The other day we went to the beach after dinner to watch the sun set and to let our son play with trucks on the sand. He looked up at us on our way back to the car, calm and exuberant, and said, “Well, thank you for going to the beach! It was very helpful!”
He says thank you when he’s especially joyful — when he’s satisfied and close and connected and feeling good all at once. We don’t tell him to say it. We just say it to him and to each other whenever we feel it. When someone does something nice for him, we thank them ourselves.
When he looks up at me and says thank you, it feels like the sun is rising in my chest.
I never want any other kind of thank you.
When I’m talking to another adult, I almost never say please. If I’m asking for something, I might say, “Would it be possible…” or, “Would you do me a huge favor…?” or, “How would you feel about…?”
I figure my son has been learning to talk all this time by listening to us and imitating us and using the phrases we use, and I figure he’ll keep on doing that as he gets better at communicating.
Sometimes if he’s being demanding and it bugs me, I’ll tell him, “Sometimes people say ‘please’ when they’re asking for something, because it feels good to hear and it makes people especially want to do what you are asking for.” But I don’t push it. He doesn’t have to say please to get what he wants if it’s something that feels right to give him or to do for him. And if he’s demanding something he can’t have, I’ll try to empathize with him. That’s about the extent of how we’re teaching him manners. As he gets older and more sophisticated, he’ll master the finer points of communication.
We treat “sorry” the same way. If my little one does something to hurt someone, I’ll stop him from doing it again, and I’ll check with the other kid to see if they’re okay. I’ll remind my kid that the other kid doesn’t want to be bumped into or have sand thrown at them, and I’ll tell the kid and/or their parent that I’m sorry, but I don’t tell my little one to say “sorry” himself.
And if I bump into my son, or if I hurt his feelings, I tell him I’m sorry, because I am.
I want him to care about how other people feel. I want him to say how he feels. And in the meantime, while he’s still developing a sense of empathy and experimenting with what’s okay to do and what’s not okay, I’m working on making sure he and the kids he’s playing with are safe and I’m talking about how I feel.
Related: Please, Thanks and Sorry, Part 2