Help, please!
December 6, 2012 8:23 AM   Subscribe

How do you get a child to use the 'magic words'?

We have a lovely 3 1/2 year old daughter. She is generally polite, well-behaved, considerate and we're very proud of her - but she absolutely refuses to say 'please', 'thank-you' etc.

We tried every possible permutation of sanction/reward (she is INCREDIBLY stubborn - even temporary removal of favourite toys, lack of dessert etc. doesn't sway her), before getting the advice that it wouldn't last forever, and as such a good kid she simply wouldn't be able to avoid them in the long term; best to ease off her and avoid letting her build it up.

It has now become a problem at school, though - her teachers insist on it, and have had to withhold various things.

We're sort of at our wits' end; we simply have nothing else to try...
posted by monkey closet to Human Relations (44 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Her; I think that's really crazy. Sounds like many around her have turned it into a power struggle, which is not what manners are all about.

I would fully drop all requests and exhortations to use the words, and be scrupulous about using the desired words with her in all your interactions with her, and I would find a different preschool, as the advice you got is sound but the preschool teachers sound like they have a pretty poor grasp of the 3.5yo psyche.
posted by kmennie at 8:27 AM on December 6, 2012 [10 favorites]

Have you talked to her about why she doesn't want to use them?

Do you use them when speaking to her? Or do you just expecting her to use them do you? Instruction by example works wonders.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:27 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Children ask for countless things during the day. The rule is simple: if you don't say please, you don't get what you ask for. If you don't say thank you, you don't get the next thing you ask for. No second chances, no prompting "what do we say?" If the request isn't made properly, the answer is no.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:28 AM on December 6, 2012 [27 favorites]

We just refuse to give her whatever she is asking for until she says please. We ignore all demands without please. When she does say please, we give her the thing and praise her for doing it right the first time (assuming she is allowed to have whatever she has asked for). I'm not sure how you can take something away for not saying please - just don't give her the thing she wants.

With thank you, if she doesn't say thank you, I will often take away whatever the thing is she isn't saying thank you for. If Grandma gives her a cookie and she doesn't say thank you, we take the cookie away. If she melts down, we put her in the other room, and tell her she can come back when she's ready to be polite. Generally she screams for two minutes, then comes in and says "can I please have the cookie back" and when we give it to her she says "thank you."

Also, we are very, very good at modeling this behavior for her. We ourselves are very, very polite.
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:29 AM on December 6, 2012 [9 favorites]

We had that problem. What worked for us is when he asked for anything and didn't say please we would just stare at him. If he didn't say please in a few seconds then we went on as though he hadn't said anything at all. If he said please on his own he was praised. Eventually he learned if he wanted something he had to say please.

As for thank-yous, if we were handing him something we would keep our hand on it and stare at him until he said thank you. If we did something FOR him (ie. not something we could withold or take back) we would prompt him to say it, explaining "People will want to doing things for you if you thank them for it. If you don't thank them they may not want to do something for you next time." And then sometimes we would put that in to action. If he didn't say thank you for something we did, then the next time we would say "I'm sorry, I can't. You didn't say thank you last time and that made me really sad."

Also, we make sure we ALWAYS use please and thank you when asking him to do anything. We need to model the behaviour we want to see in them.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:29 AM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yes, we model it all the time. As for refusing, she will generally just go with that - if she's not allowed a snack, or a dessert, or whatever because she didn't say please, she'll accept that and go without.
posted by monkey closet at 8:33 AM on December 6, 2012

Oh and yes, we've talked to her about it. She told us that she finds it 'hard'.
posted by monkey closet at 8:34 AM on December 6, 2012

Eventually things will come up that she won't be so content to go without, and her motivation for being polite and getting what she wants will increase.

Also, glow sticks. If my step son has a really good day and says lots of pleases and thank yous and was well behaved then he gets to go to bed with a glow stick. Now THAT is a motivator.

ALSO, do you anticipate her desires and get her stuff/do things for her before she needs to ask? I'd scale back the frequency of doing things for her, and make her ask for things to get them. Maybe she doesn't automatically get a fork with her dinner so she has to ask for it. Maybe you don't automatically do her hair in the morning, she has to ask that you do it for her. Maybe you don't automatically turn on her nightlight at bed, she has to ask you to do it. When you go for a car ride maybe she has to ask you to unbuckle her seatbelt.

