Why I Don’t Make My Child Say “Sorry”

I don’t make my son say sorry… or please and thank you.

It’s nice to be nice and saying “please,” “thank you” and “sorry” shows people that we are considerate of their feelings, that we are grateful and polite. Manners are important. But here’s why I don’t make my son say “sorry,” “please” and “thank you.”

Why I Don’t Make My Son Say Please and Thank you

1: It would be hypocritical.

I like to think I have good manners, I would never deliberately be rude to someone – but do I always say please and thank you? No. Words matter, we all know that, but communication between humans often goes beyond words, most of our communication is nonverbal and we can express gratitude without saying “thank you.”

Often when I say “thank you” in everyday situations, it’s just a reflex – “ta” “cheers” “thanks” I say, without much thought behind the word. It’s just something I have been conditioned to say in certain situations.

Tone is important. The way we say things can show how we feel.

“Would you like a cup of tea?” My husband asks.

“Erm, I don’t think I do. Could I have a coffee instead?” I say as I look up from the TV and smile at him.

I didn’t say “please!”

“Here you go.” I hand my husband his dinner.

“ooh, this looks really nice.” He says before he tucks in.

He didn’t say “thank you!”

It’s difficult to convey tone in text, but you get the idea. I, as an adult, don’t always say “please” and “thank you” so why would I make my son say it? I don’t need him to thank me for everything I do for him and he doesn’t have to say please every time he asks for something.

“Mummy, more crispies” he asks with a cute little smile on his face.

That’s very different to him demanding crisps from me, which he has never done.

“Would you like something to eat?” I ask him

“Yes!”

“What would you like?”

“Green beans!” he shouts excitedly (the kid loves edamame beans)

I want my son to use “please” and “thank you” because he understands why we use them. He’s two at the moment and his understanding of our complex social rules is only just starting to develop. This brings me to what we do around other people. Do I make him say “please” and “thank you” to other people? Nope. I want him to say it because he wants to, when he understands in which context we use those words – so I often say please and thank you on his behalf.

2: I don’t want to shame him or make him feel bad.

Picture this scenario:

You’ve invited friends around to your house for a party. You’re mid conversation with a couple of friends and you notice your glass is empty.

“Would you grab me another beer, love?” You call to your partner.

“Please…” they say as they look at you sternly.

“Please” you say obediently.

They bring you your beer and because you’re engrossed in a story your friend is telling you, you don’t look at your partner. Just as the beer touches your hand your partner pulls it away.

“Erm, what do you say?”

All the focus is on you now, your friend has stopped telling the story and your partner is staring down at you, holding your beer. You feel very small all of a sudden and you feel bad because clearly you’ve done something wrong.

You’ve paused for too long, prompting your partner to say: “What are the magic words?”

“Thank you.” You say as you can feel the blood flowing to your cheeks.

“Well done.” Your partner says.

I’m guessing the above scenario has never happened to you as an adult. It has certainly never happened to me, my husband would never embarrass me like that. Yet this is something we put our children through all of the time! As I said above, we don’t always need to say please and thank you, but we force our children to do it with complete disregard for their feelings.

Why I Don’t Make My Son Say Sorry.

I’ve separated “sorry” out from the other words because it is slightly more complex. Children will quickly learn that we say “please” when we ask for something or “thank you” when we receive something etc – those are pretty simple rules to follow, even if they don’t fully understand the meaning of the words or are unable to use them in other contexts. But sorry is different – to be truly sorry you have to be able empathise and you have to be able to make a connection between your actions and the person’s feelings. This is a complex process and toddlers aren’t able to do this yet. Don’t confuse mimicking emotions with genuine feelings of sorrow or empathy, empathy takes years to develop.

Making my child say sorry is only teaching them one thing: it’s ok to lie. If my son is incapable of empathising yet and isn’t sorry because he doesn’t know how to be, then making him say sorry is pointless. I want my son to say sorry with sincerity and because he understands the importance of the word (or gesture – a hug can say sorry too) not because he knows saying sorry will please me.

It reminds me of my time as a teacher, when I’ve asked a pupil to stay behind in class because they’ve misbehaved. Most of the time the pupil will be genuinely sorry, they didn’t mean to make the other pupil cry, things just got a bit out of hand. But sometimes, they aren’t sorry at all, but they’ve learned that by saying sorry, all is forgiven (and it’s usually the quickest way to go and join their friends in the playground) so they say it and it means nothing.

So what do I do if I don’t make my son say please, thank you and sorry?

Put simply, I model the behaviour I want to see in my son. From the moment our son was able to start handing us things, my husband and I would say thank you to him. When we ask him for something, we say please. We say thank you and please on his behalf so he can see us doing it. If he has done something that would normally warrant a “sorry,” we explain to him why someone is upset, angry etc and what he could do differently (“throwing hard toys hurts people and makes them sad, if you want to throw, then we can throw soft things”) Put simply, we lead by example.

And it works. My son says ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ he says ‘excuse me’ if he burps or wants to get passed us. He has recently started saying ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes and ‘pardon’ when he doesn’t hear what you’ve said. He doesn’t say all of those things, all of the time, but it doesn’t matter. He only says some of those things because he has heard us do it and probably liked our reactions to his super cute ‘yes pease’ and ‘fanku,’ but he is learning when to use them and he is learning by watching his dad and I and other people. His learning is happening organically and at his pace.

The problem as I see it, is that most of the time, parents are worried about what other people think of them or more specifically, what they think of them as parents. Having a child who doesn’t show basic manners, might reflect badly on them. Although most of the way our child behaves, is a reflection of our parenting, some things aren’t. Most things are children behaving in a way that is appropriate to their age and brain development. If people want to judge me because my son doesn’t say please and thank you on cue, then that’s just a reflection of their lack of understanding of child development.

Parents, trust that your little toddler is going to learn the things they need to learn and know they will do it at their own pace. Our job as parents is to lead by example. Be the person you want your child to become and they will follow.

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