“How can I make my child say please and thank you?”

This is one of the most common questions I get from parents.

Honestly, the answer is: we can’t force manners upon our children. If we force them to say these words, they will not understand what they actually mean, and when they do say them, it will be out of habit rather than gratitude. 

If you still think that you need to teach your child manners or else they will never learn to use them, think about this question: 

What is your value underneath wanting to raise kids who use manners?

We want to raise respectful kids. The best way to raise respectful kids who are truly compassionate and truly want to respect others – is through modelling this in the way we treat them. Treating kids with respect will help you raise respectful kids. 

There’s nothing wrong with encouraging manners, but you may find this approach of modelling respect more helpful in the long term. 

3 ways to raise respectful kids

Modelling manners

Our children are constantly watching and listening to us. If we treat everyone around us with respect, including our children, they will learn to do this as well. If we intentionally use the words “please” and “thank you” in conversations, our children will begin to use these words too. 

As much as we feel like we need to directly teach our kids things like saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ think about when your child is first learning to talk. We don’t teach them specifically what every single word means, they watch and listen to us as we speak, and they learn what different words mean on their own and how to say them. So why would we think of these words any differently? As long as we use these words in our everyday language, then our children will learn what they mean and how to say them through our modelling. Let’s look at some examples of ways that you can, and probably already are, modelling these words into your everyday life. 

“Hey Jill, could you please pass me the pillow?”

“I really love this card you made for my birthday, thank you!”

Modelling doesn’t have to be a big scary thing that we need to work really hard on. Treating kids with respect will help you raise respectful kids. 

“It was really nice of Grandma to drop off Mac and Cheese for dinner. I am going to write her a thank you card to let her know how much we loved it”. 

I love this example because it can help children connect the word “thank you” and what it really means – we are writing a thank you card because we loved the Mac and Cheese that Grandma brought for us.

Narrate the process

Okay, so you have done all of this modelling, and you feel like your child just isn’t getting it, and they still don’t understand what please and thank you mean, and they aren’t picking it up. If you feel this way, it might be tempting to tell your child to use these words in some situations. Instead of telling your child to use their manners, try to narrate what you want them to say. 

Here’s an example: 

Instead of:Jill, you need to say thank you to Max.”                                                                                 

Try: “Thank you, Max, for sharing your snack with Jill; I know she really loves when you share with her.” 

Narrating allows us to model using these words in a way that also helps our children to understand what these words really mean.  

If we just tell our children what we want them to say, they will learn to use these words because they know they will please us and get what they want, but they won’t really understand what these words mean.

Narrating helps them make connections. 

As we continue to model, we can also use narration to help our kids make connections and understand what these words mean and when we use them. 

If your child is reaching for their cup and shouting “Water!”

Instead of: “What’s the magic word?”

Try: “It looks like you are asking me to please pass you your water.” 

Trust the process 

It might be difficult to imagine your child ever saying these words without you forcing them, but trust the process and trust that your child will learn from you. 

By not forcing our children to ‘be polite’, we are setting them up for success as they learn to appreciate what these words mean and how much power they have.