A lot of these blog posts begin with a personal event that happens. Then I stew over how I reacted and how other people interacted with us during that event for a few weeks. Then I finally write it all down to share with you.
So, a couple of months ago, I had an appointment with a new OB-GYN (*not pregnant*). He came in and greeted me and Nora. Nora was being very shy, because she’s never met this man in her life and he was acting very familiar with her. Instead of just letting her be shy and moving on to check me out, it suddenly became his personal mission to get her to talk to him. So he blew up a rubber glove, tied the ends together so it was like a balloon, and drew a face on it. He got a smile from Nora. Then he offered the balloon to her. As Nora reached out to take it, he held it back and said, “What do you say?” Nora just stared at him. She had been too shy to say “hi” to him in the first place, didn’t really want to interact with him at all, but it had seemed like he was offering something to her. He said, “You have to say, ‘thank you’.” Nora looked at me with a confused expression on her face and whispered, “Thank you?” The doctor handed the balloon to her and turned to me: “I don’t let my own kids have anything unless they say thank you first. If they won’t say it, I put it on the mantle over the fireplace until they do.”
So, let’s talk about why I don’t force my kids to say “please” and “thank you.” [They do *voluntarily* say “please,” and “thank you,” very often. But you will never hear me say, “You have to say ‘please,’ or “you can’t have it unless you say ‘thank you.'”]
Number 1: When has forcing someone to do something ever resulted in them learning/wanting to do it on their own when you’re not around to give them a reward for it? I’m raising good people. Good people will say “thank you” because they are genuinely thankful, and it will show. If you force your child to say “thank you,” she’s not really expressing thanks. She’s just getting you off her back.
Number 2: What the heck kind of gift are you giving if you won’t give it unless a 3-year-old says “thank you” first???!!! I definitely don’t want my kids to learn that you should be generous because then people will thank you. No. You should be generous because it feels good to give things to others, whether they thank you or not.
If you shouldn’t force your child to say “please” and “thank you,” how do they ever learn to say it? It all begins with you.
Number 1: Role model. Your children hang onto your every word — whether it seems like they’re listening or not. Especially in the years of the absorbent mind (0-6), they are taking in every small utterance that comes out of your lips. When you are asking for someone to give you something, say, “Please,” very clearly. When you are asking your child to give you something, say, “Please.” When someone gives you something or does something that you appreciate, say, “Thank you.” When your child gives you something or does something that you appreciate, say, “Thank you.”
Number 2: Role play. This could mean practicing exact scenarios before they happen, or just talking about them on the way to an event. For example, before sending your child trick or treating, practice! Have your child pretend to answer the door while you pretend to ring the doorbell. When they answer, say “Trick or treat!” When they pretend to give you candy, say, “Thank you!” and walk away. Then reverse the practice. Or, when you’re driving on the way to some event or gathering where you know your child is about to be given something, talk about that: “Grandma said she had a surprise for you! That is so nice of her to think of you and find something that she would like to give you.” When you get there and your child receives the surprise but forgets to say thank you, step in and say it yourself. “Thank you!” Often, that will be just the reminder that your child needs, and she will then jump in to say it herself. Sometimes, she might not. But she heard it. She recognized its place in that social situation. And maybe next time, she’ll do it herself.
So back to my story about the doctor. When he was insisting that Nora say “thank you” before giving her the unsolicited rubber glove, and then lecturing me on good parenting skills, I didn’t protest. Honestly, this wasn’t just a regular doctor — he was an OB-GYN, about to stick some things in some places, and I didn’t want to piss him off right before he did that. This was one tiny scenario where Nora was forced to say “thank you,” and that one time won’t ruin her for life. However, when my appointment was over, that doctor suggested that I make this my regular OB-GYN for annual check-ups — and that definitely won’t be happening.