Five reasons to stop forcing good manners on our kids

13 October, 2016

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…

Don't worry about the manners! 5 reasons to give up forced please and thank yous

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.

PS If you find my blog helpful please do consider supporting my work through Patreon from as little as $1 a month. I create mini-series and behind-the-scenes posts for patrons so do take a look here  in case you can 😀 

PPS 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.

You Might Also Like

  • Amy 14 October, 2016 at 6:38 am

    I disagree a little here. Inunderstand what you are trying to say.. My dad is the rudest man alive and is constantly glaring at my children demanding a “please” or “thank you” when he never offers those words himself. However, if my one of my children or a friends child comes up to me and says for e.g “i want some bread”.. I will reply with “try that again please” or “could i please have some bread?” I think reminding them of the socially respectable way to ask is important. They are learning. But you can do it politely too. Our friends very seldom come up to us and say ” i want some of what youve got”.. But if they did often enough, we probably wouldnt choose to be around them much. I totally agree it needs to be done politely, and with respect.. I often find when my kids are demanding, its beause their energy is a little frenetic and that slowing them down and reminding them how we should ask, helps them get in control of themselves again. Kinda like asking them to take a dreep breath with theyre getting anxious. Just my two cents. 🙂

    • Naydeen 30 October, 2016 at 4:39 pm

      Amy I think what you are looking for is a better structured sentence from your child’s regardless of the please or thank you. For example. I want some bread sounds horrible… but if they said mum, could I have some bread… sounds a lot nicer. I think focusing on the way it is asked is much better then ‘the magic word’. I completely agree with Lucy. My challenge is getting hubby to also agree.

    • Tom 22 March, 2019 at 4:44 pm

      If the kid says they want some bread, instead of having a conversation with them about why they want bread, you are assuming that you can read their mind and that it’s obviously because they are hungry. But we don’t bother to ask them if they are hungry. We don’t ask if they had enough to eat for lunch. We don’t ask them if they think it’s close to dinner time so whether they would like to help think of what to have. We just force them to say please. And reward them with a high carbohydrate processed food product (probably white bread, I’m guessing).

  • Franzi 14 October, 2016 at 8:24 am

    Wow thanks Lucy, i have actually been caught up in this with Manawa, feeling utterly disrespected with the way she demands things…!! Having some inspiration and a challenge to what i perceive her actions to be is very good, I appreciated reading this very much.

    • Franzi 14 October, 2016 at 8:47 am

      And watching, lol. “Don’t worry about it, just don’t”-love it. Respectfully asking for respectful tone of voice is so much more respectful…. Now I’ll stop commenting. Thanks!

  • Chloe 14 October, 2016 at 8:26 am

    Have to say, although I get where you’re coming from, I disagree. I don’t ‘force’ manners on my daughter, I remind her how to interact politely with others. No, I wouldn’t ask a friend ‘what’s the magic word?’…. but because I would hope all my friends already knew how to be polite, you know, since their parents hopefully taught them!

    Manners to me is on the same wavelength as kindness, and there is already too little of that in the world.

  • Sarah Rooftops 14 October, 2016 at 8:43 am

    I take issue with the phrase “magic word”, too – it’s polite to say “please” but it isn’t a guarantee that you will (magically) get absolutely anything you ask for.

    I agree about modelling rather than actively pushing manners, though. We have never once told our almost 18 month old to say “please” or “thank you”; sometimes she does, because she’s heard us say those things enough to be picking them up now; sometimes she doesn’t; last week, a grown up friend of mine forgot to say “thank you” when my daughter handed her a biscuit, only to have a toddler whisper a reminder to her (“sank soo”). They absolutely learn by listening, the same way they learn better grammar and correct pronunciation, regardless of whether or not adults are constantly correcting them.

