Tuesday, November 1, 2011

"What's The Magic Word?"

I was recently doing a presentation for parents at a preschool and was asked by several of the parents how to help their children learn to remember to say please and thank you. What does not work, in the long term, is to prompt your child when he forgets by saying, for example, "Say that nicely, please" or "What's the magic word?" These prompts don't help your child's long term memory to get the message that polite requests are important. In fact, the prompts just mean that your child has got you into the habit of reminding him. A more useful response is:

"You didn't say 'please' so the answer is no. You can ask me again after dinner (or in five minutes), and I'm sure you'll remember to say 'please'."

" That wasn't your friendly voice (or polite or respectful, or whatever term you use in your family) so the answer is no. In a few minutes you can try again. Probably you won't whinge the next time."

And if your child does not yet know how long it takes for a certain number of minutes to elapse, using a timer is really helpful.

As for "thank you", two strategies are effective. One is to hang on to whatever you are handing your child until he says "thank you", and then Descriptively Praise him for remembering to say it. The other strategy is to reply to a request with, "No, because the last time I said yes (or the last time I gave you a cookie, etc) you didn't say "thank you ". This response will definitely motivate him to take you seriously.

Suzanne Ferera (see profile below)
Vancouver, Canada

1 comment:

  1. As a former teacher and grandmother of nine, I like this post very much and offer the following suggestion. In a society full of bullying and self-centered children, it is helpful to teach your children the benefits of consideration for others and being polite as early as possible. The Magic Word is a book emphasizing good manners, which can be read to toddlers. It is a rhyming story of a little girl who was rude, selfish and demanding – and had very few friends. Her mother suggested that she needed to improve her manners; so when she went to school the next day, she thought of her mother’s advice, “What is the magic word?” and she started saying “Please” and also “Thank You”. She tried to become more thoughtful of others, and discovered that she was a much happier person. The repetitive use of the phrase “What is the magic word?” has children answering “Please”, and teaches children that being polite and considerate of others helps to make friends.