Before my husband and I were married, I was visting him at his parent’s house for the weekend. We had just gotten back from playing roller hockey and his mother asked if I would like some water. I replied, “Yes, please! ” When she handed it to me, I said, “I really appreciate it. It was so hot outside and the ice water looks so wonderful.” She stared at me and with a smug look, demanded, “What do you say?”
While I hadn’t explicity said the words “thank you,” I had made my intent and appreciation perfectly clear. Situations such as this rarely occur between two adults. It’s thought to be blatantly rude. However, children are not allotted the same respect. There have been countless times when I’ve heard a parent or other caregiver demand from a child, “What do you say?” or “Say ‘please!'” or some other such phrase.
I agree that there are social niceties which make interacting with others go more smoothly. Manners allow us to smooth transitions and social situations. As parents hoping to help their children learn life skills, that doesn’t mean we have to go about it in such a rude manner.
Just as children learn to eat, speak, talk, walk, and everything else, they learn their manners from us. Manners are social skills acquired through the idenitification with and imitation of poite parents. If we model polite manners, our children will pick up those skills. My children have consistently used polite words such as please, thank you, and you are welcome since before they could talk, through the use of sign language. Later, they spoke the words. My husband and I have never prompted them to say these words. We speak respectfully and politely to and with our children, and they in turn do the same.
The idea that parents must be rude to their children in order to impart politeness baffles me. By interrupting a child who is interrupting someone who is talking, parents model that interruptions are actually acceptable. Grabbing a toy out of a child’s hands doesn’t express that the child shouldn’t grab toys away from others. The old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do,” has been proven time and time again to be ineffective, yet many parents still proclaim these techniques as necessary in order for their children to learn. A little modeling of social skills would help everyone be much more polite (parents included).