Say Please!

How do you get your children’s respect?  How do you know that they respect you?  Is it that they obey?  That’s a big part of it when they are young. 

 When parents of young children come to me for Parent Coaching, they often ask for help with compliance.  Their children don’t “listen.”  I think that most parents have this problem at one time or another.  I know that I did.  Parents find themselves telling a child over and over to do the same thing.  Often they report, “He doesn’t do it until I yell.  I don’t want to yell all the time, but that’s the only way he’ll listen.” 

I begin by talking to parents about how they tell children what to do.  We talk about the importance of getting your child’s attention, perhaps with a light touch on the shoulder.  I also advise parents to tell a child very clearly what do to. “Pick up your room” is not specific enough for many young children.  They need to hear, “Put the toys in the bin and put your clothes in the drawer.”  In fact, some need to be told only one thing at a time, but that’s for another week.

This all goes fairly well, but some parents, especially Dads, are surprised when I advise them to say “please” and to use a firm but kind tone of voice.  I am sure that these people are telling me how they were raised.  Somehow it hurts their own sense of authority to say “please” to a child.  I hear that children should just do it.  Why do we need to be so polite to kids?

One reason is that you want them to treat you politely.  Children learn best from the behavior we demonstrate.  This produces a wince from many of us.  All parents have their moments. 

Another reason is that harsh commands tend to make people (even young children) angry.  Never mind that you are the parent and you are in charge, if you rely on requests like “Get in here and pick up this room,” your children are quite capable of demonstrating that “you aren’t the boss of me.”  We’ve all been there.

The third reason is that it works.  Be clear. Ask for a specific behavior. Be calm and take the edge out of your voice.  And yes, say please.  See how it works.  And let me know.


6 Responses to “Say Please!”
  1. Carolyn,

    I think that none of us are ever hurt by remembering that politeness is an excellent social lubricant. 🙂 And I know that the specific “small step” requests make a huge difference at our house. It helps me to remind myself that the more specific I am, the less room there is for communication difficulties.


  2. Hi! Love this refreshing article with good, sound evidence-based information about parenting….I am so tired of reading posts from ppl who are not at all qualified to discuss parenting options….and YOU are balanced & qualified!

  3. dr.cstone says:

    Thanks for the compliment!

  4. dr.cstone says:

    Thanks Ann. I like that idea of social lubricant. I sometimes tell parents that saying please and thank you is like keeping oil in the car. We’re on the same track.

  5. Allison Andrews says:

    nice post and so true. no one wants commands barked at them. and timing is important also… i try not to make a lot of demands when my kids are tired or stressed… why set them (and me) up for failure?

  6. dr.cstone says:

    Yes, it’s helpful to have some compassion that way. I don’t appreciate a lot of requests when I’m stressed or tired!