So I was reading an academic journal last night and it featured a really robust, longitudinal research paper that revealed that children with good manners, who say “please” and “thank you” and things, will turn out to be, like, a million times more successful than anyone else, loads more happier, and just, y’know generally a far, far more superior adult?
Said no-one, ever.
Here’s the thing. Our adult obsession with “please” and “thank you” is baseless! It is rude, a waste of parental energy and one of the many daily microagressions against children.
Here’s five reasons we can stop fussing about good manners…
1- It’s totally rude. A good principle for interacting with our children is “would I say this/ do this to an adult?”
Would we ever say “What’s the magic word???!!!!” to our friend? Heck no! Or some people might, but they would also be known as the most annoying friend EVER IN THE HISTORY OF HUMANKIND. Interrupting people over an issue of semantics is impolite, which is funny, when you are doing it to try and teach politeness.
Teresa Graham Brett says;
“In our dominant mainstream culture, we rarely question being rude to children. This is ironic, since we insist on polite behavior from children and in fact are often rude to them with the goal of teaching them to be polite. We’ll tell a child in front of other people that she must say “please” or “thank you.” Imagine for a moment correcting your partner or an adult friend if she or he neglected to say “please” in a store. Few of us would do so, yet we’ll interrupt and correct a child who doesn’t “properly” make a request of an adult.”
2- It’s okay to care about good manners. We all have our things, and I like to think we are all working on them. But you gotta understand that no one learns well by being told stuff. Children learn by watching you. They will understand that there are words that seem to have a little “magic” about them by listening to you on the phone to the plumber, booking her in to fix your blocked toilet “Please, as soon as possible thanks, because it’s all really sort of messy around here now, thank you SO much!”
If we treat our kids graciously, they will be gracious too. (And is constantly forcing them to say please and thank you good manners? Nope. Have I already made that point?)
If you do really want to talk with your kids about good manners, think about the big picture, about what you really want. Is it to just have them say these little tiny words? Or is it about them generally speaking kindly and noticing the impact their words can have on people?
Perhaps you might frame it like “some adults really care about the words “please” and “thank you” – when we go to Aunty Sally’s house, you might want to try and remember to say that as much as possible, because it’s really important to her.” We sometimes do this and I think Ramona appreciates us being frank with her, and she notices the effect of the “magic words”…
(And I also appreciate that we need to hang out with our kids a lot of the time so if it feels like the communication sounds genuinely rude, we can say “It makes me feel ____ when you use that tone of voice, are you willing to _____?” (A sentence roughly based on non violent communication.)
3- Kids are learning to communicate every day, they want to connect with you, share stories with you – do we REALLY want them analysing all their words to see if they will get your approval? Give them a break. Also – give yourselves a break. Shit, there’s enough to worry about as a parent, you really don’t need to add “micromanaging my child’s conversation” to the list!! Relax. Wipe another thing off your “To Do” list.
Will this mean you are raising an unpleasant child? Are YOU unpleasant, in general? Are you unpleasant to your children? No? Okay, then it is HIGHLY unlikely you are raising an obnoxious brat. They might be going through a tricky stage, they might be just getting their heads around how their conversation can make other people feel good or bad. Model kindness, ask if they want some tips, but don’t worry about it.
4- I believe it is a form of adultism to impose our grown-up way of communicating on our children. Banging on and on about “please” and “thank you” and our version of “good manners” completely ignores and undermines the many beautiful and wonderful ways that kids show their gratitude. A child’s please and thank you sometimes just aren’t verbal – they come in many forms; obscure gifts, a beaming smile, an interpretive dance JUST FOR YOU! Notice these forms of thanks, accept them, welcome them, celebrate them; don’t be hung up on the fact that it didn’t come in the package you wanted it in.
5- Hankering after a grudgingly given please or thank you is beneath you, my friend. You are way better than reluctant apologies and coerced pleases!! Communication is such a wonderful, beautiful thing. Connecting heart to heart through sounds that come out of our mouth – that is magic. Let’s invite our children to be part of a communication process that is gracious and compassionate and has connection at its very center. Give, hope for and strive for spontaneous gratitude – in many cases it is there, you just need to open your eyes to see it.
If you genuinely don’t trust that children will learn to be respectful simply by being respected, and you feel you *must* keep reminding them about please and thank you and other socially constructed good manners, remember that children are wholly human and that you can do this in a gracious way. In Parenting for Social Change Teresa Graham Brett suggests that we should treat our children as that is as we would a VIP from another country – guiding them in our strange ways with dignity and respect.
There is a brand new video on my channel all about good manners where I discuss this further and make some bold, bold claims… hehe.
As ever, always love to hear your opinions, as long as they are the same as mine! Ha, I jest, I jest.