Teaching politeness to your child is not just about instilling good manners; it’s about nurturing empathy, respect, and effective communication skills. It takes patience and consistency in your efforts to cultivate politeness, but it is a valuable trait that will serve them well throughout their lives.
From a very early age children begin learning that their words are powerful, and can use as a means of getting their needs and wants met. But when children’s words start trending towards rude and abrasive it may be time to implement this one simple rule in your home…
Children must ask a question, instead of making a demand
A demand is made from a sense of entitlement. The child feels that they should have something, and so they say it… “I want a snack!!” “Give it to mee!!” “It’s my turn!!”
Many parents focus too much on correcting the tone of their child’s demand rather than requiring them to ask for permission. For example, if a child yells “I want a snack!,” many parents will redirect them to say “I want a snack, please” in a nicer tone of voice. Tacking on a “please” is definitely more polite, but it doesn’t address the deeper issue.
Requiring your child to ask you a direct question has many underlying benefits, and it’s more polite. Instead of “I want a snack,” it’s, “May I have a snack please?” And instead of “It’s my turn”, its “May I have a turn?” The subtle difference in requiring your child to ask permission instead of making a demand reaffirms that the parent is in control. When your child asks for something, you as the parent can say “yes,” or you can say “no.” The parent is in charge of making the decision.
Children are much more likely to accept a “no” when it’s in response to a question they’ve asked rather than a demand they have made.
Because in the act of asking the question, the child is already prepared to hear a yes or no answer…they know that it’s a 50/50 chance.
No Nagging Needed – “Asked and Answered”
Another benefit to having your child ask permission is that it naturally shuts down nagging. A child can walk around the house demanding “I want to watch a movie” a million times, but when you require them to ask you directly “May I watch a movie?” they get a definitive answer. If the answer is “no” and they ask you again, you can simply say “asked and answered.” When parents are consistent, children learn quickly that “no” really means “no” and they stop whining and nagging.
Important Things to Note
Make sure to provide your child lots of opportunities to make age-appropriate choices throughout the day, so that they can also feel a sense of control over their environment. For example, letting your child choose what they want to wear or what kind of fruit they want with their breakfast. Children who are given the opportunity to make choices will be less likely to lash out when parents need to make tough decisions os say “no.”
Of course like any parenting strategy, it takes time to teach your child that they need to ask, rather than demand. Whenever my son makes a statement like “I need a snack now!!” I simply say, “Are you trying to ask me something?” He immediately knows to ask politely for whatever it is that he wants.
He still struggles (as most 3 year olds do) when the answer is “no,” but it’s getting better every day. The important thing to me is that he learns respect for authority. I want him to know that he needs to ask permission because we as his parents know what is best for him, even if he doesn’t understand it in the moment.