If it is important to you that she always say please and thank you, I think you need to find some things that you just do without thinking, things that won't end the world or be excessive/cruel to withold, and make her ask for them.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:35 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's never too young to encourage politeness, but 3 and a half is a little young to be punishing a child for this sort of behavior. I would have a talk with the teachers about why they consider requiring please and thank you a developmentally appropriate expectation for children who are potentially (depending on the child) only just recently verbal, and who certainly have yet to fully develop the type of social understanding that allows a person to genuinely understand why please and thank you are good ideas.

It does sound like the school has turned the issue into a battle of wills with a very stubborn kid, which doesn't seem like the best way to deal with it. Maybe they would have more success ignoring her lack of compliance for a while, but strongly praising those kids in the group who do it get right (in my experience there is little more motivating to a preschooler than seeing another kid get positive attention -- or really anything that they would also like to have).
posted by BlueJae at 8:38 AM on December 6, 2012 [9 favorites]

If she's okay with being refused requests for not saying please, then it's pretty clear she's more interested in testing the boundaries than in having the request fulfilled. And I think that's okay. Boundary testing is important.

However, lots of boundary testing tends to happen when boundaries aren't applied consistently, though. It's like she's not certain of the protocol so she needs to keep trying new approaches to see when politeness really matters. Consistency is essential. It may take months.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:38 AM on December 6, 2012 [9 favorites]

My kid (4y 2mo) is in many respects a delightful child, but she was/is exactly the same way. Also doesn't like to say good morning to see people she sees every day like her teachers, our doorman etc.

Ignore it. Model it. Wait it out. She will come around. Her teachers don't sound great. Plenty of kids this age do the same thing.
posted by gaspode at 8:40 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't really agree that continuing to put SO MUCH focus on this issue right now is the most helpful approach. Let it go for a little while, and lead by example, and revisit in a while when it's not something that will not induce a power struggle every single time it happens. The teachers' attitude on this is disconcerting to me.

For me, I'd avoid attempting to condition rigid "politeness" into my daughter because it's just not really that important in the grand scheme of things as a 3-4 year old, and she can learn to say please and thank you later. However, the lifelong prompt to be polite no matter what is, to me, a dangerous/unnecessary more for girls to learn from birth. I would find teaching her "if you want to refuse something, it's your choice," a more valuable way to help her understand this dynamic. Not at all saying that I think you're trying to turn your daughter into a rigidly polite doormat, but maybe the teachers don't need to be creating power struggles where they need not exist.
posted by so_gracefully at 8:41 AM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

3 and a half is a stubborn age for many kids. It might get easier if you back off until a more compliant developmental stage. I would still require it for special requests and non-family members, though I would make as little of an emotional fuss about it as possible. No please? Not getting it. Move on immediately and don't let it drag out.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:41 AM on December 6, 2012

I look at kids who don't say please as if I don't understand the question. I don't get them just to treat it as a feature of politeness, but almost as a feature of grammar.

When they say "please", I "understand" and they get what they asked for.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:43 AM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

I put emphasis on saying thank you, and while I think "please" is a lovely thing to say, I also think it's perfectly acceptable to exhibit politeness in verbal language in other manners. So if she won't say "please," will she say "may I?"

Instead of, "Please give me my bear," will she say, "May I have my bear?" Yeah, sure, the most polite thing ever would be to say, "May I have my bear, please?"

But is the goal to get her to say "please," or is the goal to get her to learn how to be polite? It's possible to be polite without saying "please," and I think at some point you need to adjust your strategy to your real goals.
posted by zizzle at 8:46 AM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yes, we model it all the time. As for refusing, she will generally just go with that - if she's not allowed a snack, or a dessert, or whatever because she didn't say please, she'll accept that and go without.

OK, so what's the problem? Clearly she didn't really want whatever she was asking for anyway.

I look at kids who don't say please as if I don't understand the question. I don't get them just to treat it as a feature of politeness, but almost as a feature of grammar.

This also works in our house. If there's no please, the request isn't even 'heard'.

On the other hand, I only expect 'please' when a question comes out of the blue as opposed to a response to a question I've asked.
It somehow seems easier for the child to remember when formulating her own question, so maybe try that halfway step first?
posted by madajb at 8:46 AM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Since she finds it hard, I would do some role-playing with her to get her good and used to the idea.

Make it a game. Tell her you're going to make the "magic-words" easier for her. Get a stuffed animial and pass it back and forth. Smile, tickle, praise and reward.

