Please Is Not 'The Magic Word' — And Our Kids Need To Know That

by Amy B. Chesler
Originally Published: 
A young boy, with his hands clasped together, saying 'please' to his parents.
Jena Ardell/Getty

I have a bone to pick with the childcare and child-rearing worlds. And it may not seem too important, but I think it’s both basic and essential.

FFS, please stop saying that “please” is the “magic word.”

Look, I love magic.

I’m house Ravenclaw, I could be a fourth Sanderson sister (I really do look like all three of them combined), and I own a lot of crystals and plants and tarot card decks. I also once won a car on “Let’s Make a Deal.” So, I believe in magic. Or at least, in this sort of bleak world, I still love the idea of it.

But the word “please” is not magic by any means. Let me explain:

I was a child of the ’80s and a teen by the time the late ’90s hit. In other words, Mr. Rogers’ endless button-downs and varied guests are ingrained in my brain. His tenets of kindness and courtesy are quite literally a piece of my existence, too. As is the notion that “please” is “the magic word.”

But you know what? I call B.S.

Well, not on Mr. Rogers or his button-downs or his guests or his mission to spread cheer and kindness. I call total B.S. on the prompt, “What’s the magic word?”

To start, we all know words matter. Sticks and stones can break our bones, but words stay with us much longer than a body cast or a hairline fracture can. They have the uncanny ability to lodge in to our brain and settle there with fixed tenacity and often very little effort.

So, when I hear the age-old, puke-worthy term “magic word,” I can’t help but interject a few choice ones of my own.

“Please isn’t a magic word, it’s necessary.”

That’s what I taught my children (albeit an abridged version) the moment my daughter brought it up to me one afternoon. A teacher had made the statement in her preschool class and it struck her deep enough to bring it home to me.

“What does she mean, Mommy? I t’ought I have to say it when I want sumping?”

“She’s saying it because she was taught it as a kid, and her parents probably had it taught to them, too. But she’s not right, is she?”

“Nope, because sometimes when I say ‘Can I have ice cream for b’eakfast p’eeeeease?’ real nicely, you still don’t let me.”

“Exactly,” I retorted.

Raising my kiddos, I am — and have always been — very careful to request, “Can you please ask nicely?” or “Please don’t forget your manners.”

The alternative prompt in question just seems like a big, fat lie to me.

It’s not a hard concept. If someone is simply polite, it by no means translates to the fact that they will magically receive anything they want in the world. On the contrary, a work ethic as fixed as our occasional negative self-talk is gonna get us what and where we want in life.

So, in that vein, having our kiddos believe that as long as they plop down that juicy little, “Please” before or after their request is absolutely detrimental. Because nothing in life is that simple, and they don’t need to believe it is in order to experience joy, gratitude, or satiation. Plus, boiling all of their interactions down to the use of one word may cause much of their existence transactional in nature: they’ll be kind to get things, and only be kind when they get them.

In reality, kids need to learn that life is equal parts risk, reward, and responsibility. They also need to know that courtesy and grace do not transform the impossible in to possible, but they are necessary in almost every life experience.

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