Now, this is my confession…

I was in the bathroom with my 4-year old, trying to help her brush her teeth.

Then, ‘by mistake’, I said, ‘Please, rinse your mouth’.

Yes, the ‘please’ part of my request was actually a mistake because, over the years, I had learnt to switch to my defensive mode whenever it was time for my daughter to brush her teeth. You see, ‘teeth brushing’ had never come easy with her. It had always been a struggle that resulted in me screaming words like ‘Open your mouth well’, ‘Stop trying to talk while brushing’, ‘Where are you going? Don’t you know you have to rinse your mouth!’ ‘Did you swallow that toothpaste?!!!’

That’s right, I was hardly ever pleasant whenever that time of the day came because I could always bank on my daughter making the process twice as long and thrice as hard. You know, making me tell her the obvious over and over again.

However, on this particular morning, when I used my magic word ‘PLEASE’, my daughter immediately transformed into someone unrecognizable – she was suddenly ‘super good’. As in, she became super co-operative, leaving me quite blown away. I was shocked. Like seriously, could a simple word like PLEASE actually bring such a sharp 180 degrees change in a child’s behaviour?

So, saving this experience in my left hand, I decided that going forward, I would be more courteous when addressing my daughter. Mind you, it’s not like I was ever this big bully who never used the 5 magic words (Please, Thank-You, Sorry, Excuse Me, You’re Welcome) when relating with the little ones. It’s just that, to be honest, there are times when I just say stuffs like, ‘Come here’, ‘Stop that’, ‘Leave me’, ‘Don’t do that’, ‘Bring it’, etc. Actually, I realize that I am usually this way and especially ‘sharp’ when I anticipate some kind of resistance from her.

However, learning from our ‘bathroom’ experience, I began to infuse ‘Please’ at the beginning of all my requests. That is, I used the word ‘please’ even when addressing issues which I ordinarily would have expected to be met with resistance by daughter…And guess what? I discovered that my regular use of that one simple magic word was suddenly a motivation for obedience.

For example, when I say ‘Please don’t go there’, she would pause and looking at me, reply with something like, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t go there? Ok mommy. I won’t go there’.

That’s right, treating her like a ‘person’…that is, communicating with her with the same degree of courtesy I would extend to someone older…made her want to respond in maturity.

So, where am I going with all this?

Our kids may be little and have loads of naughty moments, but, this does not mean we should throw caution to the wind where courtesy is concerned. Mind you, I’m not saying we should beg them into obedience. What I am saying is that there is nothing wrong with using words like please, excuse me, thank you, etc. with them. What is important is that you use them without losing your resolve for discipline. That’s right, if after saying, for example, ‘Please leave that place’, the little miss rebels, then some repercussion is sure to follow. So, yes, I will first give her the benefit of doubt and it is left for her to abuse or take advantage of the opportunity.

Let me add that not only does courtesy bring out the better part of people (children inclusive), it also teaches them the right way to relate with people and helps them know that we also practice what we preach. In my own case, whenever I ‘forget’ to say thank you, my daughter reminds me, ‘mommy you didn’t say thank you’. There was a time I shouted at her unjustly and feeling very sad, she came back to tell me that I didn’t say sorry even though she did nothing wrong. I then went on to apologize to her. Bottom line, we mustn’t have double standards. The courtesy we demand from our children must be given to them as well.