Should we force children to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’?

Should we force children to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’?

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.

Sign up to Stacey’s premium membership here and use the code PARENTA20 to get 20% off or contact Stacey for an online demo.



Ambitious & inclusive sensory stories

Ambitious & inclusive sensory stories

I wrote about the Wonders of a Sensory Story back in 2018 for Parenta and expressed in that article just how hard it is to even consider trying to articulate how fabulous sensory stories are in a single article. When I first encountered them, they transformed my teaching and made my practice so much more inclusive than it had been before. In this article I am going to give you a glimpse into how you can do even more with a sensory story, using them to increase access to new experiences and extend the impact of novel educational adventures.

Sensory stories are concise text, typically 8–10 sentences long, each sentence of the story is partnered with a rich and relevant sensory experience that supports engagement with the story and makes the story accessible to those unable to access it through the verbal narrative. I run a project called The Sensory Story Project and if you explore the webpage associated with that, you will find lots of free downloads that will help you in your sensory story practice.

How to use a sensory story to make an event more accessible

Consider the scenario of a school trip, perhaps you are visiting a farm, a swimming pool or a local church. For some children the differences between this environment and the one they are used to being in will inspire extra curiosity and attention. For other children, the differences between the known safe familiar environment and this new different place will cause stress and anxiety. Children are unlikely to be able to articulate feelings of discomfort or of being unsettled, even children who are brilliant linguists would struggle to describe feelings of unease.

Children distressed by an unfamiliar environment communicate that distress through their behaviour. For some, this behaviour will be obviously linked to distress, they might cry or refuse to enter a space. But for many others, their behaviour will be an attempt to counteract the feeling: a child who feels uneasy needs extra reassurance, one of the best ways to be reassured when you are a child is to know an adult is paying attention to you. Adults keep children safe. Children know that if the adult is noticing them, they will be safe. So you may see an increase in those annoying attention-grabbing behaviours that just seem silly and unnecessary. It helps to recognise that the child is seeking reassurance, rather than attention; at the very least it will save you from getting so frustrated!

"Focus on the sensory aspects of the experience: for example at a swimming pool you will smell the chemicals used to clean the pool, you might be asked to wear a rubber band against your wrist or ankle, you might see the steam from the showers and so on."

Create a sensory story that very clearly and accurately describes the experiences related to the new environment in the sequence they will be encountered. Focus on the sensory aspects of the experience: for example at a swimming pool you will smell the chemicals used to clean the pool, you might be asked to wear a rubber band against your wrist or ankle, you might see the steam from the showers and so on. Weave these experiences in order into your story and then share your story ahead of your visit. Tell it often so that the children get lots of practice at experiencing the sensations and can get excited for the visit ahead. When you get to the venue, it will not be so new and distressing but it will retain all of its excitement and interest.

How to use a sensory story to extend the impact of an event or activity

We have wonderful moments that happen in our settings, perhaps we all visit a petting zoo, or a dance troop visit us and share their fabulous skills with us. The novelty of these events makes them stand out in our memories, we should make the most of this impact and not restrict it to the day that it happens.

Creating a sensory story of an event or experience just takes a little bit of thought and prep work. You may need to make sure you have memory space clear on your phone so you can record sounds, or you may want to take some Tupperware with you for stashing smells in!

As the event unfolds, consider it in sensory story terms, what are the sounds, sights, smells, touches and tastes that define this event? Can you capture them?

Catch as many as you can and weave them into the story, then you will be able to retell the story and revisit the wonders of that special day.

Readers curious to know more may be interested in Joanna’s Ambitious and Inclusive Sensory Storytelling Course or her books:

Sensory Stories for Children and Teens with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities
Published by Jessica Kingsley

Voyage to Arghan - a sensory story

Ernest and I – a sensory story
Published by LDA resources

About the author

Joanna Grace

Joanna Grace is an international Sensory Engagement and Inclusion Specialist, trainer, author, TEDx speaker and founder of The Sensory Projects.

Consistently rated as “outstanding” by Ofsted, Joanna has taught in mainstream and special-school settings, connecting with pupils of all ages and abilities. To inform her work, Joanna draws on her own experience from her private and professional life as well as taking in all the information she can from the research archives. Joanna’s private life includes family members with disabilities and neurodivergent conditions and time spent as a registered foster carer for children with profound disabilities.

Joanna has published four practitioner books: "Multiple Multisensory Rooms: Myth Busting the Magic"“Sensory Stories for Children and Teens”“Sensory-Being for Sensory Beings” and “Sharing Sensory Stories and Conversations with People with Dementia”. and two inclusive sensory story children’s books: “Voyage to Arghan” and “Ernest and I”.

Joanna is a big fan of social media and is always happy to connect with people via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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