Small Step No. 05

My friend Jeanie is an expert in parenting strategy, having studied child psychology in grad school and learning a thing or two from her own six(!) vibrant, boisterous kids. I’d long admired how she manages to set high expectations for her kids without constant nagging, bribes or ultimatums, and a few years ago, she spilled her secret…

I was visiting her home for brunch and as she was prepping frittatas, she called out to her crew: Thank you for washing your hands!

No nagging. No reminders. No request. Just a simple thank you for a task not yet completed. And sure enough, one by one, seemingly out of the woodwork, each kid headed into the mudroom to wash up for breakfast.

My eyes widened, and with a smile, she explained why it works:

Assume the best in your kids. They’re smart; they know what is expected of them and, if given a bit of freedom, will mostly live up to those expectations. By offering gratitude for a task not yet completed, I’m communicating (a) the expectation, (b) my trust that the expectation will be met, and (c) the child’s reward (i.e., a simple “thank you”) for meeting it.

She added: I don’t like to use the word “Please” unless I’m making a request, and hand-washing is non-negotiable.

Genius, yes?

And so, a small reminder for myself:

Lead with a thank you, not with a please.

A few weeks ago, a girlfriend called while Bee and I were listening to (loud) music.

I’m gonna take this, I said, turning down the volume on the speakers. Thank you for being quiet.

Bee offered a thumb’s up, then padded into the sunroom to build a few towers.

Genius indeed.

Tell me: what small steps are you exploring these days? I’d love to hear!

p.s. These are a series of small steps that will (hopefully) provide one giant leap to greater things. Not for mankind, but for me, and perhaps for you, which will always be good enough in my book. First four are here, here, here and here.

  • I just finished your book. I enjoyed it very much. It gave me a lot to think about. Very inspirational.

  • Such a small change with such big results. Love it and your small steps series. One of the things Ive been trying is to give people the benefit of the doubt, come into each situation thinking that everyone is there for the right reasons.

    • I love this, TJ! The benefit of the doubt is so important in overcoming judgment — in ourselves and others! So love that you’re working toward this, also! And thank you for the encouragement. :)

  • Thank-you for taking this rubbish advice of here as it does no not work with all children
    Yours sincerely
    Do not hesertate to get back to me if you have some useful parenting advice

    • Hi Josh:

      I’m sorry you found this less than helpful, although you’re right – it certainly wouldn’t “work” with all children, as nothing rarely does. If only there were the perfect parenting formula for us all! Blessings to you.

  • I love this! I tried this today with my 4 year old. I said “thank you for washing your hands” and he said “But I didn’t!!!” It made me smile.

    • Ha! Such an honest little guy!!!!! :) My friend’s daughter is VERY literal and had the exact same response! :)

  • You ask what small steps? I walk every day with Lucy Lou, my St. Bernard. We are in Marin County, Northern California. Our walk is sauntering, in slow motion but long and good early every morning. Our steps? We are admiring the gifts of what Mother nature had given us this past winter, water from the skies. The scent of honeysuckle and jasmine permeate the air, we are content in our small steps. Happy. Calm and quiet. Our 3.5 mile walk is like oxygen to us, it is our life.

  • I love this! Will be putting this small practice into play for sure. I also love the idea of thanking people rather than apologizing: “Thank you for waiting” rather than “I’m sorry I’m late”…it feels so much better. Gratitude!

  • Can’t wait to start trying this! I feel like I nag and nag often with no response (I always ask whether I’m invisible!). Will be trying this method right away.

    • i hope you find it helpful! i’ve found that it works best for replacing the constant reminders like, “thanks for taking off your shoes at the door!” rather than novel requests. basically, any time you’d start a sentence with the words “don’t forget,” you can use this! :)

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