How often do the members of your family say the “magic words?” “Please,” “thank you” and “I’m sorry” are essential to healthy relationships. These are words we should be saying to our spouses, our friends, and our kids.
“Thank you” is a short set of two words that conveys appreciation and gratitude. When we say thank you, it lets the person we are talking to know that we appreciate what they have said or done. “Thank you for doing the dishes.” “Thank you for cleaning up your toys.” “Thank you for helping me do this.”
Thank you can also be used to convey gratitude for bigger things. Years ago, my husband and I started thanking each other for our contributions to the household which are usually thankless. “Thank you for working so we can afford our home.” “Thank you for taking such good care of our children.” These are not single events, so it may even be harder to say thank you for them. But it matters. As humans, we want to know the people in our family appreciate us. Saying thank you has helped us to build a stronger marriage where we both feel appreciated.
I tell my children thank you for doing their chores and completing their school work. Do I expect them to do those things? Yes, but that doesn’t mean I’m not glad they did them. I also reinforce what I really like. “Thank you for taking out the trash as soon as I asked. That makes me happy.” “Thank you for doing your schoolwork today with such a good attitude!” There are even times I tell my children that I am thankful they are my children or I thank them for being kind or helpful.
When we express our gratitude we give our children and spouses the feeling of being appreciated and loved. This is a feeling we all want to cultivate in our homes. So, I recommend liberal use of the phrase “thank you.”
We usually talk about “please” before “thank you”, but I’m putting it second for a reason. When you are truly thankful for your family members and their contribution to your home, saying “please” makes more sense. Please is a word we use when we “ask nicely” for something. Cultivating a happy home means asking nicely all the time.
When we live with someone, whether a friend, a spouse, or a child, we can start to take them for granted. This usually leads to “forgetting our manners” as my grandmother would have said. Using please and thank you together, lets them know that you don’t take them for granted. Please sends a message that you respect their time, and you still need them to do something for you. Please isn’t begging, it is a show of respect. “Please, can you help me with this,” is a great start to an afternoon with your child. It is an invitation instead of a demand.
When we raise our children in a home where everyone respects everyone else they grow up prepared to have healthy adult relationships. There is, of course, more to an adult relationship than please and thank you, but they aren’t a bad start.
There are a lot of adults who struggle with giving an apology. While we make our children apologize for a wide assortment of behaviors when they are young, understanding how to give an apology is a lifelong skill. This is a time to set an example. Work on having a home where adults say “I’m sorry” when they make mistakes. “I’m sorry I forgot to do that.” “I’m sorry that got broken. I didn’t mean to break it.” “I’m sorry I don’t have time for that today, but I can try tomorrow.” Not every apology needs to be epic. Sometimes a simple apology is enough. For some mistakes, saying you are sorry is all you can or should do. Everyone makes mistakes. Acknowledging them and moving on is often the healthiest thing to do.
It is good to teach your children how to apologize and make amends when the situation calls for it. If one of my children hurts another, whether on purpose or by accident, they have to go beyond an apology. While they do have to say they are sorry, they also have to do more. Generally, the aggressor has to be nurse and caregiver for the injured child. This could mean getting them a bandaid or cold pack. It could mean reading them a story or giving the injured child their choice of entertainment: Watching a TV show together or playing a game. It is important to learn that sometimes you need to go beyond saying “I’m sorry.”
The other important thing to learn about apologies is to never, ever, use the words “but you” in an apology. An apology that includes the word “but” is almost never a true apology. Let me give you an example. “I’m sorry I ran over your bike, but you should have put it away in the shed instead of leaving it there.” See how this takes the blame off of me and puts it on the bike owner? Instead, a good apology just focuses on you and why you need to apologize without assigning any blame to the other person. “I’m sorry I ran over your bike. I wouldn’t have hit it if I had seen it. Let’s look at it together to see if we can fix it.” See how this second apology is so much better? It is shaped by looking for how we can come together, instead of assigning blame.
Magic Words in a Happy Home
I am a firm believer that as parents we need to help our children learn how to navigate personal relationships. Teaching them how to use please, thank you and I’m sorry every day, helps them do that. The more they use these words in your home, and hear everyone else say them, the easier it will be for them to use them. As an adult, I’ve never regretted using those magic words. They help us build friendships and work together.
What do you think? Do you say those phrases to your kids?
About the Author
Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.