How many times during a week do you repeat the phrase, “What do you say?” to your child to prompt them to say please or thank you? If the answer is “too many to count,” then maybe it’s time to try something else to increase the usage of those wonderfully polite words. These two phrases are the gateway words to the use of manners and politeness. And manners and politeness can be a gateway to thinking about the feelings of other people.

These words can also help kids work things out for themselves. If one child is simply demanding something of another, “Give me that toy!”, they probably aren’t meeting with much success. Both parties are most likely becoming frustrated and the child who’s yelling is starting to see red. When kids know more polite ways of asking for things, they tend to get less upset (!) and their requests are more often granted. I know that I’ve been talked into something by politeness from a child that I never would have agreed to if I was being yelled at instead.

So ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are valuable words, but if you’ve been saying please and thanks to other people for your kids for a long time and if they can’t seem to remember to use these words when speaking to you, how do you go about getting them in the repertoire?

4 easy steps to saying please and thank you

1. Learn the signs for both
Even if you have a child who’s older and completely verbal, being able to prompt him or her with the sign for ‘please’ means that you don’t have to say it to them! If verbal prompts don’t seem to get you anywhere, that probably means that your kids are just used to waiting for you to prompt them. You need to dial back on the prompting.

Once you all know the signs for both of these, you can prompt them silently. Eventually you do less and less prompting now that your voice is no longer needed. You’ll find that the full sign isn’t necessary anymore. Simply moving your hand to your chest (for please) or your chin (for thank you) will do the same thing. Magic!

2. Show the beginning sound of the word with your mouth
Another way to step back on vocal prompting is to show a ‘p’ or a ‘th’ with your mouth. Not only does this help younger kids see how the sounds are made (so that they can imitate them), it also requires less work from you. The idea is that your child will take on the full responsibility of saying please and thank you. When you verbally prompt him or her, you are taking on their responsibility of using these polite words! It’s not your responsibility, so give it back to them!
And someday in the not-too-distant future, all you’ll have to do is wait and look at them if you don’t hear the magic words and that will be enough to remind them. Promise!

3. Wait until you hear ‘please’ to get something for your child: Hold on to things that are given until you hear ‘thank you’
Just another easy prompt that lets them know that in exchange for whatever you’ve done for them, you would like a little payment. Their acknowledgment of you and your effort comes in the form of ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ It also helps them remember before they simply get what they asked for and forget that they didn’t use their manners. Once they’re walking away from you with the popsicle they wanted, what is the likelihood that they’ll suddenly remember that they forgot to say thanks? Little to none? They’re pretty focused on making sure none of that popsicle escapes! Get the acknowledgment upfront and then both of you can go about your business.

4. Praise and reward ‘please’ & ‘thank you’ when they occur without prompting
If you’ve been working on politeness for a little while and you start to hear ‘please’ all on its own, you should immediately reward that step. “Mom, can I have a glass of milk…please?” Maybe in response to that, you make a little fuss and say that since she asked sooooo nicely, she can also have a cookie to go with her milk. Once kids start to see that ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ get them further than not using them, they’ll start to use them more! Positive reinforcement!

These four steps can help your house become a model of politeness. Don’t forget that as the Captain in charge, your use of these polite words is important for your kids to hear. As long as you play your role as the Politeness Police, listening carefully to when you do and do not hear ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ your kids can have this mastered in a matter of weeks.

Thanks for reading!