- Family and Parenting
Please is NOT the Magic Word
"But, I said 'please.'"
A typical parent response to this child's reminder is a frustrated look, a turn of the back or a "but, I said 'no.'" Truthfully, it is hard to blame the child. A child makes a request, sometimes valid, sometimes ludicrous and sometimes, as only children can do, just-smile-and-shake-your-head comically ridiculous. Of course, as parents, sometimes we approve, sometimes we refuse and sometimes we can do nothing but laugh.
Any parent who says "no" to a child, though, has at some point heard the response, "But, I said, 'please.'" We often interpret this as belligerent or obstinate. Nonetheless, the child is likely being neither. In fact, she or he is probably just confused! Children are taught that "please" is the "magic word."
Can I have a cookie? You didn't say "please."
Can we play for ten minutes longer? What's the magic word?
From a young age, children build the logical association with "please" and magic, i.e., acceptance. Thus, the child reminding the parent of the use of the word "please" is born of a confusion that parents have instilled. We adults know that "please" is NOT the magic word: just because you say "please" does not mean that you will get a raise at work or peace-and-quiet for a few minutes at home. For children, however, this is a confusing and unclear point.
What "please" is is really quite simple: the polite word. The reason that we insist that children use "please" is to inculcate that a child's request is a request and not a command. While "please" is necessary for politeness, it is not a magic word that guarantees acquiescence. Just because a child uses "please" does not mean that he or she gets what he or she wants.
So, please, let's dissociate "please" with "magic word." The magic that it performs is undeniable -- creating a culture of respect and dignity. That -- not getting what the child wants -- is the true reward. The more that we instill in children that "please" is the polite word and not the magic word, the more magical that word will become.