How to teach your child to say hello, goodbye, please, and other nice words
by Joyce Lollar
Everyone marvels at the child who says "please" and "thank you." But if yours is one who often forgets the niceties, you might be wondering what you can do to encourage her to say more of those pleasant words you long to hear.
Experts advise against taking the "What's the magic word?" and "Now what do you say?" approach most of our parents were so fond of.
If you don't want to come home to a kid who won't look up from the TV to say hello, the best approach is to set a good example. If you always greet the family and bid them goodbye, your kids will pick up on your habits starting around age 2.
When Mom comes home, for instance, Dad might give her a kiss and a hearty "Hello! How was your day?" When Dad's on his way out the door, Mom and the kids might give him a hug or say, "Have a nice day, Daddy."
"Please" and "thank you" are other words dearly beloved by parents. When you ask your child to come to dinner, add the polite words you'd like her to use: "Jeannie, please come to the table now." When she cheerfully shows up, tell her "Thank you for coming so quickly." Your modeling will help her learn this habit, and when you hear her saying "please," praise her for it.
Saying "thank you" is a bit slower in coming than please, but generally by age 4 or 5 your child will start saying it. It's helpful to gently remind her that people are more likely to grant her wishes when she asks for things politely and is grateful – and that it makes people feel good to be appreciated for what they do.
Another useful word – "sorry" – is perhaps the most important of all. But parents often overuse this word, says Betsy Brown Braun, author of Just Tell Me What to Say: Sensible Tips and Scripts for Perplexed Parents. Embarrassed over their child's gaffes, parents push kids to say they're sorry in the heat of the moment.
"It's far more important to teach empathy than to force a child to parrot hollow words," says Brown Braun. "Don't just start demanding that your child say sorry. Explain to him why what he did was wrong: 'See how sad that boy is that you took his car?' Then show him how to make it better: 'Should we give him his car back and bring him a tissue?'"
By age 4, many kids can:
* remember to say "hello" or "goodbye" to parents
* sometimes say "please" and "thank you"
By age 8, many kids can:
* ask about a parent's day without prompting
* say "thank you" and "please" reliably in most situations
* say "I'm sorry" – and mean it