  • Amz 14 October, 2016 at 8:48 am

    We have (almost) never asked for the ‘magic’ word from our kids, opting instead to role model, thanking others for them before they could/would (genuinely that is, not in that forced reminding the kids way), explaining why these words are important to some as you explained, and interpreted their enjoyment of gifts/situations as a form of thank you. Art (5 3/4) is often so excited when he receives a gift that he’s straight off to play and enjoy it. He then frequently notes later…”wow, I really love this, I must remember to thank so and so “. Just yesterday he uncovered a long lost toy in the sandpit… we were talking about where it came from – a gift for his second birthday from his Nana. He immediately asked ” was that before I was really talking?” When I told him yeah, sort of, he said “well then I’ll have to thank Nan when I see her”. None of our kids say please/thank you EVERY single time I might think it’s appropriate, but when they do it is said with such genuine gratitude. Same story with saying sorry too….I know if I’ve been an arse it takes awhile to calm down , reflect and actually feel sorry before I apologise for my behaviour, and I’m much happier to hear a genuine sorry from my kids, perhaps even days after something has happened, than a forced sorry straight away.

  • Teresa Golin 14 October, 2016 at 10:42 am

    I am trying a modelling approach with my granddaughter, so I’ll hand her her meal and say Thanks Nana in a positive way. I don’t hold back the food or expect anything and sometimes she will,say it. To me if you withhold something it’s a bit like getting a puppy to,sit before you put their food bowl,down. But mostly I think she hears lots of manners from us to each other and likes to copy this. She is 18 months old

  • Ali 14 October, 2016 at 7:45 pm

    Yeah, not sure I fully agree with this one. If a child is rude we will often ask them to find a nicer way of saying that. I think that as children learn from watching parents/trusted adults it’s important that we give them something decent to mirror. But they also learn from other sources and it’s important to let them know that actually the bratty kid in the cartoons behaviour is not acceptable especially when they copy it.
    Ok, the ‘magic words’ is a bit old fashioned but in the scheme of things asking your kids to be polite isn’t such a huge crime.

    Surprised to see you use the ‘rule of thumb’ phrase. I guess some people don’t find it a buggy but It’s been banned in pretty much all of our feminist work places now as being disrespectful to women. So was funny to find how much it jarred me!

    • Lucy 15 October, 2016 at 8:59 am

      hey Ali – thanks for your comment – banned? holy moly, I was sure the origins are debatable… but you are right, I should totally err on the side of non misogyny and take it out…. *done* THANKS

      • Scoop69 1 August, 2017 at 10:56 pm

        The ‘rule of thumb’ being mysoganistic has been throughly debunked. It’s first recorded use in English is admonishing someone against guesswork and to not use a builders ‘rule of thumb’. This was in the 15th century. I can add a small measure of context here ad my Grandfather was a master carpenter and would often use his thumb tip as a measurement when standardisation was more important than actual size.

  • ThaliaKR 15 October, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    Thanks, Lucy. I’m with you on all of this.

    Kids (and adults!) so often sound perfectly kind and polite without using the ‘proper forms’ of polite words. So it’s not just rude, it’s ridiculous, if a kid says ‘I’d love one of those!’ or ‘Can I have an apple?’ in a sweet tone of voice, and you insist on reframing it (either by modelling or correcting or withholding) with a technical word.

    And I really hate insisting on any recasting when it’s a request for food or water – there’s a kind of human rights feel to it. Who am I to insist on anything at all if a human being is thirsty!?

    • Lucy 16 October, 2016 at 1:22 pm


      • Meg 2 August, 2017 at 1:30 am

        I’ve been requesting that my girls change their language when they make want me to do something for them from demands or statements to requests. It doesn’t necessarily require a please, but it’s accurate language for them to use a request if they need my help to ask for it. That way I don’t make assumptions and help them in the wrong way which can be disastrous for a toddler/ preschooler.

        I do find I have to ask them to change their language a lot though. I try to do it in a respectful or playful way, but it can be exhausting. They are learning I know. I find when I let the demands continue I get impatient much faster.

        I appreciate articles like this to help me know they are in a natural phase of learning.

        • Lucy 2 August, 2017 at 9:07 am

          Thanks Meg, I also sometimes remind my girls that I’m human and tend to respond better when they talk to me kindly.xx

  • ThaliaKR 15 October, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    I also love your advice about Aunt Sally. We do that too and I find it a respectful and effective way to be honest with kids. And yes, it works well for everyone!

