Always practice what you teach. When you make a mistake-such as forgetting an appointment, burning dinner, or denting your car-explain why you did what you did to your spouse and your daughter, apologize for it, and fix the problem to the best of your ability.
One main rule to instill in your daughter is to take responsibility for her actions. That begins by teaching her to be able to talk about what happened and then to apologize for her mistakes. This process begins when she is small, when her "oops, sorry" for a glass of spilled water may suffice. As your daughter grows and her sphere of activity widens, she needs to be able to examine her choices and make good ones. When she makes a bad choice, and we all do, she needs to learn to acknowledge her error in judgment and do what she can to "right" the wrong. In most instances, that means to express her regret for her error and mean it. What a great girl-raising moment for you to show her how that is done.
During the discussion, make eye contact with her, crouch down so that you are on the same level with her, and take time to listen to her explain what her reasons were for her conduct. Examine the way you talk to your daughter. Be sure to delete the following types of comments from your vocabulary:
- Sarcastic ones, such as "Aren't you a pretty sight!" when she is dirt-streaked from top to toe.
- Demeaning ones, such as "You're always so clumsy," when she breaks a piece of china.
- Threatening ones, such as "If you do that again, you'll be sorry," when she bursts into laughter at a funeral.
- Over- punishing ones, such as "Go to bed right now and no supper," when all she did was sneeze with flair, without using a tissue.
My daughter constantly says she's sorry, even before she does something wrong. What should I do?
Tell her you appreciate her trying so hard, but that "sorry" is not a permission slip to do something wrong. It is like a bandage that is used after an injury. It makes a mistake better but does not undo it.
Also, remember that little girls are the best imitators in the world and that they have excellent ears. So make sure your daughter overhears you whenever you tell Grandma or Granddad about the time she realized she made a faux pas—big or small—and corrected it by apologizing, and then making sure it would not happen again.
Treat your girl in such a way that she knows you are always on her side. That requires patience. Children's memories are not as well developed as ours. Their attention span is shorter, too, and they have such a plethora of new things to learn and digest that they can get overloaded. Verbal reminders should do the trick if you acknowledge your daughter's feelings and deliver the reminders with understanding and love.
Taking out a notepad and writing down what you notice about your girl's developing conduct is useful. It signals to her that she is important and that you plan to devise a solution for what went wrong, if anything did. Trust and be confident that you do possess the solutions. This can-do attitude will rub off on your little girl. She will be so proud of your relationship with her. She will feel an ever-strengthening commitment from you to her in requiring her best deportment, and from her to you in showing her best side.