Why I Don’t Make My Child say, “Please” and “Thank you.” My thoughts on manners.

I want to begin by stating that I am not making a case against saying, “please,” or “thank you,” at all. As a matter of fact, I say these words myself, but not because anyone is making me. I say them because I want to. It feels good within me to say it when I choose to. I deeply believe that the best way we can teach things like politeness, empathy, and gratitude to our children is by modeling it. You cannot force the feelings of appreciation or kindness. They have to feel it from within and they feel it from within by being given the space to feel it, not by being told to repeat  phrases because someone is suggesting they do so. Quicky demanding thank you’s and I’m sorry’s from our children robs them of having the experience of the feelings behind the words. Forcing them to say it simply teaches social conditioning and docility. I also want to address the idea of politeness. Why is it that to be polite, we have to inject certain words other than, “Can I have…” or “I want?” What is wrong with, “I want an apple?” When our children ask for something (assuming it is with a neutral tone), and we counter with, “What do you say?,” it implies that asking for what you want is somehow not ok. That for it to be ok we have to use “magic words.”

My friend Peter Jude Gustafson put it perfectly: “I want…” is the most authentic thing anyone can say. The emphasis on “polite” speech, and the need to say “please” and any real time correction to that regard teaches the child that asking for what you want is not acceptable. It is my belief that this type of grooming results in adults who are unable to directly express what they want. These adults learn to instead use manipulation in attempts to meet their needs.” In my opinion, so much of language is less about the words and more about intent. If a three-year-old is given a toy and happily and excitedly runs off to play with it, I can feel his appreciation. He is grateful. In his experience, he is feeling thankful. To expect a condition created by society that is not natural for a three-year-old, like saying ‘thank you’, is having too high of expectations. To say, ‘thank you’ is social grooming, which, like I said, I don’t have a problem with those words, but let’s stop and reflect on why we need to hear them if we can feel the feeling without the words.

Now if my child yells at me, “get me a sandwich, now!” then I will address that based on how I feel hearing it. Odds are that if I am spoken to in this way, I won’t want to do the thing being asked of me, for my child or anyone. Notice it still isn’t about the words, but the intent. I might then say something like, “It doesn’t feel good to me when you yell at me to do something. It makes me not want to help you, and I like feeling good about helping you. Could you use a kinder tone?” You might even suggest a “please” in your adjustment, but the emphasis isn’t on the word itself. Many people argue that this type of training is simply teaching “good manners,” but I ask you to question what that even means, and why is internal goodness linked to arbitrary words? I am all for modeling respect and appreciation for children to see and live by. But what is happening when we imply that the way our child asked for something wasn’t good enough? As in, you wanting an apple does not suffice. I need to hear “magic words.” What message does that send? Have you ever seen a child be forced to say, “I’m sorry,” and then they begrudgingly do so with a dissatisfied look on their face? I have. In this instance, the only thing that seemed to matter were the words, but nothing was learned or felt (except maybe resentment and/or embarrassment). Only that in certain situations you have to repeat, ‘I’m sorry,’ even if you don’t want to. Even if you don’t mean it.

So that is why I will never force arbitrary words onto my children. Instead, I will do my best to focus on feelings and intentions. It is easy to get caught up in the words themselves and think we are doing a good job and accuse others of not teaching manners. Not only accusing of not teaching manners, but blaming lack of manners for the problems of “kids today.” I think the problem is more that we lack feeling grateful and less that we are not saying the words, “thank you.”  I trust that the words will come naturally when they are old enough and see it modeled, because it is true that we use language to express feelings. But if stressing manners is simply teaching your child to always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, then manners are not important to me. My 2.5 year old is a living example of what is possible. He has never once been prompted by his father or myself to say please, thank you or I’m sorry, and he says these things all the time. He learned through modeling. He learned by seeing us say it to him and to others. We didn’t need to make him say it. We trusted he would catch on when it was developmentally time, and he definitely has. What are your thoughts?




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  1. “Now if my child yells at me, “get me a sandwich, now!” then I will address that based on how I feel hearing it. ” bad manners right there if you’re child thinks it acceptable to yell an order at you! He didn’t ask you to make him a sandwich, he demanded! Awesome job with the teaching by example if this is what he has picked up so far!

    1. My son isn’t very verbal so no, he’s never said this to me. It’s used as an example. I know kids, like adults, have bad days. But glad to know yours are so perfect 🙂

      1. My three son has yelled this at me before. He definitely hasn’t picked it up from anyone in this house. Children this age are totally instinctive. At that point in time, maybe through hunger or impatience barked his order at me. I can’t imagine a child would never, ever say something like this. It’s an opportunity to learn. I think you’ve used a very good example.

