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.

Introducing My 5 Month Old to a Potty

When I first read about Elimination communication, it seemed that if you were not going to go for the ‘all or nothing’ approach, then you wouldn’t be doing it properly and it wouldn’t work. There was no way that I was going to risk covering myself and the carpet in our rented house, with my son’s poop and pee, so I decided that I would wait until a more ‘normal’ age to begin potty training.

I am lucky enough to have been able to take a whole year of maternity leave, which means I’m with my son all day, everyday and during the evening because we bedshare.  At around 5 months I began to notice little things that he would do before he pooped, so for a few days I decided to really observe him and see if I really could tell when he was about to poop or pee. After those few days, I was convinced I knew what his signals or cues were, so I decided I was going to give EC or baby led potty training a go. I found a great site http://www.nappyfreebaby.co.uk/what-is-elimination-communication/ and discovered that I didn’t have to plunge head first into sans nappy world and risk losing our security deposit! I could keep using nappies as a poop safety net and still give EC a try.

I know all babies are different, but here are some of my son’s “I need a poop” cues.

In the morning (usually around 6am) he gets a bit ‘kicky’ and he latches on and off the breast. Those are his first cues, then the moaning starts. At first these same cues could also mean he wanted to do a big burp, so I’d scoop him up and usually he’d bring up his wind (he has always brought up his wind really well) and then he’d happily go back to sleep. As time went on, it became apparent that he was waking up around the same time and then doing a poop in his nappy, so I started putting him on his potty when those first signs appeared at what had become his morning poop time and into the potty the poop went. Result!

During the day was a little more tricky. At first I would just take him to his potty after a feed or a nap and hope for the best and most times he would do a wee or a poop.

Then, as I started to watch him carefully, I recognised those same cues as his morning poop; latching on and off, kicking and moaning – he also stared mouthing my shoulder or neck if I was holding him.

We’re doing well, we rarely have pooped filled nappies, so are using less of them which is better for the environment and the purse!

I’ve not quite managed to catch all his pees, he can easily sneak them out, but I have noticed he goes very still and quiet when he is peeing – I’m usually too slow to get him out of his happy and onto his potty, so for now I take him to his potty at regular intervals for a pee stop.

Along with visits to the potty, I am also teaching him the signs for poop and toilet. At almost 7 months, he can’t do those signs yet, but I know he’s taking them in and will eventually be able to tell me when he needs to go.

My experience of EC has been a really positive one. I feel like I know my son a lot better and I’m more in tune with his needs.

I appreciate that some mums have to go back to work sooner and can’t dedicate the time needed to this pathway, but if you’re able to, then I say give it a go! You’ve got nothing to lose and another bonding opportunity to gain!

Ps,

Just as I was about to post this, my son, who was happily playing on the floor with his toys, let out a huge fart. I scooped him up and took him to his potty only to find he’d already done the business and leaked up his back for added fun! No one is perfect, eh? 😊

Am I really a danger to my baby?

Last year, at 8 weeks old, our son was hospitalised for two weeks due to a urinary tract infection caused by an undiagnosed PUV. It was an awful time. Within hours of arriving at the hospital, our little baby was connected to a heart monitor, a drip and a feeding tube.  I began expressing milk so they could feed him through the tube and measure input and output.

Once he was more stable, we were transferred to our own room on a ward. He looked lost in the big cot he had been put in and soon became unsettled, I knew that all he wanted was to be held. I sat with him in my arms, being careful of all the wires and tubes, unable to breastfeed because he was still being fed through the tube. He eventually fell asleep and I put him back in the cot and tried to get some sleep myself. Fifteen minutes later, he woke up and so I sat holding him until daddy came back to the hospital and took over while I got some sleep.

