As both a mother and certified life coach, I am all about encouraging children through self-discovery and teaching them ways to honor each other’s differences. I often tell my husband that one of my biggest goals as a parent is for my children to grow up knowing who they are rather than be forced to fit inside a box I created and then go off into the world lost and unsure of their place.
Recently, I have read a couple of popular articles against forcing kids to say things like, “Please,” “Thank you,” or “I’m sorry!” The arguments are that kids should never be forced into saying something they don’t believe and that we are training our kids to “obey” more than we are teaching them to be comfortable with themselves. You would think I would wholeheartedly agree with this mindset because it’s honoring the child, right?
Although I understand the good intentions and purpose behind not letting society impose control over children, here are four reasons I believe teaching and expecting our kids to use phrases of gratitude and forgiveness are still of great importance:
1. We are preventing a sense of entitlement.
Kids who are never taught to respond with the words “thank you” or express their needs and wants with a polite “please” will most likely begin to feel entitled. Stopping to acknowledge another person’s feelings with common courtesy and gratitude teaches children to consider someone other than themselves. Sure, they may want a piece of candy, but it doesn’t belong to them. Graciously asking and accepting rather than just taking helps to lessen the natural entitlement children feel. That small pause and the intentional reflection after a parent requests a child “use their manners” could be what it takes to lessen any sense of entitlement that may be developing. It’s not just about “doing as you’re told.”
2. We are developing mutual respect.
Respect isn’t always natural — it is taught. We are naturally selfish people, and if we are not taught to take a step back and treat others with respect rather than a demanding attitude, we are more likely to plow over those around us with pride and greed.
When I first began teaching my son that it’s polite to say “thank you” after I give him things or respond to his requests, at 2 years old he naturally applied this phrase to anyone who attended to his wants and needs. He made the connection from several forced thank-yous that everyone who provided a service (whether through an invite to their home or an offer of a snack) deserved to be acknowledged. Maybe this realization would have occurred to him later in life, or maybe it wouldn’t have, but to teach respect at an early age was worth the times I had to ask or even tell him to say “thank you.” Sure, he’s not perfect, but it’s a start and hopefully a gateway toward giving more respect in the future.
3. We are developing empathy.
When my one of my children hurts another child (whether through words or actions), it’s important for them to apologize — not only to show respect but to develop empathy. Saying they are sorry, even if they don’t feel it at the moment, causes them to reflect on the “why.” A “sorry” is needed for a reason. They will eventually think about what wasn’t right about the situation and what role they played in the scenario. They’ll begin to consider how the other child may have felt.
Empathy is an important characteristic that can easily be overlooked if it’s not modeled or encouraged.
4. What if we’re wrong?
I have to admit; Not enforcing a “please,” “thank you,” or “I’m sorry,” would be a heck of a lot easier. And the idea of doing away with these phrases and having magically happy, truly gracious, and more empathetic children, as a result, sounds totally appealing. But what if we’re wrong about it? What if we raise a generation who only cares about themselves and never truly feels what it’s like to be grateful or offer forgiveness?
But if the purpose behind these phrases is for your children to obey, you may need to rethink your motivation. If it’s to teach them the four things above, I would say your intentions are in the right place.
I get a lot of things wrong as a mom. But this is one I strive to do right. And so far, I see more benefits to keeping “polite” phrases around than throwing them out the window.