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No Lip Service in Our House: Please and Thank You are Optional Too

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When my older daughter was a baby, I used to enthusiastically encourage her to ‘wave hello and bye bye‘. However, I noticed that when I would say, “Wave bye bye’, it would startle her from her natural state of just ‘being‘. She would wave, but it wasn’t sincere and sometimes she would go all shy on me or flat out refuse… Most of the time, she just wanted to be a fly on the wall, happily observing the situation, with little, to no interaction. So, I stopped asking her to wave.

The same reason I stopped asking her to ‘wave hello and bye bye‘ five years ago, is the same reason why, now, I don’t make my kids say ‘please’ or ‘thank you‘.

Asking a child to say or do something unnatural, in a social context, breaks them out of their nature, which is to just ‘be‘.

Young children, especially babies, live in the present moment. They are 100% sincere observers in all situations. Their ego (their sense of ‘I’) has no strong definition because to them.

When they communicate, *if* they want to communicate, kids will naturally express themselves with 100% enthusiasm.

In some cultures, it’s considered normal to have very little spoken communication with a young child, in order to let the child simply be an ‘observer‘.

I found there was no need for me to encourage my babies to ‘wave bye bye‘, or to later teach them to say ‘please‘ or ‘thank you‘, because they would do it naturally when the time was right. Until then, it was learn by observing, with no forced social etiquette needed.

A child’s expression is pure. In our house, kids never have to add a ‘please‘ or’ thank you‘ to make their requests more sincere because kids already are sincere!

Now that my kids are older, they certainly do say ‘please‘ and ‘thank you‘ and they ‘wave hello and bye bye‘. They are actually quite polite.

If kids ask for or receive something, what good does it do for them to make them ask nicely, or to tack on the word ‘please‘ or ‘thank you‘, if they don’t really mean it?

If kids ask or receive ‘rudely‘, then there is something much deeper going on than them just being ‘rude‘. I actually place no value in whether a child asks nicely or not, as the way their words come out, is only their pure expression. And let’s face it, kids are not very good at hiding their emotions, or at least, they shouldn’t be.

When children act obnoxious, their behavior means they have an unmet need. So, rather than address how ‘rudely‘ they asked me, I would focus more on what it is that is bothering them. Children naturally want to cooperate and be pleasant and will only act obnoxiously if there is an underlying issue.

When my kids are old enough to understand, around 7, then I explain how people in our society like you to ask for things nicely, even if you don’t feel like asking nicely. But I won’t force them to be nice or to say ‘nice‘ things when they’re little, because that would mean that I’m asking them to be unnatural. I want my children to feel comfortable expressing themselves now, so that when they’re older, they feel confident and secure to do the same.

In some cultures, saying ‘please‘ and ‘thank you’ is actually considered a bit awkward, because it means that the person you are talking to is doing something out of the ordinary for you — showing a separation or lack of belonging.

Of course, it’s fine to teach kids to say ‘please‘ and ‘thank you‘ and to ask nicely, but I don’t believe we need to force kids to say things when they don’t feel it. Through my experience, I’ve seen that when they get old enough, they will see have seen enough good role modeling that they will say and do the ‘polite‘ things anyway, if their emotional needs have been met. And, when they do it on their own accord, it comes out sounding so beautiful and authentic!

20 Responses »

  1. Ridiculous and nonsensical! We do not always learn by ourselves! Ignore a child? Not educate a child in the most basic courtesies!? This article has to be a joke! Oh SORRY that’s me expressing myself and just “being”!!

    • This article is certainly not a joke. I feel sad when I read comments like this, but it sort of solidifies my ideas doesn’t it? Because if you were ‘taught’ to say nice things to people when you were younger, then you would have stated your comment in a much nicer way than you just did.

      • Great article, Kate. I am an elementary school teacher. I would love your thoughts on a particularly challenging situation I am having with a student. He is 8 years old and obnoxious. How do I figure out his unmet need? Any guidance would be greatly appreciated!

      • Hi! Glad you liked it 🙂 You can send me an email and let me know what the behavior is.

