Our Obsession With ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’


IMG_0391You hear it wherever you go with small children: playgrounds, supermarkets, nurseries, playgroups – you name it. And it always follows the same structure. A child wants something – a certain food, a toy or even just the permission to go on a swing. You can actually often see and feel the vibrant excitement in that child awaiting the parent’s/adult’s response or approval. And then, the child is just bursting for impatience, the parent bends down, raises an eyebrow and shoots that one arrow straight into a child’s heart: ‘What DO YOU say?’ or even sometimes in decrypted adult language and with a cunning smile: ‘What’s the MAGIC word?’ Watch that child again. The excitement has gone. The bubble of curiosity has burst. One question can destroy so much.

Instead of looking forward to a nice food/drink, a toy or an activity, the child is caught in a guilt trap. Observe that child again. You see them thinking hard. One, two, three…. Damn, what is it Mum wants? What is the magic word again? Sometimes the child is near a crying breakdown or just emotionally blocked to say anything. Some adults then say ‘SAY Thank you’ or ‘SAY Please’ as a ‘reminder’.

Forget it. The adult knows the answer already, but he/she won’t give in until he/she gets her f***ing ‘PLEASE’ or ‘THANK YOU’. And you know what, they call it ‘teaching manners’ or ‘being polite’. I call it bribery, blackmailing, emotional manipulation or short: rubbish.

We don’t teach children anything by enforcing so-called manners or made-up rules by society. Yes, I want my children to be kind and polite people and I tell you what, they’re lovely, kind and caring boys. That’s without any pressure or blackmailing.

The secret (not sure if it is a secret, actually) lies in the way we role model. Children (especially the younger ones) WANT to copy us. The way we live, talk, respond is our children’s ‘classroom’. They watch us and will integrate our words and habits into their daily play and interactions. So, you want polite and well-mannered kids? Well, set the example yourself. Be friendly, don’t shout, be polite, say ‘Please’, say ‘Thank you’, don’t f***ing swear (never!). Easy, isn’t it?!


Recently I talked to a very experienced speech- and language therapist. She and various brain development researches confirm, that kids at the age of two or three (but I have actually seen parents who tried to train even their 18-months-old toddler) are not ready at all to understand or to follow our codex of manners. What they really want in that moment is that apple, toy or attention. ‘Teaching’ them by enforcing ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ can have an damaging impact onto their self- esteem and confidence (and speech development).

Children won’t learn gratitude and respect that way either. A ‘Please’ or ‘Thank you’ should come from their and our hearts, not in order to get praised or to please anyone. That’s why it is so important for parents and other key adults to be positive, friendly and polite. Let’s create that warm, nurturing environment and atmosphere for our kids. No bribery, no punishments, but unconditional love.

So, my wife and I never asked or forced our kids to say ‘Please’ or ‘Thank you’. But, in our home we are friendly and polite to each other. When we have dinner and I ask my wife or my kids for the butter, then I use ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’. Again, I role model. Maybe not all the time, but most. Guess what, it works! My eldest, now six, says very often the not so magic words. Because he’s seen it many, many times and has now understood, that it’s actually quite nice to be nice to each other. Awesome, isn’t it?! Sometimes, he forgets, but I’m not worried (and certainly won’t remind him), I trust that he does what feels right to him in our family (and outside) culture.







Author: Torsten Klaus

I'm here to talk about modern fatherhood and about the way dads of the 21st century could live a happy, content and relaxed life. What actually is modern fatherhood? Fathers who can show empathy, who can listen and reflect, fathers who love unconditionally. I'm the author of the amazon bestseller 'The Empathic Father' and I believe in equal parenting.

10 thoughts on “Our Obsession With ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’

  1. Interesting perspective. My wife and I are polite, and thus, living examples for our children. But we “enforced” saying please and thank you, early on and it has stuck.

    • My wife and I do the same: we try to be kind, polite and helpful. We just didn’t see the point in ‘teaching’ a concept, our children couldn’t understand (at a certain age). It would have felt like ‘training a dog’. Eventually the dog will sit down, when hearing certain commands in certain situations. Please, don’t get me wrong. Not saying, you have trained your kids by enforcing them to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. I believe it’s just a different parenting style or approach. Thanks for sharing, Mike! Best wishes!

  2. Modeling behavior for our kids is a huge part of how they act, not just in manners, but in mannerisms, beliefs, etc. It’s amazing how much of our actions as parents show up in our children.

    • Absolutely! That’s what I see as my ‘daily challenge’. Especially in the heat of a moment; to pause, reflect and then to speak, so that I won’t need to regret what I’ve said.

  3. As a kindergarten teacher, I can tell you that whatever method you may prefer, the teaching of manners and respect by most parents has gone by the wayside! You would be amazed at the behavior, disrespect and entitlement shown by 5 year olds!

    • Thank you for sharing this. Yes, I believe that’s an issue. When the parents don’t role model and the general attitude at home is rather hostile, children will pick up on that and copy their parents behaviour. It’s a problem across society. Also, children can get very frustrated when they’re asked/forced permanently to say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’. They won’t learn gratitude and respect that way either. A ‘Please’ or ‘Thank you’ should come from their and our hearts, not in order to get praised or to please anyone. That’s why it is so important for parents and other key adults to be positive, friendly and polite. Let’s create that warm, nurturing environment and atmosphere for our kids. No bribery, no punishments, but unconditional love.

  4. We role model, of course, however we also teach them that they do have to use “please, Thank you, excuse me and I am sorry”. Yes, I agree that children follow by example but we also believe in reminding them of the manners expected. I promise you, they aren’t lacking self esteem either.

    • What’s the effect of manners, when the children are too young to understand the concept? What to you teach, when the children only obey your wishes, but the ‘Please’ or ‘Thank you’ is not honest and just a way to get along? What do we want: honest children who use those words when they really mean them or just bribed kids, who function as we please?
      Yes, it does affect their self esteem; confirmed by research.

      • Hi! I was wondering if you have links for the research you’re referencing. I’d be interested to read it! Thanks!

      • Hi Stephanie, I’d refer to the work of Alfie Kohn (you find lots of interesting facts and research findings (regarding punishments, bribery, praise etc.) on his website http://www.alfiekohn.org + I can warmly recommend his bestseller book ‘Unconditional Parenting’) – and, the work and research done by the German brain researcher Gerald Huether (who has published lots of things but I couldn’t find stuff in English; try to Google him). Best wishes!

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