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5 Writing Prompts + Will you be a wingman?
January 14, 2017
Jan. 14, 2017

Will you be a wingman?

I read something interesting this week. And, a bit troubling.

It was about the words and manner in which adults speak to children.

The author, Lehr(1), says the language many adults use to talk to children connotes control over them.

One very sad example Lehr gave was a mother who praised her child into, yes--into, wearing a rain coat she didn’t want to wear.

A second example came from Lehr’s life, when she asked her own four-year-old daughter to thank a mother for letting her come over and play with the mother’s child.

In both instances, Lehr’s says the children were visibly uncomfortable.

While that might be a way to teach children manners, Lehr suggests that doing this throughout a child’s childhood teaches them that other people’s feelings and needs are more important than his or her own.

As adults, these young people may live a life of doing what everyone else around them suggests and never acknowledge or accept their own feelings … and live the life that is best for them. A life they choose for themselves, based on their own feelings and “gut” intuition.

She recommends taking the lead and being the example.

Instead of making the child say “thank you for letting me come over and play with so-and-so,” to say thank you yourself. After all, the parent is the one that arranged the playdate, not the child.

In the case of the raincoat, praising the child for wearing the raining coat was really a “good job” for her cooperation, Lehr says.

Instead, you could honor the child’s feelings and let him or her go to school without it.

Perhaps talk about how a rain coat helps keep you dry (so you won’t feel cold later on sitting in wet clothing at school). Maybe you could suggest and show him or her how to use an umbrella. They might like that.

As an educator, in K-12 schools control is very important. There are too many children from all different walks of life all having good, bad or indifferent days--all at the same time. And, it’s chaos sometimes.

Plus, it’s easier to just correct a bunch of kids behaving badly than taking the time away from skills instruction to address an issue.

That’s why I really appreciate Lehr’s “wingman” approach. She likes to take a protective and helpful approach until the child can regularly interact with appropriate manners.

This way is really about teaching and showing children how appropriate manners are used in society before expecting them to do it on their own.

If the child forgets to thank someone, do the thanking yourself, she says. Don’t embarrass them by saying, “Can you thank so-and-so?” Later, you can have a private conversation about what happened… using the experience as a learning tool.

In the classroom, instead of telling students to “behave” when having a substitute teacher (sub) the next day, tell them what “behave” means—better yet, show them by having consistent rules and regular routines that continue to be in place when a sub does take over the class.

And, realize too, that these are kids. They aren’t doing it on purpose to make you angry (well, maybe sometimes) . . . mostly they are just living as they are.

It is also interesting to think of this in terms of adults. How often are people upset by some adult’s behavior? How often are adults living lives that others have suggested?

So, I wonder … where and how else we might be someone’s wingman and apply this lesson.

All the best,


(1) Lehr, J. (2017, January 7-8). The wrong way to speak to children. The Wall Street Journal, C3. Retrieve from here.

5 Writing Prompts

1. Have your parents ever embarrassed you by making you thank or apologize for something when you didn’t think it was necessary? Write about the experience and what you learned from it.

2. Think of the funniest thing a child said. Write about what it was and why it made you laugh.

3. Do you remember the first time using an umbrella as a child? (I did. The wind kept making it turn inside out!) What was that experience like? Write about that.

4. If you have kids, think about a time when you made your child apologize or thank another person. What was that experience like? After reading Lehr’s article (click here), would you do anything different? Write about that. (If you don’t have kids, write about what you wished your parents would have done.)

5. Think of your childhood. What was the craziest thing you wore to school or another place? Was it mismatched shoes or clashing colors? May be you insisted on wearing your Darth Vader mask. Write about the craziest or silliest thing you wore as a child.

Note to Subscribers: The writing prompts can be used in the classroom or for creative free writing. Adapt them for your situation. Enjoy and be creative!

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