Manners! It seems like a constant challenge to try to inculcate excellent social skills into our young’uns. My favorite way to teach good manners has been using the book The 21 Rules of This House. My children can recite every rule and explain it perfectly, and still we need work at being courteous and selfless. After going through the 21 rules, we came back to some of them to practice more. It was easy for the children to understand that it is wrong to tell a lie or to hurt someone. But it was harder to follow this rule: “We speak quietly and respectfully one with another.” We had discussed at length what it means to follow this rule, and how it includes not interrupting others or criticizing or gossiping about others. But to know is one thing, and to do is quite another!
Finally, I thought of a way to make keeping the rules of good manners into a game that everyone in the family enjoys playing all day long. And it is really helping us to be good!
The game of Paper Clip Social Skills can be played for a few hours at a time, and repeated continually. To begin, choose a social skill, manner or rule of courtesy to work on. It could be from the 21 Rules book, or it could be something that you see your children lack training in, such as answering the phone correctly and politely.
Each person makes a paper clip chain by hooking 10 paper clips together. (I bought some fancy designed polka dot paper clips, to everyone’s delight!) Hook the first paper clip onto a safety pin and pin it on your clothing in plain sight. Every family member will be wearing a paper clip chain. Remind everyone of the rule you are working on and explain that if anyone catches another family member breaking the rule, the rule-breaker must (cheerfully and in good fun) give one of his paper clips to the person who caught him.
Since we were working on speaking kindly to each other, each negative or critical remark meant the offender had to relinquish a paperclip to the person who calls them on it, who may then add it to their own chain. At lunchtime, a reward is waiting for the family member who has the most paper clips! Start again with a fresh chain of 10 paperclips for the time period from lunch to dinner, and again from dinner to bedtime. Make the reward simple (a treat, biggest piece of dessert, getting to choose the dinner menu (within limits), getting to choose which game to play, book to read after dinner . . . or let them skip their part in clean-up from the meal, etc.).
One of the great benefits of this game is that everyone suddenly gets quiet. . . (hee hee!) Everyone is thinking before they act, which is a very good practice to develop. I was amazed to find out that I was losing my paper clips right and left! No wonder my children are not as mannerly as I’d like—look who trained them! Pretty soon, I was catching myself in the act, and voluntarily giving up my paper clips whenever I goofed up. It was so helpful to have a constant check on my words!
Another benefit of this little game is that the children learn good sportsmanship. I remind them that this is just a game, a game we choose to play for fun and to help us become better people. It isn’t something to get upset about. Children can learn that principle from your good attitude when you goof up. It teaches them to be a graceful loser, and even catch themselves happily and laugh at themself. . . a most endearing trait.
Really, though, it is not a game to become a kinder, more respectful, loving person. It is the great task of our lives! So this is a very meaningful exercise.
Since we started playing our Paper Clip Game, we have all become more aware of the rule we were working on: “We speak quietly and respectfully one with another.” We also have come to realize that words are just expressed thoughts, and that we can learn to squelch critical words before they ever form on our lips.
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