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“Thank you” and “I’m sorry” might be the four most important words in English. Simon is a little young to understand why these words are so important, but I’ve decided to establish the habit now and worry about comprehension later. To date, we are having more success with expressing gratitude than we are remorse, which kind of makes sense when you figure Simon has a hundred things to be thankful for every day but very little to feel sorry about.

Saturday Matt and I (bravely) decided to embark on two commercial ventures that typically result in tears: we had his hair cut and we shopped for new shoes. Both ventures proved to be unexpected opportunities to flex the thank you muscle.

The haircut was a revelation. We’ve had three cuts before, all at a big place 25 minutes from the house that specializes in children’s hair. He was completely hysterical the first two times; we stopped the third cut just before hysteria arrived. This time we decided to cut short our misery by 40 minutes and go the place about three blocks away where Matt gets his hair cut.

And he was great! He sat in Matt’s lap the whole time, watched Cars on our portable DVD player, and never cried once. After 25 minutes, Tammy held up the mirror to show him his new do and—God as my witness—Simon smiled and said a bright “thank you!” Huh. I’m beginning to think that Cookie Cutters, which seemed like such a great idea at the time, may have overstimulated Simon before the cut began.

Feeling lucky, we decided to go shoe shopping later Saturday. Our last attempt also involved a fair bit of tears. This time we had to promise Simon that if he’d try on shoes, he’d get to go “up, up, up” (the escalator) and also run up and down a ramp at the mall. He must have thought this a good deal, because he did sit down, he offered up his feet to the sales clerk to try on shoes, and he told us that he liked one of the pairs we tried. When we got up to pay for them, Simon turned to the sales clerk and said another cheerful “thank you!” before heading to the escalator.

Success! Alas, “I’m sorry” has been trickier. Simon threw a toy at my face in frustration last week, the repercussions of which were immediate. I took the toy away, sat him on the bed, and explained that we weren’t doing anything he wanted to—or anything at all for that matter—until he said he was sorry. He wailed pretty good, and I patiently told him that he didn’t need to be so upset, but that he did need to apologize. This set off a spell of angry crying, to which I responded that he could be angry all he wanted, but that we still weren’t going to leave the bed until he apologized. It took a good 5-10 minutes, but we did get there.

Now¬†yesterday Simon took a swing at Matt when he thought Matt was taking something from him. Matt immediately confiscated the desired objects (pennies of all things) and demanded an apology. Simon cried. I entered the room after a bit to reinforce Matt, and Simon was in stonewalling mode. It took at least fifteen minutes and much, much crying before the necessary “I’m sorry” was extracted.

At times like these, Matt and I both struggle with knowing what the best course of action is. Simon did not set out to harm us either time; he acted in careless frustration the first time and misbegotten self-defense the second. Matt, in particular, was worried that we were making a mountain out of a mole-hill.

I see his point, and my insistence did drag out the unpleasantness considerably, but it seems to me that (1) Now is the time to work on this; (2) it’s important for Simon to understand that you must apologize even if your actions were not intended be harmful; and (3) we are teaching him how he must treat us, and doing so in a way that models the behavior we want to see him display.

If that means a few more standoffs lie in the future, I can live with that. In the meantime, I’m just feeling pretty good about those thank yous.

One Response to “Etiquette”

  1. blg says:

    Great story. And, you are right, “I’m sorry” and the thought process behind it is a bit tricky.

    How are you all on “please”? When kids come to me and say, “I want juice”, I ask them, “Is that French for ‘May I please have some juice'”?

    Recently my friend told me that her four year old said, “When Barbara comes over, she makes us speak French.”

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