I’ve never forced my kiddos to say “please,” “thank you” or “I’m sorry.” (Okay, I’m sure the directives have slipped out a few times, but it’s not a regular practice.)
Sometimes this leads to an awkward silence. When, for instance, my kids are given something, the generous adult in the scenario may wait for what they see as the proper response. If this doesn’t happen, the adult then shifts their attention to me, as if expecting I will cue my child with “What do you say…?” Most often, I don’t.
Why not? Because I want my kids to say these things on their own, when and if they genuinely feel moved to.
This is not to say my kids haven’t been exposed to polite communication. They hear their dad and me as well as friends and relatives say these things all of the time. The difference is that, as a parent, I’ve modeled what I desire for them without creating the expectation of a rote response.
So, what happens when you support a child to respond from the heart?
I recall an occurrence from when my daughter Tessa was a little one. She had requested a snack from my mom, who brought over a bowl of fruit. Before placing it in front of Tessa, my Mom said “Now, what’s the magic word…?”
“It starts with a ‘p’ sound,” my Mom prompted.
At that, Tessa beamed and shouted, “PRESTO”!
I smiled to myself as my mom gently reminded her to say “Please.”
The long term result of this method is twofold: First, both of my children are polite, appreciative and willing to apologize when they’ve made a mistake. And, when they speak these pleasantries, I feel comfortable knowing they represent their genuine feelings, rather than being simply something they should say.