A few months ago, I picked my son up from his friend’s birthday party. The friend’s mother said, “Your son is so well behaved! I can tell you have been working with him on it.” I said, “Thank you! Well I haven’t been working on it. It must be the school, ha ha.” She has had her own four kids in the same private school my son attends. She said, “It’s not the school. They don’t teach that.” I thanked her again and then marveled at what helps a kid to behave.
One theory I have about behavior is that no one likes to be controlled. I don’t want to be controlled. My husband hates to be controlled. I know my son hates it. I want my son to be able to control himself…to have self-control.
One way I attempt to minimize control over him is to avoid barking commands at him. In the case of minor danger, instead of automatically barking, “Get down from there!” I say, “Oh honey, that stool doesn’t look very stable,” or “I really don’t like you climbing up there. It scares me.” Because I merely point out the factors he might not be aware of, he has the opportunity to decide for himself whether or not he wants to take the risk. Most of the time, he makes the safer decision. If he doesn’t, I either allow him prove me wrong or I escalate the urgency and consequences in my favor.
In the case of following rules in public, I don’t automatically snap, “Get away from there!” I try to let public signs and policies do the policing. I say, “Honey, look, the sign says to not climb on that.” If an authority is nearby, I will politely ask them for my son’s benefit, “Excuse me, is it ok for us to swing on the ropes?” with a wink my son doesn’t see. Most of the time, they are happy to repeat the policy for his sake.
In the case of public politeness, I point out how others might be disturbed by loud talking. When he almost bumps into someone or cuts them off as he is running around, I apologize for him, modeling polite behavior. I rarely demand polite behavior of him. I point out how others feel to increase empathy. He watches me smile and say please and thank you everywhere we go. I wave to the neighbors and try to be kind to everyone. When he is polite, which is most of the time, it is self-motivated and self-controlled.