      • Sooo well said Kate 🙂

    • being honest for your feelings and polite can only be learned by good examples and not by force or else a kid is already in the fake world of adults. Good example is the way.Also being nice without feeling it is a matter of safety for kids..They shouldn’t believe they must be kind to everyone with no reason(many perverts in this world).You are rude and ironic and I don’t think you are a child. You should have learned how to be polite by now but maybe you didn’t have someone to take examples…that’s sad..Educate your children with the power of choosing their path not force them to be fake.

    • The thing is children learn by imitation, if you are genuinely grateful for all that you have/receive they will learn to be too. Forcing a child to say these things means they are just repeating words, they do not actually feel thankful.

  2. Thanks for your timely share!

  3. Awesome article Kate! Totally on the same page.xx

  4. Mee toooo! I haven’t deliberately taught “please” and “thank you”. They are nice words to use and I use them occasionally at home but I have never asked him for either of those “magic” words. Nevertheless, our nearly three year old is starting to use them of his own accord. Just like he is picking up other words, phrases, expressions, and learning the right context to apply them.

  5. I have deliberately taught my kids please and thank you but I don’t enforce them. I am surrounded by adults who say ‘give me X’ or they take and show no gratitude, it seems expected that I give when they demand. I did insist one said thank you and wouldn’t let him just snatch the thing out of my hand – he refused and went away without because he couldn’t bring himself to not be terribly rude to me. I struggle with those situations enormously and don’t want my kids growing up to be so entitled and rude…is that a silly concern? I don’t teach them to be rude but they do see it a lot!

    • I know what you mean… It’s a practice that is deep engrained in our society — to expect a please and a thank you. But, I think, what you will find is that the please and thank you won’t even come out when it’s not sincere. Of course you don’t teach them to be rude. But, maybe look at the times when they are acting rude in a different light, without taking it personally. Maybe you’ll find that there is some unmet need? Something that’s bothering them deeply?

  6. I completely agree! There is a great chapter on love, gratitude and respect in a book of lectures from Rudolf Steiner called ‘Child’s Changing Consciousness’ Well worth a read.

  7. Interesting thoughts however gotta say I do completely disagree (respectfully of course!) – whether you like it or not, and despite how things are in other cultures, you belong to a culture whereby value IS placed on being polite and considerate when asking for things etc.. Everyone has had childhood friends who were demanding and didn’t add additional “please”s and “thankyou”s, and these were often the kids that stopped being invited round after a few demand-filled afternoons. Of course, I’m sure you raise your children happily and healthily and I’ve no doubt that their needs are your primary concern, but to approach it as if kids have within them EVERYTHING they need already without ANY form of gentle parental “steering”, and its just a case of waiting until these behaviours naturally present themselves, is I feel, a bit short sighted. Again whether you like it or not, a great deal other people DO place value on this sort of thing, so I really feel you’re risking that your kids end up somewhat lacking in social invites/opportunities.

  8. Thanks Kate, another great reminder. Have been catching myself doing a bit more enforcing lately, feels like I’m turing her into a parrot! Doesn’t feel sincere at all. I just sometimes get tired of being ‘bossed around’ but I can see now that there is definitely something else going on. Time for some present time I think! Thanks again x

    • It’s certainly hard… nobody wants to hear sass! But yes… something much deeper going on, I presume.

  9. I really didn’t like this perspective much. It seems to allow the child to be the center of the Universe rather than teaching him how to be and bringing them into our Universe. Role modeling is fine, but teaching has a big part too. Left to their own devices, the best does not always come out…..Lord of the Flies comes to mind.
    A simple teaching and reminding of please and thank you have a place but demanding (by parent) to the bitter end of this is not necessary either. They will learn….

  10. I totally agree and i thought i was alone in this. I come from that culture where we do say please and thank you as often we do here but that doesn’t mean we respect less to our surroundings and people.

    Often i see people say thank you and please without making eye contact and already walked away before i say anything in return. To me whole thing is very robotic and people really don’t mean it.

    I can go on and on this one……. nice points to raise and i’m happy you did.


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