It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Would you, could you, please?

“I have a runny nose.”

She does indeed. Two thick yellow streams descend from Grace’s nose toward her upper lip. As they have done all day long for the past three days. Ick.

“You certainly do.” I turn my attention back to the book I’m reading to NBG and Poppy. (Poppy will now sit right beside NBG!! Only if she’s in my lap, but it’s all progress!)

“But Mary, I have a runny nose.”

I look up again. “Uh-huh. It’s pretty gross.” Back to the book. Grace stands in front of me, looking at bit at a loss. What to do when the adult is being inexplicable?

Why, repeat yourself, of course. Endlessly, if need be.

“I have a runny nose.”

Now, I shouldn’t have to give her a clue. We’ve been through this endless times over the past two or three days. Each time it goes the exact. same. way. I shouldn’t have to give her a clue, but I do.

“You have a runny nose.”

She nods, expectant.

“Is there something you want me to do about that?”

She nods. I wait. She waits. I wait some more. And then…


I wait some more, an encouraging smile on my face. A smile which masks the moan of boredom in my brain. How many times? How many, many times?

“Mary … would you wipe my nose, please?”

And then, as if I hadn’t had to pry the phrase from her reluctant lips with a crowbar, I reward her with a warm and delighted smile. NOTHING could please me MORE than to get my fingers oh-so-slightly damp with the gallons of yellow snot pouring from her nasal cavities.

“Sure I can! Bring that little nose here!”

I object, I really, really object to a child imparting what is in fact information, and expecting me to leap into action.

“I have a runny nose.”
I’m thirsty.”
“I did a poo.”
“I’m hungry.”
“I can’t get my shoe on.”

It’s the sort of thing you often step in to solve without even thinking about. Maybe I’m persnickety. Maybe it’s because, with four or five of them doing this to me all day long, it’s harder to be oblivious. But, really? To me they feel like orders, orders which display a fundamental lack of respect, that the orderer can’t even be bothered to ask politely.

Of course, that’s not it. I know that. These little ones intend no disrespect, they just don’t know the polite forms. Nonetheless, it’s a bad habit. If they don’t learn manners now, they may never learn them, or at least, they may not become second nature, which is the goal. It may not be disrespectful now, but it will be when they’re 12 or 22 or 42, and people will be less and less likely to cut them any slack for it. They’ll just be that obnoxious person who expects everyone to serve them. The person people avoid or, if avoidance is impossible, they’ll resent.

Good manners start NOW.

It’s like driving a car. At first, you have to consciously think of every single action. In time and with practice, many of the tiny decisions involved become second nature, and your driving becomes smooth. Beginner drivers get into more accidents not just because they make poorer decisions, but because their reflexes are unpracticed, slowed by the split-second of hesitation. I’m striving to produce smooth social drivers, who can manoeuvre the trickiest situations aided by their second-nature reflexes. (Kids who, if I’m entirely honest here, are more skilled than me. Sigh.)

So the rule is, “If you want me to do something for you, you start, ‘Would you’ and you finish with ‘please’.”

“Okay. Would you wipe my nose, please?”

“Sure I will! Here you go! There, feel better?”

“Yes! Mary? I’m thirsty.”

One step at a time. One step…

September 19, 2012 - Posted by | eeewww, Grace, manners


  1. I’m so glad to see I’m not the only one who does this. I started a new family last week and the *oldest* still does this (almost 4!) “shoes untied!” “Oh really? Thank you for sharing!” (said cheerfully, of course) but it still takes a good 3 minutes every single time he needs something. Sigh.

    Sounds like he/she’s never been taught. Have you given them the script, directly? “When you want me to do something for you, you say ‘Would you … please?'” If you have, and it’s still taking 3 minutes every time, I share your pain. It can be an exasperating job, some days!

    Comment by Kate | September 19, 2012 | Reply

  2. I do this, too. Every time. It is bearing fruit – Pixie has delightful manners now and almost never needs prompting (at not-quite-2.5yrs! I’m so proud). Louis, on the other hand, has no manners. “I nee mah SHOES!” “Wheas MAH YUNCH!” “dis train is BOKEN!” He’s been ordering me around for four months now and it’s getting pretty old.

    I persevere. But it’s hard, sometimes.

    I will use their phrasing back at them. “Wheas MAH YUNCH!” gets “Where’s your MANNERS??” “I nee mah SHOES!” “I need some MANNERS!” “dis train is BOKEN!” “Your MANNERS are broken!!” It often gets the desired result, and even when it doesn’t, it entertains me. 😀

    Comment by Hannah | September 19, 2012 | Reply

  3. “A, my shoe is untied!” (I am currently in kinder and first grade classes and apparently solving this one on your own hasn’t been taught!)

    My line in response is most often “and what would you like me to do about that”.

