I am not at all taking credit for his pleasantness. And I am not at all blaming parents who have children who are more questioning and less cuddly. So much is personality and age and a host of other factors.
I just wanted to comment on one thing we try not to do, and how I think it's had an effect.
We try not to (sometimes I slip up!) tell Mikko what to say to be socially acceptable. I never appreciated as a kid having something withheld until I remembered to "use the magic word" or being prompted with a whispered "Tell Grandma you love her!" It felt false to me, like a breach of manners rather than true sociability.
My theory — and it's not just my theory — is that humans are innately social creatures. They want to fit into their social group (their tribe). To specify this with children, children are always looking for ways they can cooperate within the social structure and model the behavior they see in older children and adults. This doesn't mean that every action they make is in line with what we want from them at all times. For one thing, we often don't want our babies acting like adults (trying to operate the lighter or turn on the stove). For another thing, they often miscalculate what is expected of them (not picking up on social cues and signals) or their own abilities to follow through (like being able to pour from a heavy pitcher). What it does mean is that, overall, barring anything that keeps them from taking part in the social group, children will act like little social scientists in finding their proper behavior within the group. They will observe what their elders are doing and try things out for themselves. They will self-correct if something they try goes badly. Of course, all of this takes time and repetition and is limited by their current developmental abilities, so they don't get it correct right away or every time. (And sometimes they simply choose their own unique paths!)
Minding Ps & QsWhen it comes to manners, I don't teach Mikko how to be polite. I model it. (I hope!) I say "please" and "thank you," "excuse me" and "I'm sorry," to him, and to others in his presence. Despite not being "taught" manners, he has them, and he knows how to use them!
Bear hugs all aroundWhen it comes to displays of affection, I have always loved to hug and kiss him, and I speak words of love to him as we cuddle and certainly whenever we leave each other and again when we come back together again. He has learned these rules, without any prompting, and he has chosen for himself that he must hug and kiss us every time we part, and frequently throughout the day, just because. He has taken it upon himself to extend this affection to friends he feels close to. Yes, sometimes to prevent hurt feelings, I have allowed him to be cajoled into giving a hug to a relative, but I try to keep this to a minimum and am considering simply not allowing it in future, with a calm explanation that he takes awhile to warm up to people, but he will, given enough time. (I want him to trust his own comfort levels about physical interaction, even when it might offend someone else.)
Taking responsibilityWhen it comes to chores, we don't require Mikko to help us with anything we choose to do. We figure it's our choice to clean up or cook or garden, and he can pitch in as he wishes. As long as it looks like fun, he usually wishes. Sometimes keeping a calm, matter-of-fact manner wins the day, as when I exclaim, "Time to clean up the bath toys!" and simply start doing so myself; he'll then come alongside me and start tossing toys in the bag along with me. Sometimes a game or song to accompany us helps. Sometimes it's a more overt invitation, such as offering to let him push the pedal while I sew or count out the cups of ingredients while I cook or spray the hose when I garden. He doesn't usually resist, and if he does, I figure that's his right, just as it is mine to decide whether or not to do one activity or another.
To be crystal clear:
- I do not have a perfect child.
- I am not a perfect parent.
On the parenting side, I do not always follow my own rules, but I can only allow myself the space to grow as well. And I don't mean to suggest that our ways of doing things are the only or even main reasons my toddler's so cooperative and helpful — but I think it surely can't hurt!
I find that getting a spontaneous sloppy kiss or a genuine "thank you" for something you've done is so much more appreciated than a rote output, don't you agree?
To end with another example from today, Mikko leaned over me in bed this morning and patted my chest. And then he said with a smile, "Thank you for nummies, Mama." Be still my heart.
How do your children surprise you with agreeableness? How were you taught manners as a child, and how has it affected you as an adult?