Tuesday 13 December 2011

Please don't teach your child to say please and thank you....

....  until their language level is ready!

There is no-one who likes children to say 'please and  thank you' more than me. My own children are very polite and know that they are unlikely to get what they want without these important social niceties BUT I do not advocate parents of children with delayed language or early language to expect their child to use them until much later. 'Please' and 'thank you' are NOT communicatively functional. It will not help a child to express himself if he is struggling to use single words or put 2 together, to make him say 'please' and 'thank you'.

If a child is saying single words it means that they are at an early stage of language acquisition. If, therefore, you ask them to say 'Please' or 'Ta' before you hand over the required toy, piece of food, drink or whatever, they will be very confused. Much better to name the item or say something related and relevant to the moment, so they can learn the appropriate vocabulary.

If I am trying to encourage a child to put 2 words together such as 'more + biscuit', they won't be able to say 'more+biscuit+please' until much later because this is actually 3 words together. I am not aiming for 'biscuit please' because that is not as functional. It's much better to encourage them to say 'more biscuit'. This shows also the child the idea of combining words. 'More' is an excellent pivot word because you can have more of anything e.g. 'more cuddles, 'more ticking', 'more jumping', 'more juice', 'more bubbles'.... anything.

I don't even teach the signs for 'please' and 'thank you' until a much later, more sophisticated level. I have worked with too many children with special needs  in the past who constantly tap their hand to their mouth to ask for something.. anything.. with a generic sign for 'please'. Much, much better to teach the vocabulary (signed or spoken) for the item they might want.

Giving the good example is very important and is sufficient at this stage of development. I would welcome your comments though!

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  1. Great post!

    Ceaselessly over the 7 years at baby and toddler signing classes we are asked for the please and thank you signs. It's a difficult one as parents obviously want their little ones to be respectful and polite - but we do have to reinforce to parents that babies and toddlers simply do not understand the concept of please and thank you as we understand it at this very young age.

    Its simply great to model polite behaviour as an adult and we encourage our parents to do so, but as you have pointed out, the complication of additional words for a young child, especially words that have no meaning for them, is both confusing and unnecessary. If parents model good diction, politeness and sentence structure, small children will imitate these speech patterns.

    ICAN state that normal development for children would have them saying 2 words together at 2 and 3 words together at 3 - worth remembering when trying to establish the please / thank you routine with older toddlers and pre-schoolers.

    Thanks Libby, we'll share later.

  2. I agree!! So often, a parent in the room during a session would add "please" to my model of "more ______" and I'd say "those will come in time...not now!!" I never really thought about the reason, though - it was just instinctual...lol

  3. Thank you for your comments. When I was on the Hanen training last week some of the other SLTs were complaining about it too. ABC Flashcards are another of my bug bears but I'll save that for another day!

  4. I agree! You and are on on the same wavelength...http://wp.me/p1WqX1-2e

  5. Very interesting Libby, I agree so much, I hate it when parents say to children say... and then children have to repeat something could be hello/goodbye or recite something. I too like manners but basic language skills are far more important.

  6. Good to read this as a parent of two that had severe speech disorders I used to be berated because I did not make my children say please and thank you.

  7. That is a very interesting topic and I have discussed this with many colleagues and parents in my classes.
    I totally agree with you as far as children with speech and language difficulties are concerned.
    In these cases, if they are struggling to put two words together, there are more pressing needs and priorities than to insist on the second word being 'please'! And yes, I too have observed children with additional needs tapping their mouth anytime they want anything.

    Maybe I misunderstood you, but I just wanted to voice my own opinion regarding normally developing children.
    In our baby signing classes, we cover 'manners' as one of the topics. Most children are normally developing, though we have got some with Downs Syndrome. The signs for 'please' and 'thank you' are covered in that week.

    Most children in our classes have a signing vocabulary of 20-40 signs by the time they are around 15 months old and are starting to put 2 or three signs together.
    If a child has a good vocabulary (signed and/ or spoken) and is starting to say/ sign his needs/ wants/ observations, then I have no problem with introducing Please and Thank you. If a concept of 'Hello' and 'Good bye' or the difference between 'Hot ' and 'cold' can be understood and learned, I don't understand why we shouldn't teach our child that, if they receive something, they say 'Thank you'.
    I started this with my daughter when she began to want certain things, I would show her the sign for what she wanted and say the word, then when I gave her the item, I would say/sign "Thank you!" She grasped the concept easily and I have observed the same with all the other children who have been taught the sign.

    I asked the mums in my class in Harpenden today, some of them are there with their second child and one has a child with Downs syndrome (who, aged 2, has a signing vocabulary of 50+ signs and is putting two signs together beautifully).
    They all agree that they saw no problem with teaching their children Please and Thank you.

    I agree with LittleSignersClub that we should model good diction, politeness and sentence structure. Please and Thank you are normal words that we say daily and often, so I have no problem modeling them...however I would always advise parents who are concerned about their child's speech to focus on basic language skills first!

  8. I think modelling them is good and where children are developing in the usual way, that is often sufficient anyway. As a SLT working with children with ASD I don't advise even doing those signs as I come across so many who just sign a generic 'please' for everything and anything. Incidently, my own children are very polite! :)

  9. Really interesting to read! Thank you! We taught our older two kiddos "please" as one of their first signs. They would combine the sign with the verbal word for the object, and when they got old enough to combine words we asked them to SAY please. It wasn't a problem for either of them, and I thought I was giving them an option to express themselves other than a grunt or scream when they were very small. Our youngest (15 months), however, has some speech delay, and again, to help him communicate when he wants something, we have been encouraging the use of the "please" sign. I now see how this could be confusing. Thanks for the post!

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