My 4-year-old son refuses to say, “Please,” and “Thank you.” He used to say them when prompted, but then wouldn’t. At the time, I didn’t choose this battle because I didn’t think it was a big deal. But maybe I should have. What do you think?
I never require my children to say them, only remind them. I will say, “Say, ‘Thank you,’” but not really expect them to say it. I also say, “Thank you” to them when appropriate. When it comes to others, I say it for them.
Courtesy is learned. Children will do what they see being done around them, and some children need room to know they will be loved with or without manners.
I don’t misuse courtesy as a manipulation; I don’t say, “Please” if I don’t mean to allow a choice. I don’t try to pressure them to do something because someone else used a courtesy, and I don’t force courtesies where none are intended by them.
Being nice is expected in our culture, and there is plenty of time to teach social niceties, but I want my children able to say, “NO” to the nice man who asks them to please do (something unmentionable). That means I allow my children to say, “NO” to Grandma if she says, “Please give Grandma a kiss.” I take the heat for this one, because, for me, it’s worth it! I want my child to yell, “NOOOOO” to the person trying to hurt them. So, if they feel uncomfortable, I don’t push for a “Thank you.”
Also, introverted children can feel sheer terror and panic at any social interaction at all, much less niceties. I can be polite, as the parent, and give them time to be ready to take this responsibility on themselves.
When we go into a situation where I know niceties will be expected, I prepare them. We talk about saying, “Thank you” when someone gives them a gift, instead of, “Oh, man, I wanted the blue one!” But I believe that other sincere expressions of request and gratitude should be honored also. Some children will say, “Please,” and “Thank you” in the look they give you, and it’s so very sincere. I will tell them, “I see you asking so politely in your eyes,” or “Your eyes tell me you are liking that.” They usually beam (or hide with embarrassment) at those times.
What bothers me is children acting with a sense of entitlement – bossing me around, demanding things, etc. When this happens, I might assure them I will meet their needs, but will ask if there is a way they can ask where I might feel better about doing it. If they can’t think of one, I’ll offer one or more. I share when my children are talking to me in a way that causes me to feel unappreciated, not because I take personal offense, but I want to teach empathy and let them know how people in general will feel if talked to that way.
In other words, rather than focus so much on this interaction or that one, or on this nicety or that one, I try to teach courtesy, both through modeling and through active teaching. So far it’s working.