It drives me nuts when I hear parents say this. Why? I don’t know about your home, but in my home the magic word is pizza!
Children learn by repetition and experience. I know you know this because you have to say everything a bazillion times—”Didn’t I just tell you this yesterday?”
I’ve found the most effective way to teach my children to use “please” and “thank you” is to just say the sentence I want to hear.
“Mom, can I have that apple?”
And I will say, “Mom, may I have that apple please?”
My children have learned that I won’t move until they repeat my sentence. Do they really have to “mean it” when they say “please” and “thank you?” No, they do not have to mean it. That will come with time. All they need is the repetition. They will “mean it” when they are older.
Thank you is taught the same way. Every time I hand my child something or help them I say, “Thank you Mom.”
And as they are rushing off to their next project I hear, “Thank….you….Mom…!”
It takes very little time and energy to teach your children this way. And every time they copy you it’s creating another experience of the behaviors you are teaching.
Many of the experts advise to just model the behavior that you want from your children and that they will just “pick it up.” My experience with my children of four very different personalities has been the complete opposite. Cory and I are kind to each other and use polite words all the time. Has that prompted my children to just “pick it up?” No way, Jose!
Children are focused on themselves and what ever they want to do at the moment. If they can get what they need without being polite—then why bother? So if they refuse to repeat your sentence, then just calmly remove their Respectful piece from their Pie. They earn the piece back as soon as they repeat you. It’s really very simple.
When to Start?
As soon as your child can talk. And since I have a 14, 10, 8, and 5 year old, I am saying those sentences a lot! The older 3 have learned to be consistently polite (for the most part!) My 5 year old is about 50-50%. So you can expect it to take several years before they have mastered politeness.
Slowly, they start using the words on their own. It’s so delightful to hear your children use “please” and “thank you” because they’ve practiced it so many times. It doesn’t matter that they were copying you all the time. This is a very gentle way to teach politeness. Isn’t it so much better than nagging your children with a whiny voice, “What’s the magic word?”
What Do You Think?
How do you teach your children to use “please” and “thank you?”