"Please" and "thank you" are not our magic words

neurodiversity parenting Oct 30, 2022



The desire to coach our children to be gracious and respectful is powerful. The world says that the way to do this is with certain "magic words"--by stopping our kids when they say, "I want water!" and saying, "What's the magic word?" or by repeating, "I want water please?"


Magic words unlock adult compliance. By using certain words, kids can access their basic needs. By using certain words, adults smile and say yes, adults kiss and snuggle and praise. Magic words are key to adult approval.


The difficulty is that teaching our children to ask us "politely" with "please" and "thank you" is not actually graciousness. It does not lead to a heart-posture of gratitude. It does not foster children who willingly act in grace toward others.


Instead, gracious children have received grace themselves. Graciousness arises from relationships of respect and trust. When we respect our children, they learn to respect us.








"Make it right"




"Magic words" are words that consistently yield a response, words that hold power, words we all know matter. Our first magic word is "stop". If anyone in our household says "stop," we stop. We freeze, stop what we were just doing, and listen to the person who said "stop." I put my adult energy behind this: when I hear them playing, and then someone says, "Stop," I move toward them, saying, "I heard a stop!" Then, I scan the situation and see what needs to stop, and help it stop with my body and my energy. Sometimes it's hard to stop, and I understand that. So I help.




When someone asks for space, we give it. As the adult, it is my job to ensure we have spaces for all of us to go where we can refuel, reconnect with ourselves, and find stability for our nervous system. These spaces shift all the time, so there is no demand that a person go to a specific place. Rather, I observe where a depleted person has chosen to go, and set up that space with what they need there: stuffed animals, lovey, water, snacks, blankets, fidgets, tablet. The word "space" is a magic word because we all respect the need for space as sacred. In our neurodivergent household, we all need space sometimes.




After a conflict, a fight, or a rupture in a relationship, the only thing we ask is, "How can we make it right?" Forced apologies are not a part of our household culture. Certain words are not needed. Instead, a loving heart reaches out to another, in a bond of trust, saying, "I know that we had a rupture. How can we repair?" We know that conflicts and fights are often too complex to figure out who-hurt-who or who-is-at-fault. That's not the goal. The goal is to first check-in with ourselves (what do I need right now?), then check-in with our loved one (how can we make It right?) and third, make a plan (what can we learn for next time?)


Compulsory words teach our children to perform. "Whether you mean it or not, you say these words." Authentic grace and gratitude emerges from trust, understanding, connection, and love.


Certain words have power. Certain word are "magic." But you get to decide what they are and how they work.

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