Recently I found myself lecturing Zip a lot about respect and how he makes requests of us. This, as often as not, dissolves into an argument about whether or not he was being disrespectful in the first place and whether his second attempt is respectful enough…and you can guess how that ends. It’s a scenario that seemed to play out over and over throughout the day. It is really important to me that my boys speak to adults (and other people in general) respectfully, yet I don’t want to be in a constant battle over what that means. I also get the nagging feeling that arguing with my 6-year-old over respect sends a mixed message.
And then I remembered three magic words we used for a while back in Zip’s preschool days, that had somehow been buried under a thousand other tricks and strategies.
“Try again, please.” Just three words, delivered calmly and pleasantly. No lecturing. No judgment. No arguing about whether my kiddo is being respectful enough. Just, “Try again, please.” He knows exactly what it means: He needs to make his request or express his feelings again, in a different way.
“Mommaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa, where is my milk?!”
“Try again, please.”
Deep breath. “Can I have some milk, Momma? Please?”
“You sure can.”
It is working beautifully. If I need to, I ask Zip to try again a couple of times, but 9 times out of 10 he gets it the first time. Bee has seen how this works with his big brother, and he gets it too. “Try again, please” and my 3-year-old reframes his demand with a sweet little please-and-thank-you. Ooo, this momma is happy.
This prompted me to start using “try again” in other ways, too. Remember when we were kids in school and the teachers would make us “Go back and walk” if they caught us running in the halls? Why have I been forgetting to do that with my kids?! It is magic. I can’t count how many times I’ve hollered after the boys as they race out of daycare: “Boyyyyyyyyyyyys! Come back here! The rule is we have to stay together! No running inside the building! Come back…now! Do you hear me?!” So last week I caught them at the front door and told them, “Let’s go back to Bee’s class and walk out the right way.” I can’t be sure it will save us from a footrace out the door next time, but there was no arguing or frustration – maybe because I was calmer?
“Try again” gives kids an opportunity to practice what you expect of them, and practice makes something more likely to be repeated. It is also a really logical response and, in general, logical responses to our kids’ behavior are much less likely than punishments to generate resentment and pushback.