Are you a dad that says “please?” When Mommy or Daddy say “please” as part of instructions given or requests made to their child, it is a powerful moment that the child can emulate. Politeness is a way of acknowledging the dignity of others and a verbal recognition that speaks of this truth: “I’m not the only person in the world that matters.”
Children who are parented well have a desire to be like their parents. You can imagine your child growing into an adult and requesting one of her employees to “please have those reports turned in by next Thursday.” She may not be able to remember how she learned it, but she will sense the responsibility to be civil even when giving instructions from a position of authority.
However, when Daddy says “please” as a response to being brushed off, it is neither noble nor strategic. Here are four things “please” can be when used inappropriately:
If the child is ignoring or refusing your request, saying “please” doesn’t add to the conversation. It only restates the request with heightened emotion. That’s not manners or selflessness, but sheer self-oriented behavior. It’s a low-cost, low-investment way of seeing if you can get what you want out of someone.
Parents must make a distinction between making a request and giving a command/instruction. Suppose a dad asks his son, “Do you want to walk to the mailbox with me?” He is placing the decision in his boy’s hands, which is obviously a request.
If however, Dad says, “I need you to pick up all your toys before you get out any more,” the child must understand that he is under authority and is required to comply. If Dad follows up on the child’s refusal with, “Please!?” it only confuses the situation. If the boy could verbalize it, he’d be right to ask, “Which is it, man? Is this my decision or not? ‘Cause if you’re asking me, these toys aren’t going anywhere. If you’re telling me, then why plead like it’s my decision?”
Saying “please” after being told no is futile. At best, the parent is only buying themselves a few seconds of thought while they decide what to do about being openly defied. Imagine a scenario where Mommy says, “Bailey, I told you that you can’t play with my phone today. Now, bring that here.” Her child, who can hardly be blamed for being enticed by the addicting device, tries her hand with the very word she’s heard hundreds of times: “No.”
Not knowing what to do, Mommy throws out, “Bailey, will you please bring Mommy the phone?” There is absolutely no chance that Bailey changes her ways. She has already decided what she wanted, and Mommy’s more polite way of asking isn’t going to change Bailey’s heart.
Consider the possibility that Bailey does comply. Imagine an emotional tug so powerful that Bailey believes that it’s not her own desire. That magic word compels her to give in. Consider that a son who hears his mother pleading for him to obey becomes strongly convinced that his mother’s happiness depends on getting that phone.
I’ve heard parents take this as far as saying, “If you don’t do what Mommy needs you to do you’re going to make me sad.” Brooke told me about hearing a woman sappily explain to her child at the park near our house that they couldn’t be best friends anymore if she didn’t do what she was asked. That brings me to the next idea.
It’s Emotionally Manipulative
Bailey doesn’t want to bring Mommy the phone. She’s been clear about that, so what would be the reason she changes her mind? It’s not submission to parental authority. Mommy surrendered that when she started begging. If Bailey complies, it’s out of some kind of pity and a sense of responsibility for someone else’s problem.
Some parents even try to explain their own plight to their kids. “Daddy’s in a big hurry to get to work, and he really needs you to put your shoes on right now.” Besides overtly shying away from parental authority the dad is teaching his child two things: to manipulate others and to respond to manipulation. This dynamic is what was popularly described in the 1990s as codependency.
A child’s disobedience is a parent’s inconvenience. In our most selfish moments, we would say almost anything to not have to deal with it. But we cannot. We love our children, and love is primarily sacrifice. Building a wise adult from the raw material of a disobedient child requires the sacrifice of time, energy, and emotion. You’ll have to interpret, sympathize, and console.
There is no plan that doesn’t include eventually staring down a toddler with nothing else to do today. It’s a challenge, but not so much as people online (who aren’t as helpful as they are funny) make it out to be.