  2. Excellent article Chantel. And I agree whole heartedly with teaching our children intrisic motivation by example. 💜

  3. And people with your mindset are why we have generations of rude, ill mannered, children. But at least we didn’t stress them out. Oh, and your response to Ruth is sarcastic and rude, so I cant imagine your children being anything else but.

    1. I believe we have generations as such is because most people practice authoritarian, coercive, violent parenting. That’s my hit. No pun intended.

    2. I think this respectful, gentle approach is harder and takes more work than just teaching your children to regurgitate words because it’s what you need or what you think others want to hear.
      My three year old is very respectful, 90% of the time and we use this approach. As the article says, I’ve also seen children just say please, thank you, sorry, only because they are repeating what their parents have ordered them to say.

  4. I have to respectfully disagree. When we are teaching our children to use those words, its not for us as parents. (Let face it, we usually get the poop end of the stick when it comes to conversations with our kids). Its for them to use when communicating with the outside world. If a random person, either an adult or a child, came up and said something to the effect of “hey I want/can you hand me that (random thing)?” and neither said please nor thank you when I complied, I’d think they were a jerk. And I’m fairly certain I’m not alone in feeling that way. If you want to have a respectful, useful conversation in the outside world, then proper etiquette is necessary.

    1. Completely agree. Sorry, but it’s important to learn how to be polite in the world. And not every moment has to be “authentic”. Sometimes it’s appropriate to not be an asshole even if you feel like being one.

  5. It was ingrained in me to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ by my parents and was explained to me that it is a social norm, meant to make the other ppl feel good. I.e. not meant to make me feel anything, but to appease the person who had power over me in some way and that the way to get what I wanted was to simply add one or two special words and then you could have it. No feelings on my part needed to be involved. I regularly apologise to ppl, mainly my wife, by simply saying ‘I am very sorry you feel that way’ and then provide a rationalisation for my actions if there is one. Means no embarrassment, no feelings of guilt etc and ppl feel better coz they got what they needed to hear from you. It costs nothing to be polite and ends up with you being able to get many things going your way. Flattery and politeness work wonders and can be very subtle. My wife always laughs at me when I address anyone older than me with what she calls extreme politeness. But generally the older folks love it and are much more likely to do as I suggest, as it is phrased very politely. I learnt this very valuable social skill early on and excelled at school as a result thereof. I was incredibly naughty at school, but got away with it because the overwhelming majority of teachers and principals etc thought I was a model student, as I was exceedingly polite to them and other elders, that they just couldn’t imagine any wrongdoing on my part. In comparison to that, my wife is rather direct and not bothered by being polite. She gets way more accomplished in record quick time as a direct result. But most ppl who experience that react more out fear than anything else. I say she is a bully, but she says she is not rude, just direct about what she wants and is not about to ‘dance’ around issues and ppl’s ego for any reason. My point? Both approaches work. Sometimes you need both. Sometimes neither work. I think it is important to learn what is appropriate in different situations and to teach children that depending on the circumstances, sometimes it is necessary to say things differently. Just my thoughts. I have a very strong-willed little boy who is now starting to exert his ego and personality and interact with other children, so this issue will become very interesting to me soon.

  6. This was such a thought-provoking read! I can absolutely identify with what you’re saying. It’s all about the intention! Words don’t mean much when the authentic emotions aren’t behind them. Thank you for providing such a unique prospective!

  7. Not displaying politeness, not saying please and thank you for example, is nothing more than pure and utter laziness. You can twist it all you like. Teaching a child, or adult for that matter, to practice politeness is not social conditioning. It is part of living in a civil society. You are very wrong in stating that a child feeling gratitude is a way of displaying it. WRONG. I agree with you in stating that “I want an apple” is a perfectly fine statement to make, as long as it is followed by “May I have one please”. Feelings and intentions are almost always positive as concerns a child. It is the actions that count, especially when they are out in public. Shame on you for not teaching your children how to be polite. They may grow up continuing to be lazy which will adversely affect them throughout their adult life. Hopefully they will realize they don’t want to be rude and lazy like their mother.

    1. Says the guy who calls me lazy and condemns my child. Anyway, I wish you would have read the article better. I’m not against being polite. I just understand that children learn by example, not force. I repeat, empathy cannot be forced, only modeled. I’m not raising cattle, I’m raising humans, who I want to learn empathy on their own. Something most of us didn’t get the opportunity to do because we were raised by people who would force us to appear a certain way, rather than just live in a way that modeled what they wanted from us.