    When they respond with tie my shoe? I keep waiting until I get a please. Usually that’s fast, sometimes they need a remind and/or a friend helps out.

    Sometime when I’m not on my phone I’d like to ask you some questions about your opinion of one of the ways we are supposed to address kids at our school.

    A good response, pointing out that they haven’t ASKED you anything, and prompting the polite request.

    Comment by A | September 19, 2012 | Reply

  4. I’m glad to hear that somewhere, SOMEONE is teaching this skill!! I am tired of having my students (high schoolers!) tell me facts, and expecting me to leap into action. “I have no pencil”. “I have no paper.” My standard line is generally “Why look at that! You do not have a pencil!” and then I wait for them to slowly figure it out….

    This comment makes me chuckle every time I read it, picturing a clueless 15-year-old slowly connecting the dots… Heh.

    Comment by Tammy | September 19, 2012 | Reply

  5. I was hanging out with a 1.5 year old and we were all working on getting her to say please and thank you. She is pretty good at please now (thank you is a bit harder – why would she bother saying “thank you” once the grape is in her mouth?). If she can do it at eighteen months, there’s hope for all toddlers.

    I coax the ‘thank you’ out of them by refusing to let go of the object until I hear it. Works like a charm. And yes, I start as soon as they’re able to manage ‘ta-ta’, which could be as young as 14 months!

    Comment by May | September 19, 2012 | Reply

  6. Thank you for posting about this–my own daughters do it and I’m embarassed to say I’ve let it go on for so long. I’m going to try to pay better attention and wait for an actual question before I jump in to solve their problem.

    Comment by Leigh | September 19, 2012 | Reply

  7. Ha, PH totally confounded a friend’s kid once by saying “is that so?” when he announced “I want a cookie!”. PH continued to stare at him in a mild and interested way while consuming cookies one by one until my friend prompted her son to say please.

    Ha! I do that. Totally. They don’t always get the point I’m trying to make, but it entertains me. Sometimes that’s enough. 🙂

    Comment by IfByYes | September 19, 2012 | Reply

  8. great post. story of my life! I’m constantly reminding the small one i watch to say please. I am starting to loose my mind. We’re also working on thank you or no thank you. but please is the bain of my existence because i refuse to tolerate being ordered around by a 3 yr old!

    If you’re consistent, you’ll get there. It might take a while, depending on how bright, verbal, and/or stubborn the child is, but you’ll get there!

    Comment by Brooke | September 19, 2012 | Reply

  9. I’ve just realised that I do this a lot. I’m 42 not 2. And yes, I’ve never thought of it this way and will try to improve (and take my kids with me).

    Oops. I didn’t think, when I wrote this post, that I could be speaking to any adults! I’m happy you took the correction as graciously as you did. 🙂

    Comment by cartside | September 22, 2012 | Reply

  10. I would say there is a flip side that some people really struggle to ask to have their needs met and giving children a script to do this and the message that it is OK, and even desirable, to ask, provided it’s in an appropriate way, is important. I did the state the situation thing a lot as a child. For me a mixture of a shy nature and absorbing a certain amount the message that children (especially perhaps female children?) should be seen and not heard left me feeling actually asking for something was a bit forward and, ironically, impolite. But putting the information out there and hoping that someone might decide to respond was OK. It was generally never done in a demanding way (I don’t think) more in hope than expectation but it did become something of a habit. It is still something I fall back on when I lack the confidence to ask to have my needs met or to put forward my own preferences etc which is really not ideal..

    Aw. That makes me sad for the little-girl you, taught (intentionally or not) that it was forward to ask directly for something. I am quite sure that none of the children in my care are responding out of this feeling, but I’ll bear it in mind for future situations. No matter how I perceive the motivation, I introduce the approach kindly, though: it’s not fair to be annoyed by a behaviour they honestly don’t know is irksome, and have never before been taught to change.

    Comment by Lainey | September 24, 2012 | Reply

  11. My word Lainey. I actually feel too shy to ask directly and stating the fact and hoping someone picks up on it seems to be less direct. But I totally see how it can be obnoxious and how it enraged me when my own mother did it when I was a child. So I didn’t like it, but now I’m doing it all the time, and my kids too. Thanks for the light bulb moment!

    Isn’t it funny how we can do as parents the things we hated when our parents did them to us! Sometimes, of course, they’re things that our parents were quite right to be doing — we just didn’t like it. Sometimes, though, they’re things we were quite right to object to … so why am I doing it as a parent??

    I’m delighted that you had a light bulb moment because of a comment here. You and Lainey have just made my day!

    Comment by cartside | September 24, 2012 | Reply

  12. I’ve been known to say (to elementary age children), “What are you going to do about that?” or “How are you going to solve that?”

    The older they get, the more ownership they can have of these things, and those are good ways to remind them of that!

    Comment by Laura | September 24, 2012 | Reply

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