One of the biggest shocks of being a parent for me is how much you really have to teach your kids. Crazy right? Seems obvious but somehow it didn’t seem obvious before I had kids. There are so many things I assumed they would just pick up by observation? osmosis? nature? I think this is especially true when it comes to good manners. Surely they can just observe their surroundings and determine appropriate behavior? Or maybe a verbal correction/explanation one time will set them straight?
I think for some kids that are socially more sensitive this might work but especially when you are dealing with autism there is no way they are going to pick up on the subtle social cues. That is where the Montessori Grace and Courtesy lessons come in. Whatever behavior you know might be a challenge you actually set up and teach the child a lesson on ahead of time in a calming comforting place vs trying to teach them these lessons on the fly in a stressful social situation they they probably can’t even process given the distractions. Besides just explaining, you can also demonstrate and practice the new grace and courtesy skill ahead of time so it becomes the new automatic response.
One of my children’s favorite grace and courtesy lessons is the present game. I think we all have seen the kid at the school Christmas party that did’t get the gift they wanted in the gift exchange and then proceeds to have a monumental meltdown over it. Or the child who is so used to receiving a gift when they see their grandparents that they then start demanding a gift from Grandma every time they see her. Or the kid who receives a present for Christmas and then loudly declares they hate it. Or the child who is attending someone else’s birthday party and is distraught to realize none of the presents at the party are for them.
Obviously for all of us our natural inclinations are not pretty when it comes to disappointment and expectations around gift giving and receiving. At the same time there really aren’t that many incidences a year for a child to practice or to observe appropriate grace and courtesy when it comes to gift giving/receiving. To get more practice in this arena, we started playing the present game a few years ago.
The Present Game
First, as the gift giver I secretly wrap a pile of miscellaneous items around the house. Usually a handful of things I know the children will like (beloved toys, a special book, etc) and things they won’t like (toilet paper, an onion, etc). I might even include one small new toy or piece of candy.
Next I explain all the rules to the children and we talk about how it might make the gift giver feel if they are complaining about a present or demanding a present.
Finally the kids all take turns receiving gifts and opening them. The rules while opening presents are pretty simply:
- No matter what the present is you must say “Thank you”. Even if you don’t like it or already have it.
- If you don’t have anything nice to say about the present don’t say anything except “Thank you” and leave it at that. However, if you like the present feel free to say nice things about it.
- At no time is it ok to demand a present.
Pretty simply right? The kids love it so much they usually decide to wrap their own presents (a great fine motor activity!) to give to each other so we can play again.
Because when Mr Rockstar has a meltdown it is so over the top and there is no talking him down, I used to have a lot of anxiety around Christmas wondering how he would handle gifts that were possibly disappointing to him. Thankfully playing this little game a couple times a year has made gift giving and receiving a much easier thing for us. Maybe it is silly but this is one of those little things I think is important. How about you?