Advice Column, Parenting

The Magic Words: “Please” and “Thank You”

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Written By: Barbara Eaton (Academic Development Co-ordinator for ADvTECH Schools Division)

The magic words: Are the traditional magic words “please” and “thank you” that many people learn as children disappearing in today’s society? Why is it important to teach this to your child and how do you teach your child these magic words?

Civilised and primitive societies have always insisted on certain standards, such as having respect for elders, greeting people respectfully and saying please and thank you appropriately. Eating habits are also defined by the cultural norms of the community. Many cultures begin to inculcate these standards in their children from a very young age, but in this on-line, texting and less verbally communicative society, are these societal norms a thing of the past? Do we still need to teach our children manners?

I would say a definite YES! This is hard for parents when their children watch barbaric and seemingly acceptable behaviour on their screens and even Disney films depict “bratty children” who get their own way and virtually rule their parents. I visited a classroom recently where written large on the wall was, “The only rule in this class is that we respect each other” This sums up how we should act towards each other in order to live in harmony, and societal harmony is desperately needed in South Africa.

If we can inculcate respectful behaviour for others by modelling it to children from babyhood, the polite norms of different societies are easily learned. In canvassing my colleagues of different cultures, it is clear that everyone expect their children to learn how to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ appropriately and to eat in a polite manner. Whether the child says ‘thank you’ or claps her hands in thanks is immaterial. In our multi-cultural society it would be good for children to learn how this can be done in various ways.  This will teach tolerance and mutual respect. After all, if we visit other countries, we make a point to learn their customs in order to avoid giving offence. Why do we not accord our own countrymen the same respect?

For a child to make eye contact with adults is frowned on by some African cultures but considered polite in Euro-centric cultures. Let’s explain this to our children so that they understand how to behave. Spending so much time on digital devices has the risk of forcing children to look downwards for extended periods of time. They could be missing the social clues of facial expression and body language that grease the wheels of smooth communication. Many enlightened schools are teaching this emotional literacy to their pupils and this will help them to understand themselves and others better.

Being polite to others is something we as parents have to teach, model and reinforce until the child achieves automaticity. It may seem a chore, but like other skills, it will smooth your child’s social interaction with teachers, peers and others. We all know that when our child brings home an impossibly rude and difficult child for a play date, we are unlikely to extend a second invitation. This is not the child’s fault but that of his parents and that child will soon find himself unwelcome in most homes.

‘Don’t do as I do, do as I say.’  This does not work with children. You cannot expect good manners from your child and at the same time be rude to waiters, yell at your spouse and swear at taxi drivers! Consistency is key in reinforcing polite behaviour. They need to learn that rudeness is hurtful and unnecessary, unattractive and immature. This doesn’t mean that they need to be doormats, being politely assertive is also a skill worth learning.


Do your children a favour and teach them good manners and respect, they will thank you for it later.

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