Prompt her when she's out. Priase her when she does it. Occasinally, offer a special treat. The best way to reinforce something is to occasionally cough up with a really awesome reward (think, slot machine).

You have no control over what happens at school, but polite children who say please and thank you are a delight.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:47 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

My 2.5 year old has been taught to say please and thank you. We prompted her when she was younger - 1-2 years old - but says please and thank you without much hesitation or prompting now. She knows it's a good thing now, and when she's a bit older I'll start to reinforce it stronger.

I say this because kids this young might not yet fully understand consequence - it's a pretty advanced form of thinking. I don't have much experience with 3+ year olds yet, but I can agree that digging heels in and making it an issue is not the way to go. It's the same with eating - forcing the kid to eat something makes it about power and you lose all ability to teach in the moment. If you can't teach them something in a logical manner, the only other options are patterning or letting it go.
posted by jimmythefish at 9:04 AM on December 6, 2012

Would she say a different word instead of 'please' and 'thank you' as an intermediary step if those words have become tainted by power struggling? Maybe something funny/silly, like saying the words in pig-latin, or using different words that are absurd and therefore get a laugh due to being so out of context ('watermelon' for 'please', 'spaghetti' for 'thank you', something like that). And then try to start using the real words once she's loosened up around the whole process a little bit. I'm wondering if her saying she finds it 'hard' is a way of saying it's become humiliating for her to be forced to give in, and if relieving the pressure on her as a prelude to letting her it by choice might help.

Please note the above suggestion is delivered with several grains of salt as I have no offspring and this is likely a very good thing!! ;)
posted by springbound at 9:19 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree that politeness is about much more than "magic words". I'd much prefer a fairly cheerful "may I have a cookie? yay!" to a sullen don't-mean-it-at-all "give me a cookie. please.... thaaaank you."

Think of other things she can say other than "please" and "thank you", that you would consider sufficiently polite. Include ridiculously formal and old-fashioned options that she may think are silly and fun to say.
Make sure her teachers know that you consider these things acceptable.

"would you kindly ___"
"may I ___"
"may I have the favor of ___"
"could you do me the favor of ___"
"might you consider ___"
"I would very much enjoy ___"
"How kind of you!"
"ta!" (a frequent "thank you" abbreviation)
"I am indebted!"

Also consider other languages:
por favor/gracias
posted by aimedwander at 9:21 AM on December 6, 2012 [13 favorites]

I look at kids who don't say please as if I don't understand the question. I don't get them just to treat it as a feature of politeness, but almost as a feature of grammar.

When they say "please", I "understand" and they get what they asked for.

I just wanted to say that as a kid I always found this sort of thing the apex of adult patronizing behavior (indeed, as an adult I still do.) Little kids aren't stupid - they quite possibly can easily tell that you're pretending to not understand as a means of manipulating them, especially if they encounter other kids at school who do the same sort of thing.

So, you could be teaching the child to be manipulative and deceptive by modeling behavior like this. One of my brothers went through a streak for quite a while when he would lie at the drop of a hat to get what he wanted and I think that behavior was influenced by my parents acting this way.

(On the other hand, because he's very good at bending the truth and deadpan lying, despite being an otherwise upstanding person he's now a successful sales guy - but mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be salesmen.)

P.S. If you end up using alternative words as springbound suggests I vote for "orangutan" and "wildebeest."
posted by XMLicious at 9:23 AM on December 6, 2012 [12 favorites]

It sounds like it's gotten pretty frustrating. I think I'd try to dial down the drama about it (she's already let you know that rather than say 'please', she'll skip dessert, and I assume you've enjoyed the joyful world of time-outs).

So I think I would pull back on the conflict, continue modeling the behavior, remind her each time it's appropriate without making a big deal out of it, and let it work itself out.

She's not going to refuse to say please for the rest of her life. One thing we observed with Little Llama, who's about that age, is a retro-babyish thing that was coming up occasionally, where all of a sudden she couldn't put her own shoes on--that sort of thing. This weird feigned helplessness.

Some of that I took as a need for reassurance she wasn't going to have to grow up all at once just because she's learning new things, and some of it is just a flat-out challenge to see what she can get away with. We keep our absolute rules to unkindness, like she used the phrase 'shut up' recently and that was a huge deal. But these little power struggles, it's not that we don't fight them, we do, we just try not to let it get operatically exciting or make a huge deal out of it.

