Miss Manners: Bribery is one way to ensure good behavior in a child

October 2, 2013

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Say that I am on a subway car with a small child who does not want to be on the subway and is expressing that opinion at the top of her lungs. Say that I have tried everything I can think of to get her to quiet down, and neither reasoning, sympathizing nor firm warning has any effect.

What should I do?

On the one hand, I know she is disturbing the other passengers, and it would be polite to get off with her at the next station and so stop the noise. On the other hand, if I do that, it will teach her that a tantrum is a great means to get her own way, and I can expect an even louder tantrum every time we’re traveling when she doesn’t care to. (Not taking the train isn’t an option — we need to get to places too far to walk and can’t afford a car or taxi.)

How do I stay considerate of the other passengers without teaching the lesson that screaming loudly enough is the best way to get out of something unpleasant?

GENTLE READER: In the rearing of small children, results may vary, but effort counts. When Miss Manners gets complaints about children, they are invariably followed by “and the parents did nothing to try to stop them.”

If your fellow passengers see that you are trying to calm your child, they still may not like the noise, but should be satisfied by the attempt. Those who don’t have or dislike small children won’t be satisfied no matter what you do. And those who have been in your shoes, well, have been in your shoes and will sympathize.

But say that you have no particular plans one day and this small child begs you to go to the zoo or out for ice cream. Say that you agree to it, but tell her that you must travel by subway, and if there is a tantrum, you will return home immediately (on the subway, of course).

If the expedition is without incident, commend the child, but tell her that there will be no such fun trips in the future if there are protests on the routine ones.

“Threats and bribes” is the way one parent of Miss Manners’s acquaintance described this method. “Survival” is what Miss Manners would call it.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the proper wording for ordering food in a restaurant? My grandmother says it is “I will have . . .” but my mom says it is “May I please have . . .

I am about to go to college, and I want to make sure I am polite when I order food since I know how waiters feel because I work in a restaurant.

GENTLE READER: It is good of you to think of the waiter’s feelings, and Miss Manners has no wish to discourage you from saying “please.” She only asks you to understand that your grandmother is not being rude. Ordering food in a restaurant is a business transaction, not a petition for a favor. It is not customary to say, in a store, for example, “May I please buy this?”

New Miss Manners columns are posted Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays on www.washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com.

, by Judith Martin

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