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Please is NOT the Magic Word

Updated on July 10, 2012

"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.

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    • FF Commish profile image
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      FF Commish 4 years ago from Milwaukee, WI

      Fantastic!!! Clearly, she gets what "please" really means. Well done! Of course, she then out-smarted her parents. Well done!

    • My2GreenBeans profile image

      My2GreenBeans 4 years ago from Tennessee

      Well, she is extremely bright. Sometimes I will say things like “Would like to come help me in the kitchen?” and she’ll reply “Not really asking me, are you?” with a half-smile. I’ll give a wink and say, “Indeed, I am not. Come help!” From that she has derived that to be polite, one says “please” but nothing is wrong with making your parents jump through hoops when you have the upper hand. Therefore, “lotion” has evolved. As long as she helps, I’ll say whatever silly word she wants me to say! ;)

    • FF Commish profile image
      Author

      FF Commish 4 years ago from Milwaukee, WI

      Thanks, My2GreenBeans! That is a great story -- I'm glad that you shared it!

      You also raise another important point, though, that there might some cases where "please" and "magic word" are just necessary. My Hub was intended as a general statement, not as an absolute one.

    • My2GreenBeans profile image

      My2GreenBeans 4 years ago from Tennessee

      We have a special-needs toddler that is constantly wreaking havoc throughout the house and we have an older daughter who is nine. Very frequently while we are trying to stem the flow of chaos or just need an extra pair of hands or distraction, we will ask her to help us. She will say, “What’s the magic word?” and we started by saying “please” only to find out the magic word was “lotion”. She is so silly! I know this isn’t exactly relevant to the topic at hand, but I thought it was worth sharing. Sometimes, the magic word is “lotion” – at least in our house.

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