It has now become a problem at school, though - her teachers insist on it, and have had to withhold various things.

Yeah, see, to me, that is making the whole thing of big dramatic importance and basically drawing a big neon sign to a kid like 'here's a place you can fight a battle! Enjoy!'
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:34 AM on December 6, 2012

My parents had a children's card game called Happy Families which we all played together. "The player whose turn it is asks another player for a specific card from the same family as a card that the player already has" ... and if the asker didn't use the magic words they forfeited a card. It worked wonderfully well in making my sister and I consistent with courtesy words.
posted by anadem at 9:34 AM on December 6, 2012

It's a fair criticism, XMLicious, but kids are "patronised" in the sense of having a "patron" upon whom they are dependent, be it teacher, parent, caregiver etc. They all go through a stage of having to understand that they can't have what they want (at the time or at all), and having to work out/be told why that is. Hence the tantrum phase as kids both learn they are not, in fact, at the centre of all universes and also that they don't understand the rules of the game.

Manipulation and deception are at the far end of the scale of how to react to those requests to modify behaviour and, IMHO, are learnt from more than just "if you do this you get this." A key part of child development is working out quite complex, abstract concepts like the relationship between truth, lying, white lies and not saying exactly what is on your mind. Marrying up the contexts for those behaviours, understanding how they are received and the penalties vs rewards for manipulation of them is a much broader concept.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:43 AM on December 6, 2012

A friend of mine freezes until her son says please.
posted by brujita at 10:12 AM on December 6, 2012

At 3 1/2, we were still doing the "what do you say" thing pretty frequently. Now he's 10 and says "please" and "thank you" reflexively, just the same as we do. I'm not sure when it became ingrained - maybe somewhere around 6? We never withheld anything or encouraged with anything besides gentle reminders. I wouldn't sweat this at her age - certainly not to the point of punishment.
posted by Daily Alice at 10:21 AM on December 6, 2012

Which of the answers here you accept depends on your parenting style and your daughter's personality. Some people are telling you to be a strict disciplinarian. If that's not your way or doesn't work with your daughter, then go with what BlueJae and gaspode suggest: remind, model, even tease in a playful way (a la "you forgot to say something!") so she thinks please and thank you are fun things rather than dreaded things, look for books about manners such as The Berenstain Bears Forgot Their Manners, and be patient - she'll come around when she's emotionally and cognitively ready to. Each kid is different, develops at her own pace. As for the school, definitely sounds to me that it's not a Montessori. Maybe time to make a switch.
posted by Dansaman at 10:28 AM on December 6, 2012

Do you model this all the time, with each other? With the dog? (Seriously, I am unfailing polite to the dog. I often wonder if other people say "Excuse me, Dogname, please move. Thank you.")

If so, I would revert to "I'm sorry; I can't understand you if you don't say please."

Also please don't kill me and I hate to visit Hell upon your house, but: Barney. (This is probably more liveable.)
posted by DarlingBri at 10:31 AM on December 6, 2012

Is this your only child so far?

I ask because it's the sort of question (and you're getting the sort of answers) that assume there's a Right Way to do this, and therefore that your kid will respond to it. It's just not that simple.

Your girl doesn't grok "please." She is too little to understand the usefulness of saying "please," it doesn't make sense to her, and she's stubborn enough that rather than follow this arbitrary rule, she'll go without. Her foolish teachers are escalating this into a full on power struggle. Yes, you can and should model; and if it feels better, remind her. But is this really worth breaking her little spirit over? In six months she will be a totally different person anyway.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:39 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

What really made things click for my son was when I explained why we say please and thank you. Not a big lecture on manners or anything just a "it makes other people feel nice when you say please and thank you, like when you see someone smiling" and then modeling the behavior to the point where I felt I was a parody (which had the benefit of making me a happier person).

Seriously though, if this, "She is generally polite, well-behaved, considerate and we're very proud of her," is true, and she's o.k. with not getting stuff at school, then just back off. Three and a half isn't five, at that age kids are starting to figure out that a)they're a person, b) so are other people, c) their actions have an effect on other people AND they're trying to figure out what to do about those facts.
posted by Gygesringtone at 10:51 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I was a child I didn't strongly understand the social function of language, and a phrase like "Could I have a banana." and "Could I have a banana, please." seemed equivalent. It felt like I was the first person in the world to have discovered this redundancy in language, and really felt like I was doing everyone a favour by reducing the amount of words that were needed by using the shorter form.

