByYes | May 15, 2011 | Reply

  6. This is a GREAT reminder. We are very clear about how we want to be directly, and politely, asked for what our kids want. But it can be a battle as our 5 year old will do what Kate R is describing above. OY.

    Oh, goodness, that sort of behaviour sends me from mild to enraged in about .008 seconds. It’s the one thing they can do that’s 100% assured of getting a very negative response from Mary.

    They don’t tend to do it for long…

    Comment by Jenna | May 15, 2011 | Reply

  7. Hahaha! I played this game with a confused 7 year old yesterday. She collapsed into a heap of giggles once she got it. ❤ She also didn't forget her manners the rest of the day. My mom and dad always answered statements that were demanding with "Hi ______! Very pleased to meet you!" with a big double hand handshake. lol

    You’ll have to tell your parents how effective their technique still is. I’m sure they’ll be delighted to know it’s useful and appreciated. It’s lovely when you can make your point with laughter rather than scolding.

    Comment by Allie | May 16, 2011 | Reply

  8. […] have a runny nose.” “I’m thirsty.” “I did a poo.” “I’m hungry.” “I can’t get my shoe […]

    Pingback by Would you, could you, please? « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | September 19, 2012 | Reply

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