“Mommy, I’m hungry.”
When my girls were toddlers, hearing phrases such as this was actually rather exciting. It meant that the days of listening to a crying infant and trying to figure out whether it was feeding time were finally drawing to a close. They had finally learned to recognize the feeling of hunger and to verbalize it. This was a positive development!
With my girls now being between the ages of 7 and 10, however, these words no longer fill me with happy feelings. This is not only because they are old enough to get food for themselves but also because it reminds me that I have not been very diligent in teaching my children how to ask.
I’m not just talking about “saying the magic word” here. I’m talking about the fact that, at this age (and probably a good deal younger), they are old enough to put their statement into the form of a request. When a child walks into the room, announces that they are hungry, and then proceeds to stare at me, the implication is that they want me to fix it. But as much as I want to be a model of servanthood to my children, I also want to teach them to make humble requests instead of standing around like little royals, waiting for me to serve them.
There are many different situations in which I have realized the need to teach my children how to ask. Here are some that come to mind.
When they want something.
Children are generally quite good at letting you know what they want. When they’re bored, they tell you they want to go to the park. When walking through the toy aisle, they tell you they want everything in sight. And when they are especially difficult, they say what I sometimes hear around my house: “Why does everyone get one of those and I don’t??!” (This is almost always when I have passed out treats to those who’ve asked, and this child has not asked yet.)
But, as I’ve said, they are not always good about making a request. Even when it is in the form of a question, they will often whine and plead when they don’t get the desired answer. Again, the expression of their desires is not necessarily a bad thing. The problem is the underlying attitude: they generally expect to get what they want (sometimes without even doing the courtesy of asking for it), and they feel they are absolutely justified in that expectation (aka, entitlement).
When this attitude arises, I am often tempted to either snap at them out of annoyance or to just give them what they want to shut them up. But I’m trying (key word here) to more calmly and patiently address the attitudes and lack of courtesy. We’ve had several conversations about how they are not automatically owed special treats, gifts, and outings. If they really want those things, they may have to earn them – perhaps by earning their own money, taking more initiative around the house, or showing themselves to be more responsible. And, of course, they have to ask respectfully and learn to accept an answer of “no.”
When they need help.
Despite the “I’m hungry” example earlier, my girls usually do get their own breakfast. But it’s not uncommon for me to be standing near the cereal bowl cabinet, and one of them, rather than asking, “Could you hand me a bowl?” will instead say, “I can’t reach the bowls,” with a hinting stare. Or, when one of them is having trouble with a school assignment, they very often will not ask for help, but will simply wail, “Mommy, I can’t figure this ooouut!”
Admittedly, in the latter situation, I will usually just come help them, to calm their frustration and get them through their work. But I think it’s good practice to have them stop and actually ask for help. Even God tells us to ask when we want something (Matt. 7:7, James 4:2) despite already knowing what our request will be. The practice of asking helps each of us to remember to respect the one of whom we are making the request and not to act entitled to their assistance.
When they disagree with me.
I recently had a long conversation with a certain child (who shall remain nameless) because I gave her an assignment and she wanted to do something else first. I have told my children that they may respectfully make one request/appeal in such circumstances, and then they need to accept my answer. Well, the aforementioned child was not fulfilling the “respectfully ask” requirement, and I decided that I was no longer going to let it slide. I told her that all I required was that she begin her sentence with “May I please…” rather than “I want to…”. This was evidently cruel and unusual punishment, but eventually she did ask the question properly. It is not always easy or pleasant to humble ourselves in this way, but we all must learn how to do it!
When they have to apologize.
I have been fairly consistent about teaching my children to say they are sorry when an apology is needed, but I have not always encouraged them to ask for forgiveness. It takes a certain amount of humility to say the words “I’m sorry,” but I think it goes to another level when one actually has to ask for forgiveness. The former only tells the offended how you feel about what happened. The latter takes it a step further by acknowledging that the offended is not required to forgive you after you’ve expressed your regrets.
In all of these cases, the main goal is to develop an attitude of humility and respectfulness. These qualities are often difficult to practice (even for us parents!), but they are truly some of the most valuable lessons that can be learned!
Photo Credit: Image courtesy of author with added design by Anna Soltis.