Later on, I came to understand (largely through the sort of careful explanation advocated in some of the answers above) that there was this social function to language in addition to its functional purpose. But I never really understood (and still don't, really) why the specific words were so important: why, to some people, "It would be every so kind of you if you could pass me a banana" is impolite because it misses out the word "please", whereas the "magic" phrase "Could you pass me a banana, please" is considered polite.

To summarise: I think that the problem might well be a misunderstanding of the role that those words play rather than a wilful attempt to be proactively impolite.
posted by Jabberwocky at 11:23 AM on December 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

Google it and pick out a few children's books about manners and read them together. Something with a simple explanation of why we use them and why they're important.

And maybe you could add an element of fun to it for her - teach her the words for please and thank you in other languages, and then she can choose any of them, and they're just as acceptable?
posted by lemniskate at 11:40 AM on December 6, 2012

I don't have kids, but I remember being forced to say "please" and "thank you" as a child. I remember that I hated it because none of the adults had to say please -- they used please and thank you more casually (to emphasize a request or to make an explicit statement of gratitude). I remember feeling more grown-up when I didn't say those things.

So maybe just let her act like the grownups around her? I'm not sure why enforcing that kind of politeness is necessary, anyway. (Maybe some parents can enlighten me?)
posted by 3491again at 12:06 PM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's a fair criticism, XMLicious, but kids are "patronised" in the sense of having a "patron" upon whom they are dependent, be it teacher, parent, caregiver etc.

Someone who works for another for a wage also has a patron but that doesn't make the employer any less of a jerk if he or she behaves in a patronizing manner. Pretending to not understand the person talking to you, even a little kid, if they aren't being sufficiently courteous or you don't like what they're saying—rather than simply using your words and communicating your displeasure or even correcting them in the way that other people in this thread have suggested—is in itself pretty childish.

So if the whole point of the exercise is to teach the kid how to behave properly and respectfully towards others then not only is doing that manipulative, it's also hypocritical; it conveys to the kid that when you've got the power to make the rules you don't have to follow them yourself.

I guess I just don't agree with you about how abstract and contextual it is. I think it's well within the powers of some 3½-year-olds, much less older kids, to put together the fact that you want them to say the magic words (whether they understand why you want that or not) with the cues showing you actually understand them but are simply pretending not to, and realize that you're intentionally giving them a false impression in order to get what you wanted.

If you're doing it in a playful manner and the rest of the time you're always fair and equitable it's probably harmless, but if you frequently display other examples of dispensing with politeness when it suits you or use other little affected tricks like that all the time I don't think too many kids would have any difficulty extrapolating into the pattern that they can treat other people the same way and all that matters is whether they get away with it or not.
posted by XMLicious at 12:08 PM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh and yes, we've talked to her about it. She told us that she finds it 'hard'.

This seems telling to me. At around this age, my daughter found "hard" things that required her to admit either her own failure or bad action (even indirectly) -- this may be hitting a sort of developmental "pride," and all the battles and structures are just making it more and more a matter of will and resistance.

I'd go with (1) either a new preschool or a new understanding with the current one and (2) dropping the matter entirely for a few months (which is, after all, forever developmentally at this age) and then trying something more gentle or just trusting time and example to win out. If she's generally well behaved, then she'll model these behaviors on her own.

Good luck, esp. with (1)!!
posted by acm at 12:09 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites] some people, "It would be every so kind of you if you could pass me a banana" is impolite because it misses out the word "please", whereas the "magic" phrase "Could you pass me a banana, please" is considered polite.

Actually, they are equivalent in their degrees of politeness, as is "I would be grateful if you would pass me a banana.". The "magic" phrase, however, is a lot easier to say.
posted by Dolley at 12:24 PM on December 6, 2012

I doubt she's stubbornly refusing to do anything - more likely, she doesn't understand yet how 'please' and 'thank you' work socially and, at a more basic level, she may be confused about the specific words themselves and which one to use and when. That the teachers haven't considered this is kind of...weird.

Try modelling/role-playing only one at a time - don't use the two phrases in the same 'session'.
posted by heyjude at 1:27 PM on December 6, 2012

I think there are some kids who just won't say "please," no matter what you do. One of mine will, one of mine wouldn't until recently, and that's with pretty much the same parenting approach for both of them. One kid will say "please" if I do the "Huh? You forgot a word..." thing, while the other won't; at best he'll say "peas."

