03 June 2011

Almost Learned Behavior

When I taught third grade, we spent a lot of time going over the difference between an instinct and a learned behavior. I tried to use as many examples as possible, and relate them to the children’s lives.

“How many of you have a younger brother or sister?”

Many would raise their hands.

“Raise your hand if your brother or sister was born knowing how to drink milk.”

They all raised their hands.

“That’s right. Knowing how to suck milk is an instinct. Now raise your hand if your little brother or sister was born knowing how to talk.”

They all giggled, but none raised their hands.

Well, we’ve spent plenty of time covering Eamon’s quest to learn to talk in this blog, but there is another related learned behavior that we have been working strenuously to teach our little man: manners. We sound (and feel) like broken records, always prompting him to say “please,” “thank you,” “sorry,” or “excuse me,” and it is starting (finally, months later) to pay off.

Unfortunately, though Eamon now knows these words, he sometimes misjudges how to apply them to social situations.

For instance:

The bagger finished bagging our groceries and handed me the bag, so I said, “Thank you.” Eamon overheard these magic words, and piped in, “Thank you!” And then, just for good measure, added, “I love you!” Luckily the bagger just thought it was funny.

Eamon was watching a dinosaur show when my mother told him that I had come to take him home. Eamon, without missing a beat, said, “No thank you,” and resumed watching his show.

We were listening to one of my and Eamon’s new favorite songs (Janglin’ by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes), and I was dancing along. Eamon, with just a hint of pity in his voice, said, “No thank you dance, Mommy. No thank you.” And just in case I didn’t get it, he also threw in, “Please.”

Well, I couldn’t really blame him on that one.

Anyway, we’re going to keep plugging away. We will civilize this child yet. And if you see Eamon, please remind him to use his manners, okay? Thank you.

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