Doctor Love: Defining good manners

Sunday, May 12th, 2019

Readers, email your question to [email protected] Your letters are edited solely for grammar, spelling and length

Dear Doctor Love,
I don’t make my child say “please,” “thank you” or “I’m sorry” and I don’t correct him if he doesn’t use the expected appropriate response. It’s not that I am opposed. I say please and thank you but I believe we use these words thoughtlessly. I teach him empathy and appreciation so he understands when to say please and why it is important in some situations and not in others.
This became a topic of debate when my son asked a friend to return his toy. That child’s mother reminded my son to “say please.” I explained that I don’t think he should have to say please when politely requesting the return of his property. If my son was asking for her son’s toy that would be the time to say please. This led to a disagreement, so I’d like to find out if there are other mothers who think as I do.
Society emphasizes words—not intent. Appreciation can’t be forced. It’s learned through experience and experience teaches kids which situations require please and thank you. If my son says, “Mummy, can I have an apple?” is it necessary that he says please? If he were tall enough, he’d get it himself, but he can’t reach so he has to ask. To make him say “please can I have an apple” is telling him that asking nicely isn’t good enough—he has to ask humbly.
Apart from forcing a child to beg, ‘please’ is also a great manipulator. Tell a toddler he can’t have a piece of candy. The next word out of his mouth will be ‘PLEASE?’ He’s learned that saying please gets him what he wants.
“I’m sorry” is another misused and overused phrase. Children especially don’t apologize because they feel bad, they say I’m sorry to get out of a situation. I teach my son empathy. Understanding that he has hurt someone, he feels contrition and apologizes because he is sorry, not because I’ve told him it’s the right thing to say.
I am not ashamed of how I am raising my son. He’s a sweet little boy who is polite and generous. I do worry what will happen when he starts school. Will his teachers expect him to regurgitate words that society has decided are proper?
/s/Not Sorry

Dear Not Sorry,
Your viewpoint is growing more accepted in younger generations, but the Doctor is rather old-fashioned, having been brought up at the knees of the “Good Manners Aunties.”
Perhaps the readers have an opinion they would like to share.
“Please” and “Thank you”—yes or no?

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