Shells at the beach

Shells at the beach 3
Shells in a plastic bag.

Shells at the beach 6
Every time we go to the beach, I collect as many shells as I can find. This one is pretty unusual.

Maybe someone bought it at a souvenir stand nearby and lost it.

Or maybe someone left it here for a shell collector like me.

Please, Thanks and Sorry, Part 2

As I think about it, there are other reasons I don’t push saying please, thanks or sorry.


Sorry is the one I feel strongest about. Saying sorry when I don’t actually feel sorry feels humiliating to me. It feels like submitting — collapsing who I am inside — for the sake of avoiding having something bad done to me. It feels like letting down my defenses for a wave of awfulness to avoid an even worse wave of awfulness that might come if I don’t. It feels like being over-ridden, being wiped out, being not okay fundamentally. Being shameful. Being bad inside.

I never want that for my kid. I don’t want that for myself, either.

It’s one thing to say I’m sorry when I feel sad about someone’s situation, or when I bump into them or step on their toes, or when I see looking back that I hurt them and I didn’t realize it at the time, or I understand the situation differently now and I would definitely do things differently if I could go back in time.

The thing is, I can’t make my little one feel any of those things by telling him to say he’s sorry when he has done something socially unacceptable. I think the straightest route to helping him figure out what is and isn’t okay to do is to gently coach him, to keep him and the kids he is with safe, and to avoid humiliating him at all costs. Humiliation makes me defensive. I think that’s true for my kid, too. When I’m defensive, I’m stuck in my own head. I’m not learning new things. I’m not tuning into the people around me. I’m not feeling like good connection is easy or even possible in that moment.

What I want for my kid is good connection. I want him to be able to see how what he does affects other people, and to be free care about how they feel.


I imagine writing thank you notes for Christmas and birthday gifts together in the future. (I like writing thank you notes, so when I picture doing it together I imagine it being fun.)

But other than that, please and thank you are things I’d rather skip prompting on. He hears me and Gavin talking politely to each other, to him and to other people. He joins in. He knows how to do it. I’ll let him speak for himself.

If the way he’s asking for something is annoying me, I let him know. “Could you please stop screeching? That bugs me.” Or, “You don’t need to yell. You can ask more quietly. I can still hear you.” Generally, that seems to work pretty well so far.


One of the things being a stepmom for so many years has left me with is a sense of how fantastically fast kids grow up. People say it all the time. Now it’s something I feel.

Kids figure things out. They learn what they need to learn to go where they want to go.

I don’t want to spend my little one’s childhood poking and prodding him. I want to enjoy it, to have fun with it, to play in it together. I want us both to bathe in the good connection we already have and to spin it on and on.


Related: Why we don’t tell our little one to say please or thank you or sorry

Why we don’t tell our little one to say please or thank you or sorry

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