The teachers shouldn't make such a fuss about it. So long as she isn't demanding things -- it's possible to ask politely without saying "please" -- just back off, keep on modeling good behavior (like DarlingBri, I am very polite to my cats, the car, appliances....), and maybe she'll start up when people aren't making it into such a big deal.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:02 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Like PuppetMcSockerson, I simply go deaf around impolite children. A blank stare is pretty good. An explanation helps: "I'm sorry, I'm having trouble hearing you. Could you ask again, but say please?" I also struggle to hear children who are loud, or not wearing clothes, or the like.

Lately my four-year-old has lapsed into this again. I told him at some point that he sounded like a very rude cave-man, and started to mock him. He'll say, "Momma! Bring my sandwich!" and I'll roar, "WIFE! THOG WANT SANDWICH!" Usually he laughs and asks politely. I'm not completely sure what I'm modelling there, but it seems to be working and it's a lot more fun than a Stern Lecture.

n.b. my son is not actually named Thog.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 2:47 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I find it very hard because I hate the concept of 'magic words' because then you end up with a toddler who actually thinks 'please' means she gets everything she asks for. So every time I visit certain relatives (who practice both 'magic words' and 'spoil the child') I am stuck with an obnoxious child for a few days who might say 'please' but is demanding and ungrateful.

So in our house we model how we want her to speak and ask for things, we ask her to ask us 'nicely' for things, and to practice nice ways of talking in general. Sometimes we just raise an eyebrow at her, sometimes we explicitly correct her, sometimes we remind her; it depends on the context. Nothing shits me more than the douche who thinks barking an order with 'please' tacked on is polite, but gracefully requesting something isn't, because it's missing the word please. Or, even more annoyingly, please is at the start and because people rarely listen to children properly, they missed that bit, and are asking for a level of obsequiousness that I am uncomfortable teaching my daughter at this age. Particularly if she has made a statement (sitting down to do some painting "I need a paintbrush.") and isn't expecting anything other than maybe a pointer or some conversation ("you do need a paintbrush, I can see one over there") but no, it becomes this obnoxious "SAY PLEASE" fight that is ultimately defeating both the purpose and ignores what/how she is trying to communicate.

Note: I often don't say please because it does have that .. emphasize a request or to make an explicit statement of gratitude... feeling. I would much rather ask straightforwardly ("Would you be able to look after Bunbun on Monday?") and then show my gratitude ("Thank you so much! Have some cake!") because 'please' has almost lost it's politeness to me and has become a verbal tic at best, or a passive-aggressive command at worst. My in-laws are terribly focussed on it though so I've had to modulate my language around them, but it still shits me as this social posturing without substance.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:14 PM on December 6, 2012 [10 favorites]

Please lead by example. Go nuts, please. THANK YOU!
posted by ZipRibbons at 3:35 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

You know, please and thank you are the Key to the Nile.

Backyardigans episode with A Message, but it's still really sweet and it might be something you can put on and innocently play. Backyardigans are by far the least offensive kids' show and generally, they don't dabble in Messages, but they do here.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:35 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I raised my kids I never trained them to say please and thank you. I simply always used those words with them, and as they got a little older they used them automatically. Unfortunately those teachers seem to have turned this into a power struggle, and all of you need to figure out how to dial it down for a bit. I'd aim for matter-of-fact rather than magic-word.

Since you probably already know kid's developmentally change every six months or so, I think the world won't end if you wait this out a little while then try again, gently.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:13 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I feel like, I don't know, I'm not a parent, but this "magic words" thing is misguided. Maybe things are different where you live, but in my experience in various regions of the United States, adults don't say "please." They do say "thanks." But the thing is, as 3491again noted, you can politely ask for something without saying please. And you can impolitely demand something while saying please. I don't know why we teach children to say something (and as if it is mandatory, natch) when it is something that adults don't say and which is not essential to politeness or manners.

If I were a kid, and I realized adults didn't say something I was being instructed to say and that it didn't have the magical significance it was purported to have, I would push back. I think eventually she will get over pushing back, but I think it could help if you make it conditional and not obligatory -- like, "it's fine if you don't use these words at home as long as you're polite/not a brat, but I'd appreciate it if you could use them with your teachers because that is something they want which makes them feel better and will make your life easier at school."
posted by J. Wilson at 6:39 PM on December 6, 2012

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