  • Liz Beavis 16 October, 2016 at 12:12 am

    I have to admit I sometimes correct my husband. He will say “nah” instead of “no thank you” if I offer him something and I find it so disrespectful, it drives me mad. This post makes me think twice before doing that. Thank you!

    • Cat 17 October, 2016 at 4:44 am

      Hallo Liz – i hope you don’t mind me respectfully commenting here, but I just wonder if the big question here is about everyone FEELING respected, whatever form that takes – so perhaps pointing out to your partner that the way he sometimes speaks feels disrespectful, and asking him to use different language could be tremendously useful modelling for your own family (I’m assuming you have children simply cos you’re reading this blog, hope that’s not impertinent 🙂
      Really fascinating post Lucy and I’m so with you on the adultism X

  • S.L.O.A.H. 16 October, 2016 at 8:49 am

    Definitely a fresh way of looking at the P&Q issue! Modelled behaviour is so important. 🙂

  • Sarah 16 October, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    My eldest is a spirited four year old very much immersed in his own interests, as he should be. However he expresses himself in a very demanding way often, and when his little sisters are also demanding things, or just attention, at the same time, I get a bit fed up with being spoken to like that. Now the youngest two are two, and well past the age of needing everything right away I have made a decision to slow down and stop rushing around to meet all their requests, which isn’t physically possible anyway. So they get from me an acknowledgement, a time frame and a suggestion of what they could do for themselves, and any fuss about it is their prerogative. I generally try not to repeat myself too, just saying ‘I heard you, I’m working on x right now’. We adults use please and thank you and gentle language, and do not insist on please or thank you but we do discuss more gentle ways to ask without using those words, and NVC-style phrases like your example. A big thing for me is that I/we don’t organise or prepare too much as when I get a bit of downtime I’d rather re-charge by reading or sleeping and I also object to so much of the labour of care being invisible. I want my kids to see what it takes, see the effort, and get a chance to contribute what they can or learn to entertain themselves while they wait. I am aiming for all of us to continue developing an ability to notice what’s going on around us and a general attitude of appreciation and graciousness.

  • Daddyccino 17 October, 2016 at 11:40 pm

    I think please and thank yous should definetly be taught.

  • ThaliaKR 18 October, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    I’ve been thinking more about this – both the post/idea and the comments. And I’ve been listening to myself and my family!

    I think it might be worth clarifying that I for one – as a person who agrees with Lucy – still ‘teach’ and model and remind about what we call ‘using kind words’. It’s not that I don’t think anyone should be polite!

    But here are the things I generally don’t do:
    – I don’t get hung up on the actual words used if the tone is kind
    – I don’t speak to the kids in a way I would think was rude for an adult
    – if I remind them to ‘say please’ or anything like that, it’s only ever in a nice tone, as a friendly reminder, rather than something that’s a telling-off
    – I never treat ‘please’ as any kind of magic word. A rude request that includes a please is regarded as unkind in our house.
    – I generally don’t even do a polite reminder about polite words when it comes to supplying water, or other essentials of life. It’s not a 2 year old’s fault she needs to get adult help to survive! Water is a human right.
    – I try hard not to withhold food or drink ‘on condition’ of there being a please. So I might do a kind reminder or model in that situation, but I would never (i hope!) hold the glass of water to my chest with my eyebrows raised and say, ‘say please first!’ or anything like that.

    Our focus is on helping our kids to be kind, in all situations, all the time. How they ask for things is part of that, but not a special subset. It’s just part of life.


    • Lucy 19 October, 2016 at 9:21 pm

      So well put! You should blog! oh you do and it is the greatest blog ever!

      • ThaliaKR 19 October, 2016 at 10:19 pm


  • Becky 19 October, 2016 at 1:14 am

    Interesting thoughts Lucy I asked my daughter to say please in public and she looked really embarrassed your right in that we should not embarrass be rude to our kids Interesting!

