Originally published in “The Evening Sun” on June 25, 2010, by  Jon Lawernce

Going out in public with my wife and eight children normally causes reactions from those around us. From the casual onlooker, their the wordless mouthing and bobbing index finger as they count. However, from the insatiably more curious, we get comments.

“Are they all yours?” Yeah and from the same wife, too!
“You have enough for a (enter sports team here).” That’s not our goal.
“You know what causes that, right?” Yup. Love.

But the most common is “I have only one. How do you handle eight?”

The answer to that one is really a handful of things. Both husband and wife having the same beliefs and goals for the family. Putting the best interest of the family before self. Eating meals together. Praying together. And lastly, there is the line in the sand that can never be crossed: “please” and “thank you”

From birth, every parent knows that children don\’t come with owner’s manuals. Which makes sense because we don\’t own them. Slavery ended generations ago. But what every parent should know is that teaching of children starts early. From the first times they ask for something to eat, drink, or play with (that can be one and the same!), it’s important to establish a very simple expectation. Every request needs to be accompanied by “please’. And so long as this is continually reinforced, they will pick it up and adopt it as the standard operating procedure.

Please is about respect. It teaches the speaker that they are in need and they have to be a little bit humble to have that need filled. They grow up realizing that they, like everyone else, have limitations and that the people who can help them won\’t be ordered around. There are people in authority over them who deserve to be respected. And respect that is given is normally rewarded.

Children are lovable but not born polite. They come into the world basically selfish. So when their diapers need to be changed, their bellies filled, or their hearts hugged, they cry to have those needs fulfilled. And that’s perfectly fine. Otherwise, they\’d be smelly, malnourished, and not near as fun to hug.

But if that “me” attitude is not one day changed, their world view quickly becomes slanted. They “blossom” into demanding, uncaring people who think that others exist to serve them. They go through life with unrealistic expectations and look for immediate gratification.

Please is one little word that is a great course correction. It crushes that self-centered worldview and reinforces the need for others. It\’s a loving discipline meant to help them grow into balanced people who are emotionally ready for the world.

“Thank you”s, on the other hand, are about gratitude. They compliment “please” and finish the job that it started. When we receive something or some action from another, we have an obligation to respond. “Thank you” fulfills the debt that comes with all kindness. Any well-intentioned action done to us deserves this bare minimum response.

Equally, these two words confirm the sincerity of please. Without them, the hearer is left questioning if the speaker ever even meant it. Perhaps the “please” was just a tool to manipulate the other person, leaving them feeling used. But when “thank you” follows with nothing more to be gained from the other person, the hearer is touched by the respect shown them.

The earlier that it’s learned, the happy the individual is. Respectful and grateful people are more likable and make better friendships throughout life. Their relationships with others are more meaningful and genuine. Others are seen as equals and not mere two-dimensional shapes that only have value when they are needed.

As they grow into polite individuals themselves, they go out into the world not only ready for it but prepared to improve it. Just as bad examples can lower the bar in society, these good individuals help others to gravitate back toward politeness. Since human beings are influenced by what they see, these respectful words can and do touch people. And the need for it is great.
Parents have a short window of opportunity to properly influence the young children in their care. While our little ones are blessings, they come with an obligation. They have need of our guidance. Left to their own devices, they will have a harder road to travel. But when we instruct them on how to conduct themselves, their way is smoother.
Any parent who holds their ground on these words is rewarded with politer children and a happier home. Been there. Done that.

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