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Pretty Please With Sugar on Top
by Kevin Eikenberry

My daughter Kelsey isn't quite four yet. She is a wonderful girl and I love her dearly. She is, however, sometimes, a little bossy. With a demanding tone she will declare what will happen next. With emphasis she will tell me what to do. These aren't behaviors her mother and I want to become habits. Not only that, but they just don't sit very well with me!

Thankfully, others have told us that when she is with them, she is very polite and well mannered. This is a relief, but doesn't reduce our angst about her behavior. Last week, as a way to positively reinforce the behaviors we are looking for, I tried something new.

Word of the Week

Last week, I declared that "Please" was the "Word of the Week." My intent was to remind all of us in the house of the importance of using the word please. I vowed in the presence of Parker (age 9) and Kelsey that I would be reminding them of the word, that they would be praised for using it, and that I was going to work on using it more as well.

I was proud of my idea, and the approach did raise awareness somewhat, but can you guess what the "Word of the Week" is this week? (Yep, it is still please!) So we are making progress, but we aren't there yet. All of us can improve-the 39 year old and 3 year alike.

An Early Lesson

Saying "please" and "thank you" are two of the first phrases we teach children. We do this because they are important phrases that represent basic values. I recently wrote an essay about "thank you," and now I find myself focusing on "please." Perhaps I'm a slow learner if I'm still trying to learn these "childhood lessons."

I can remember when Parker was little, taking him to visit his great grandparents the first time after he could talk. One of the last things I told him before we went inside was, "Remember to say please." In some odd way, Parker saying "please" was supposed to prove I was doing my job as a parent. Perhaps you haven't felt that feeling, but I am sure you have seen praise lavished on little ones when they've said "please." "Please" is definitely an early lesson engrained in all of us.

The Importance of Asking

"Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; he who knocks, the door will be opened." - Matthew 7:7-8, NIV

You have to ask in order to receive. Without asking, you cannot get. This profound truth can be stated in a variety of ways, but the different words don't change the message. Being willing to ask is important to our development, our comfort, and to reaching our goals, both large and small.

When we are teaching children about saying "please" it is in the context of asking. We don't just say please, we add the word to some sort of request. We tell them that saying please is the nice thing to do. We are really trying to teach them that it is more polite, more socially acceptable to say "please" than to simply demand that their wish is granted.

Adding the Sugar

Asking with a "please" makes any request a bit easier to receive, it is like putting a little sugar with the request. Maybe that is why when we are little, and we REALLY want something we embellish "please" to something like the title of this essay. We learn that the "verbal sugar" of "please" can help us, just like Mary Poppins taught us about taking medicine-"A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, in the most delightful way."

So we are teaching children that "please" is not only the nice thing to do, but also that it will probably help us get what we ask for. (Have you ever withheld something from a child until they said the magic word of please?)

More than a Word

Yes, I am trying to teach my children to use the word, but beyond the vocabulary lesson, I want them to learn the attitude of graciousness. It goes beyond being polite. It goes beyond being pragmatic. Saying "please" is both of those things, and important for both reasons. But beyond that, when we say "please" in a spirit of gratefulness and with the willingness to offer help in return, then we are not only being polite and pragmatic, but authentic, genuine, and communicating with another person at a "heart level", rather than "head level."

Final Thoughts

The practice and attitude of saying "please" is a powerful one. That is why we teach it so early. I urge you to think about your habits and attitudes around this important phrase. Ask yourself the following questions. How consistently do I use "please?" How often do I type it in an email or letter? How consistently do I include "please" in requests to those closest to me?

Will you take the time to think about these things today, please?

� Kevin Eikenberry
Kevin is a speaker, trainer, author, and President of the Discian Group. He also writes VantagePoints. You can reach Kevin at kevin@discian.com.