      1. I don’t think anyone has read your article in the way you intended. I think it makes perfect sense.
        Someone commented on how polite my three year old was other day and we for the most part (99% of the time) do not prompt him to use his manners. how humiliating must it be for a child standing there being forced to say something. If my son hurts another child, there is no point at me barking orders at him telling him to say sorry. I pull him aside, have a chat about what happened and how the other child may feel then 9 times out of 10, he himself realises that he wants to say sorry. Not is FORCED to, but the sentiment is genuine.

  8. Hi there, I’m posting mostly to balance the ad hominem responses. It’s interesting that your post has made these people so upset they have to slap you down, never mind your idea.
    To the idea, I too am trying to avoid “magic” words. I’m an engineer, and in engineering we use the word “magic” in a derogatory way to refer to things that must be done without knowing the underlying reasons. Manners should be the outcome, I think we agree, but the route to the outcome should be more connected to empathy and less to magic. I try to coach my little one to be aware of gratitude as the motivator to say “thank you”, to be aware when he is imposing on someone, and to say “please”, and to use “sorry” as an expression of regret. Regret and imposition are pretty advanced concepts for a 2.5 year old, so no visible headway there. But early days yet.
    My methods differ a little. When LO says “I want sandwich!” I get up to make the sandwich “yes, you can have a sandwich. Can you think of a nice way of asking?” He gets the sandwich because he was able to express his need. If he then finds a nice phrase and tone to ask in response to my request, then he gets a “thank you, that was a lovely way to ask, I liked that very much” or similar. That way I hope to keep manners associated with the feelings of others, and not associated with expression of his needs.

  9. I think there is value in teaching manners. I don’t make my kids use manners all the time, but socially acceptable behaviour is something they must learn.

    One of my daughter’s friends popped (on purpose) my daughter’s balloons she loved and cherished. My daughter was highly upset at this and immediately began crying quite loudly. The girl’s mom had a teaching moment there and told her what she did was very mean and friends don’t do that. She was instructed to apologise. She didn’t necessarily mean it, but how much does a six year old understand of hurting feelings? This little girl popped the balloon because she thought it would be fun, not because she wanted to intentionally hurt my daughter’s feelings.
    I think scenarios like this are teaching tools for appropriate behaviour and how we need to behave when we hurt someone. It teaches that it’s not okay to do whatever you want, and that other people want to feel appreciated. Manners are one way that people do feel appreciated. I model good manners for my children, I say please and thank you to them and I encourage them to ask questions, to speak their minds, to be curious and their own selves while using manners at the same time. Children don’t need to feel squashed just because we expect manners. If we also squash their independence and curiosity, then there’s a real problem.

  10. I remember CONSTANTLY being told off for not using manners (EG talking/laughing with family at dinner table, would get in trouble for elbows on table) and we HAD to show overt signs of gratitude when anything was given to us (even though we didn’t ask for whatever was being given a lot of the time).

    To the point that even GETTING anything I ended up feeling guilty because of how much we were forced to show appreciation for it, or get in trouble if we didn’t.

    Imagine a child getting in trouble for receiving something they didn’t ask for because they were made to feel unworthy for not showing an ‘appropriate’ level of gratitude within the expected time frame (immediately). It would be healthier to not burden the child with gifts if the result for them is going to be getting in trouble.

    I think there is a time and place for manners, and every time your 4 year old asks for a glass of water or an apple is not necessarily the time to teach.

    There is also time for expressing gratitude, and if it is every time YOU as the parent have given something to the child for YOUR OWN joy you shouldn’t expect the childs first reaction is to reassure you that they appreciate you, the natural reaction should be joy and interest in what they are given, and a thanks can come later.

    To rewire a childs brain so the guilt triggers instantly when they are given anything, and the priority is to somehow show deep enough gratitude to the other person to feel like they actually deserve what they were given, is unhealthy and unnatural.

    I am 24 and this article helped me realise how much this dynamic in my childhood is affecting me in my adult life now.

    I have a 3.5 year old and will be making a conscious effort to not make him feel guilty about asking for basic needs/desires to be met, or for receiving gifts/surprises/assistance.

    I feel I have an issue with people giving me assistance because I ended up feeling like it was such a burden to be given things, because I would need to show an irrational sense of gratitude for anything I received even if I didn’t ask for it.

    Manners are an important part of integrating into the world, but most of this comes naturally, and easily. To force it down your childs throat everytime they ask for something (“say please”) or when they receive something (“say thank you”) is only setting them up for issues later when asking for anything becomes an uncomfortable/over done exercise and being given anything makes them feel guilty.

  11. I totally agree with everything you say and never make my child say sorry as I feel she is too young to understand (26 months). I say sorry on behalf and explain to her why. I cringe when people make their kids apologise to mine and they blatantly don’t mean it.

    1. I also apologize on my sons behalf in front of him and now at 2.5 he is starting to say I’m sorry himself. He’s been saying please and thank you for a while 🙂