There is power in the word “please.”  After all, we call it the “magic word”, right?  When our kids are very young, they are taught to say “please” and “thank you” with almost every transaction, from getting a few more Cheerios to the Christmas morning present-a-palooza.  As my daughter was learning to talk, my husband and I would often remind her to say “please” or “say the magic word” when she asked for something she wanted.  And she usually got what she was asking for at the time.  It seemed like such a good idea to teach her these manners and attach such power to those words.

The result is that we raised a really polite little kid.  She is very good at remembering to say please and thank you without prompting most of the time.  I am so proud of her manners.  But I think we may have pushed the magic of the “magic word” a little too far.

Lately, we’ve been having a tough time with tantrums.  In her worst moments, usually when she’s tired from a long day at school, my girl is disagreeable at best.  Everything we ask her to do is met with an argument, tears, screaming or all of the above.  When the fit involves something that she wants, such as more time to play before bedtime or another snack, she will often throw in a really long “Pleeeeeeaaaasssee!” after I have said no.  Then she hits us with the “Pretty Pleeeeeaaase!” and so on.

Take for example the other night.  As a kindergartener, Zoey is learning all about the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving.  They must be pushing it really hard at school because about 10 minutes before bed, Zoey demanded asked to dress like a Pilgrim, hat and all.  Well, we don’t own any Pilgrim clothes or hats and I certainly wasn’t whipping out the construction paper at bedtime.  (Oh. Hell. No.)  What followed was a 15-minute tantrum that included her yelling that went like this (If you stretch all the vowel sounds out, you’ll get the full experience in your head as you read):

I. Want. To. Dress. Like. A. Pilgrim! Puulleeeaaase! Why don’t we haaavvee anyy Pilgrim clothes?!! You’re so mean because you never let me dress like a Pilgrim! I want a Pilgrim hat like the Pilgrims wear!!! Please Mommy please! I need to wear a white shirt and buckle shoes! But I said PLEASE! Please! I love the Pilgrims!

Just another day in the life, right?  She just didn’t understand why we weren’t getting with the program and giving her what she asked so nicely for.  Come on…she said please!  We calmed her down, plopped her in bed, and I had a heart to heart with her about not always getting everything she wants.  I think she really understood me, and she now has a wonderful understanding of needs and wants and what the word please is really good for.  Then she told me I was the best mommy in the whole wide world.  That’s not really how it went at all, but I like to picture it that way in my mind.

Please please please! Pretty please? I'll be your best friend...

Please please please! Pretty please? I’ll be your best friend…

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Now we’re heading into the gimme season, I mean, the holiday season.  I’ll be doing my best to keep my daughter’s pre-Christmas requests in check, because as any parent who celebrates Christmas knows, the month leading up to the Santa visit is most difficult month!  Suddenly the kid wants everything she sees and she’d got to have it NOW!  I’m sure she’ll pull out her magic word when we’re at the grocery store and she sees the Sofia the First dress-up set (like she already hasn’t done this?) or when we’re at Target shopping for our Toys for Tots donations and wants something for herself.  And I’ll be prepared to endure every “puhleeese!” she throws at me and stand my ground.

The truth is she’s 5.  We have a lot of work to do to get to a place where she understands the point of manners and why people use them.  It’s not about getting what you want; it’s about respect and kindness.  Most of that learning comes through modeling the behaviors ourselves.  If Mom and Dad are polite and showing thanks to others, then Queen Z will get the message.  It’s quite possible that I haven’t been saying my please and thank you’s enough lately.  So I’m starting this season with being grateful and polite to those around me.  Sometimes I’ll get my way, sometimes I won’t. And that’s the way it should be.

Please have a great holiday, keep reading us, and thank you.

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