A day or so later I was told that I could breastfeed him again. Now any breastfeeding mum knows that breastfeeding is not all about the milk, it’s also extremely comforting and soothing for a baby to be on the breast, this is more true when the baby is in a strange environment with strange faces, smells and sounds. Once our baby was allowed back on the breast, he didn’t want to be off it! This usually wouldn’t have bothered me at all. However, in a hospital setup, this was made very difficult. My bed was on one side of the room and he was connected to the various tubes and wires in his cot at the other side of the room. I knew that that particular set up wasn’t going to work for us; I would have to get out of bed every time he wanted to feed and sit in the uncomfortable chair by his bed to feed him/comfort him and more importantly, I would miss those early cues that let me know he needs me. That would have been a new experience for all of us. My husband asked the nurse if it would be possible for us to swap our son’s cot bed to a normal hospital bed so my son and I could share – he would have unlimited breast access and I would be able to get some sleep. We were told that they couldn’t do that for us as the “NHS don’t advocate co-sleeping because it increases the risk of cot-death.” I was told it was dangerous. My husband was told he couldn’t stay overnight in the room with us and given a ‘family room’ and I was left alone with our baby.

That night, my baby cried and I went to him, I fed him and held him until he fell asleep. I shuffled back to my bed and 30 minutes later, he cried again. So again, I went to him, soothed him and as soon as I put him back in his cot, he woke up again and he wanted to go back on the breast. This happened throughout the night.  I sat in the chair next to his cot, absolutely exhausted, terrified of falling asleep in case I dropped him. I stood up to feed him as I didn’t trust myself not to fall asleep in the chair. I felt sick. It was the first time in the 8 weeks of living with my son that I felt like I was a danger to him. I called my husband and he came straight to our room and took our son from me. I had some milk I had expressed into a bottle, but he wasn’t interested in the bottle, he cried and cried until he was back with me and my boobs!

The next day a doctor came in to take some bloods, she asked how I was, I told her I was exhausted due to being up all night with my son. “We’re not used to this setup,” I told her, “we bed-share at home. I’m not used to having to continuously get out of bed through the night and he’s not used to having to cry to wake me.”

The doctor looked at me with a look of horror on her face –“that is so dangerous!” she exclaimed. “It causes cot death.”

Women have been sharing a bed with their babies for thousands of years and rates of SIDS in countries who routinely bed share are incredibly low or none existent! What is dangerous, is not giving women the correct information!

Even while my son was having his brain scanned after a seizure, we were warned of the dangers of bed sharing – it seemed everyone was an expert on where my child should be sleeping. However, none of their opinions were evidence based.

While we were in hospital, NICE had just published their newest guidelines on co-sleeping, guidelines which didn’t differentiate between safely sharing a bed and falling asleep on the couch with your baby. They listed all the things that could lead to an increased risk of SIDS (prenatal and post natal smoking, drug taking, alcohol consumption and premature birth) which happen to be the same things that increase the SIDS risk in babies who are left on their own in a cot. While the report tells parents the dangers of co-sleeping it doesn’t tell parents how to co-sleep safely. It fails to highlight the benefits safe bed sharing can have for the breast feeding mother and her baby. In my opinion, this latest report does nothing to dispel the fears of mothers or to give them the knowledge and confidence they need to make an informed decision. Furthermore, it’s not until you read the full report that you see that NICE say that there is not enough evidence to say that co-sleeping causes SIDS, only that there may be an association. What concerned me the most was that women were being told by health professionals that they are putting their baby in danger by bed sharing, so in order to avoid this ‘danger’ women were moving away from the bed to feed and onto chairs and couches.

My son is nearly 6 months old now and we still bed share. We didn’t at the beginning, when I first brought him home he slept in his co-sleeping crib, but it soon became apparent that the best way for us all to get the most amount of rest was to bring him into our bed – it felt like the most natural thing in the world and the most convenient for us.

There are lots of places you can get good co-sleeping advice from, unfortunately new mums aren’t pointed towards these places by health professionals. I’ve included some links for those who want more information and advice.

The sad thing is, my experience in hospital is what some women experience on a nightly basis because they’re too scared to bring their baby into bed with them, no wonder some women give up breastfeeding in those early weeks!

Bed sharing and SIDS

Safe Sleep Seven – a guide to bed sharing safely

Co-sleeping information

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