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Making Polite Requests

man and woman standing in front of house with younger woman

Do you get tired of hearing demands from your kids? Do you dream of the day they'll say "please" and "thank you"?

We'll look at ways you can increase polite requests in your home.



Politeness as Respect

It's wise to wonder whether teaching children how to use polite requests is worth the trouble. Dr. Glen Latham admonishes parents that some behaviors just need to be ignored (51).    
Forcing a "please" or "may I" out of a child every time he makes a request may not be worth the effort. But if a child can use those words because he understands they are a matter of respect, it is likely worth our parenting time.    
In Strengthening Our Families, a volume compiled by the School of Family Life at BYU, we read "Respect seems to accompany love, either as an attitude that fosters love or as an outgrowth of love. Like love, respect manifests itself both as feeling and action" (Bahr et al. 167).

A Teacher's Perspective

"Please" and "thank you" may or may not feel important at home, but those outside the home often notice a child who is conversant in making polite requests.    
A first grade teacher shares her thoughts on the importance of teaching children to make polite requests:    
"This may sound like an insignificant thing for a child to know, but "thank you" is hugely important. When a child says "thanks," a teacher knows that child has been well taught at home. Only two or three children in each class are. Teaching your child basic politeness skills will endear them to others" (Walker).

A preschool teacher sends home this poem with her students each year:    

There are two little magic keys    
That can open any door with ease    
The first little word is "thanks,"    
And the second little word is "please."

Making it Happen

BYU researchers teach that learning new skills, like saying "please," will come through doing rather than lecturing (Young et at. 13-14). The following steps can be helpful when teaching a child a new behavior.

  1. Name and describe the skill. "We're going to learn how to use "please," "thanks," and "may I.""
  2. Give the child a reason why the skill is important. "People feel better when we're polite. It's a way to show respect."
  3. Model the skill. Little children love this. Have them "give" you something and show them how it all works.
  4. Have the child practice the skill.
  5. Give feedback and praise for engaging the practice activities.

"Teach "The Squeeze." Tell your child that if she wants something when you are talking to another adult, she should walk up to you and gently squeeze your arm. You will then squeeze her hand to indicate that you know she is there and will be with her in a minute. At first, respond quickly so your child can see the success of this method. Over time you can wait longer, just give a gentle squeeze every few minutes to remind your child that you remember the request."

man touching shoulders of woman

A "may I" or a "please" can go a long way. If you long to hear these words in your home, please feel free to make it happen!


Bahr, Howard M., Scott Loveless, and Ivan F. Beutler. "Love, Respect, and Compassion in Families." Strengthening Our Families: An In-depth Look at the Proclamation on the Family. Ed. David C. Dollahite. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2000. 167-176.    
Latham, Glenn I. The Power of Positive Parenting. Logan, UT: P&T Ink, 2006.    
Marchant, M. & Young, R. (2005). 3 B's of effective parenting: Be proactive, be positive, and be consistent. Marriage and Families, (Winter), 18-25.    
Walker, Ardith. "What First Grade Teachers Wish Parents Would Teach Their Kids." Unpublished article.    
Young, Richard K., Sharon Black, Michelle Marchant, Katherine J. Mitchem, and Richard P. West. "A Teaching Approach to Discipline: An Alternative to Punishment." Marriage & Families, August (2000): 9-15.