As a society we place importance on words such as ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Of course, we want to raise polite children and it is important to teach them good manners, but should we force them to use these words?
I think it’s important to hold children to the same standards that we ourselves can live up to. Do we truly ALWAYS say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’? I say these words a lot, but I know myself, there are times when I am excited about something or in a big rush and I’ll ask for something without saying them. Nobody would ever think I was being rude because my tone is always kind and polite, so why is it so different for children?
How would I then feel if someone refused to help me until I said the ‘magic word’? To start with, nobody would ever say this to an adult because it would actually be seen as THEM being rude! However, if someone did say it, it would instantly dim any excitement I had and make me feel quite degraded. I’d also feel like it was unfair because I know I am a polite person.
When you look up the definition of manners it says:
“The treatment of other people with courtesy and politeness, and showing correct public behaviour”.
Nowhere does it mention the use of the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. This is because these words are not the most important part of being polite. Using kind words, conducting yourself in a nice way and being thoughtful of others are more important than empty words. Would we rather our children act politely or for them to use these phrases without any understanding of what they truly mean? You can say the word ‘please’ and still be rude. Surely a person’s tone and intention are more important?
Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t reinforce these words or that they are not important, because they are! I’m simply saying that when children don’t say them, we should ask ourselves if they are actually being rude. If not, then what are we achieving by forcing them to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’? Children are human, like the rest of us. They are not perfect and never will be. If they forget to say ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ simply say it for them, rather than pulling them up on it. However, if their tone is a bit abrupt, this then gives you the opportunity to teach them the importance of how they use their words and the impact that they have on others.
There have been a few times when my own children have asked for something in quite a brash way and my focus has always been on their tone not that they haven’t said ‘please’. I remind them that it’s important to ask nicely because it doesn’t feel very nice being spoken to like that and quite often as soon as I say that, they automatically use the word ‘please’ themselves and ask again in a softer way. If I feel that they should have said ‘please’, I’ll simply model the word and tell them that of course they can have what they asked for.
Children learn by what they see, so the best way to teach them about polite behaviour is by being polite ourselves. By saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ consistently to children, they will automatically copy and start using these words. In the times that they don’t, we can ask ourselves if they are being polite and if not, use it as an opportunity to teach them about the impact of their words and how they say them.
I absolutely do think that saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ is important and that we need to model this as often as we can. However, I do feel that forcing children to say them isn’t necessary. Children will automatically mimic what they see, so if we focus on how we are around children and hold them to the same standards that we hold ourselves, the rest should eventually fall into place.
About the author:
Stacey Kelly is a former teacher, a parent to 2 beautiful babies and the founder of Early Years Story Box, which is a subscription website providing children’s storybooks and early years resources. She is passionate about building children’s imagination, creativity and self-belief and about creating awareness of the impact that the early years have on a child’s future. Stacey loves her role as a writer, illustrator and public speaker and believes in the power of personal development. She is also on a mission to empower children to live a life full of happiness and fulfilment, which is why she launched the #ThankYouOaky Gratitude Movement.
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