No, not *that* P word. Sheesh, people! I’m talking about the Magic Word, the word that gently takes the edge off demands, that turns direct orders into polite requests, the word that seems to be permanently AWOL from my children’s vocabulary.
Oh, I have battled long and hard. All day long, I’m like a stuck record. “Where’s the magic word?”, “What word is missing from that sentence?”, “Why don’t you ask again in your nice voice?”. I lead by example, too: “Please can you get your bicycle off my toe?”, “Please can you get your finger out of your brother’s nose?”, “Can’t someone somewhere somehow *please* give me just give me a freakin’ break????” Okay, so maybe there’s not so much of the good example-setting with me.
I’ve tried other strategies than out-and-out nagging. I’ve tried instigating an instant 5 minute penalty for any request that was missing the word please. I’ve also tried a Zero Tolerance policy, where anything that was asked for without “please” would be flat-out refused, no matter how reasonable the request was. (“Mummy, can I get out the bath? I’m cold and my hands and feet have turned blue.” “NO!!!!!”).
And I’ve also tried the Ignoring strategy, which took me back to my early years of tormenting my sister. “Can anyone hear a little voice? No? Must have been my imagination.” However, even as I do this, I can’t help but flash forward 20 years in my mind to The Pixie on the therapist’s couch, saying “My mother treated me like I didn’t exist” and sobbing uncontrollably. But interestingly enough, in this little scenario I like to imagine that, when the therapist asks if she would like a tissue, The Pixie says “Yes, please” and I feel that perhaps it might be all worth it…
But come on! How hard can it be for a 4 year old or a 6 year old to remember to use the word please? They’ve worked out “Can I have…” is an integral part of asking for something. They know to use the upward inflection to indicate a question. But they can’t remember the word please.
They can remember which Thomas The Tank Engine characters are tender engines and which ones are tanks and what their numbers are. They can remember which Transformers belong to which series, what they transform into and whether they are an Autobot or a Deceptacon. They can recall, with great ease, that you have failed to deliver on the promise of icecream several hours earlier and that time you used the word “fuck” when you realised you’d burnt the cupcakes and the one and only time you let them have sugar on their Weetbix.
AND YET, they still can’t remember to slot in that one little word when asking for a drink of water.
Call me old-fashioned, but I just want my children to realise that the world will bend just that little bit more towards your will if you ask nicely. It doesn’t always work but it certainly never hurts. And besides, I’d like to feel a little less like the House Help and a bit more like an equal citizen in my own house. Men and women have fought and died to protect my freedom, goddammit, and I don’t want any four year old punk with a biscuit addiction taking that away from me.