  • Kind, Wise, Brave & Joyful: How we created our family list of core values for our family - Sacraparental 21 October, 2016 at 6:07 pm

    […] of being ‘kind’. So when we prompt a child to say ‘thank you’ to someone (we don’t force that stuff, but that’s another story), we say ‘do you have any kind words for Dad?’ If […]

  • GOODIE GOODIE GUMDROP 8 January, 2017 at 4:16 am

    […] How do you feel about manners? Should we make suggestions for our kids or lead by example? I have always encouraged them heavily […]

  • Dorothee 11 January, 2017 at 7:07 am

    I like this idea! But indeed it puts more pressure on the parents who need to ensure they talk politely and treat other with respect themselves! Thanks for the article,real good for thought

  • Leoni 7 April, 2017 at 10:52 pm

    Was pleased u came across this today, as I’d been thinking about the exact same thing yesterday. I served my kids pizza and chips as a treat, and I got various comments along the lines of “mmm, Yum, my favourite!” But not 1 thank you (out of 7 kids!). I couldnt decide whether to point it out, as I felt that their appreciative comments mind of showed their gratitude. Then I worked out what was niggling me. Their comments focussed on them and their enjoyment. Not one had explicitly acknowledged that I had provided this bounty (although I think it was possibly underlying some of their comments). I think that a thank you would have refocused them and made them more grateful. And made it clear to me that they understood this. So I will – respectfully – be reminding my children to say please and thank you. In a full and respectfully phrased sentence. And I may remind them more in public – because they have to learn that there are different ways of behaving in private and in public. And yes, maybe a little bit so I don’t feel like they’re showing me up!

  • Bebbit faux 2 August, 2017 at 2:25 am

    Hmm …i agree with a lot of your stuff, but not this i’m afraid

    • Lucy 2 August, 2017 at 9:06 am

      Hehe, thanks for reading anyway Bebbit! xx

  • Sunshine 2 August, 2017 at 5:12 am


    My toddler son who was born with Down Syndrome says please and thank you a lot! I did teach him to say please as a short and understood command for requesting a need. Thank you is the receiving being accepted.

    Ie: request: “Ball please. ” instead of ” I want the ball. ” receipt: ” thank you” or ” no, (points at other ball)ball please” and here I can describe adjectives to describe the precise ball until he says ” thank you” which means success.

    He loves using these words because they help him connect at his level. And people react positively. I also model it and use these words for him to understand my requests and receipt of request. Simplified. Easy peasy. Not so much to appease others as creating a positive, engaging connection that suits everyone’s cognitive reach.

    • Lucy 2 August, 2017 at 9:05 am

      Thanks so much Sunshine, so great to hear your opinion and to hear your communication around Please and Thank you framed so beautifully – it can totally be this way!

  • Helen Evans 16 April, 2018 at 11:20 am

    I disagree if you go for a job interview and are rude you won’t get the job. Manners is not just please and thank you it’s about respect I always say to my kids I think you meant to say please Can i don’t demand it from them but I don’t always do it for them if they didn’t ask me nicely. But the best way to teach the is to lead by example. If someone is rude to them they shouldn’t do what they want either.

    • Tom 22 March, 2019 at 4:59 pm

      This is so true. Forcing kids to parrot please and thank you somehow results in getting high paid jobs. Rather than learning for themselves when it’s appropriate to show polite requests and gratitude, the jobs are gained by people who were forced to say please and thank you and did not learn these mechanisms of communication via modelling, observation of others, and respectful communication that does not require pat phrases but may reward them with praise. (Sorry for the sarcasm but fatuous claims like “you won’t get the job” are a bit much.)

  • Nick Lindley 14 June, 2018 at 4:16 am

    Wow, thank you so much for sharing this. You totally nailed it on the head and made this so very clear.

    In particular, this really unlocked the whole situation for me: It is incredibly ironic how rude it is the way a lot of parents nudge their children into false gratitude. This doesn’t teach the child gratitude; it teaches them precisely the behavior that the parent has exhibited, rudeness.