Herald Journal Columns
Nov. 21, 2005, Herald Journal

Magic words: please and thank you


“Please and thank-you, they are the magic words.” That’s what our favorite purple dinosaur teaches us.

Barney, the purple dinosaur, is a favorite of my youngest, 20-month-old Delaney, and it was a favorite of my older two children, as well (although my oldest, eight-year-old Caleb, won’t admit it).

And because Delaney is the youngest, she has acquired quite a collection of Barney items from her older siblings, the good ol’ hand-me-downs, including Barney slippers, socks, books, shirts, videos, stuffed Barneys, and Barney music.

When we get in the car, the first thing Delaney requests is, “Barney, Barney.”

She loves listening to the Barney compact disc. And last, but certainly not least, she has a daddy, my husband, Marc, who does a pretty good imitation of Barney and his friends.

Delaney (and I) gets a kick out of listening to him. Delaney watches Daddy Marc in awe, wondering how Barney’s voice comes out of her daddy like that.

And, of course, we have the Barney video that teaches children about manners. It is a wonderful video. Delaney does say “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome” – sometimes, all in the same breath – so even though she doesn’t really understand what those words mean, it is the beginning of “manners instruction.”

In an article on raising a child with good manners, author Jane Meredith Adams notes that it’s never too late to teach your child to be polite, but it’s smart to start the process early, and she outlines what can be expected at different ages.

At age one to two, she recommends not expecting too much. Make manners part of conversation with the realization that these little ones are not going to fully understand the meaning and value of manners. She suggests choosing one rule to teach, such as, “when you’re eating, you’re sitting,” and repeat it often.

At the age of two and three, children are still operating with limited self-control, the author says, but it’s improving and so are their memory, language, and impulse control, so we have to help our children with good manners. Reward good manners with a simple repetition of verbal reinforcement, such as a “thank you” and “good job” for saying “please.”

At ages three and five, the writer notes that preschoolers are starting to really master their environment, and decent manners can start to be a good habit, so expect good progress, but not perfection.

Use role-playing and imaginary play with your children to teach and reinforce manners. Have a tea party and practice, “please pass the tea,” and “napkins on the lap,” etc.

Use your children’s favorite characters, superheroes, and princesses to help teach manners, as well, by noting that Barney and rock stars use manners, too.

Adams also reminds us to always adjust your expectations according to a child’s temperament. Some children may feel comfortable vocalizing their manners, while others may be shyer and whisper a “thank you.”

At age five to seven, children are better able to listen to directions and engage in conversation, and manners will help them get along in their environments. Talk with your child about your expectations for manners and allow them to invent some rules, as well. Children are more likely to follow the rules when they’ve had a part in the creation of the manners.

Continue to guide your child and know that it will be hard work to continue the “manners” instruction as children grow and develop, but it will be worth the effort. Social skills take years to master, and we have to help our children in this process and know that it is a process – not something that they just “get” overnight.

Thanksgiving family cookbook and video

On Thanksgiving, take all the children aside one-by-one and ask each what their favorite Thanksgiving dish is. Then, have them tell you how to make it.

Write down word-for-word their recipe responses. Compile all the recipes in your family Thanksgiving recipe cookbook, with a picture of each child by their own recipe, if possible.

Give each family a copy of the book. You could also videotape this process and show it at night on the close of a great Thanksgiving day.The video could also include messages from each child, and adults too, sharing what each is thankful for during that year.

And you can play the video next Thanksgiving, making a new Thanksgiving video every year, and reminding everyone the blessings received year-in and year-out.

This idea comes from the website on teaching your child an “Attitude of Gratitude.”


“In short, the habits we form from childhood make no small difference, but rather, they make all the difference.

– Aristotle