The Power of Imitation: Why I Don't Teach My Son to Say "Please, Thank You, Sorry"

Children are the best imitators in the world. They observe everything we do from the day they are born. From the mundane tasks we perform such as brushing our teeth and eating breakfast, to more complex skills such as how we interact with others. Their brains are wired to observe and copy everything we do because that is the way they learn best; through hands on action and play. In saying this it is important that we become the parents we want our children to be. If you have taken the time to read other areas of my website you will know that my all time favourite quote is by Ghandi:

"Be The Change You Wish To See In The World"

It is up to you how you interpret this all inspiring quote, however what I gain from this is when you change those around you change. For example if you want a more loving world then be more loving; if you want others to treat you with more respect then be more respectful; if you want your children to grow up to be compassionate then treat them with compassion. Children learn from our tone of voice and our words, but more than that they learn most from our actions. If we treat our children with compassion, love and respect then that is how they will learn to treat themselves and others. On the other hand if we are yelling at our children to be more gentle, or roughly pulling them as we tell them to stop pushing, the message they are getting is that it is ok to yell and to push. At the time they may be left feeling powerless, scared and helpless but underneath all that they took note of your actions the most. 

Little Gems:

  • If you are needing for your child to be quiet then whisper
  • If you are needing your child to be gentle then pull them aside gently and speak to them in a gentle voice
  • If you are needing your child to pack up then start packing up and gently putting objects in their hands so they can copy you


In today's society we teach our children to say "please," "thank you" and "sorry" all the time. So much so that it seems to come across as a robotic response, sometimes without any sincerity. I read a book a few years ago by Development Psychologist Alfie Kohn called "Unconditional Parenting" and most of the message resonated with me; particularly one. It is Kohn's opinion that when we teach our children to say please, thank you and sorry all the time, and withhold what they want until they do say the "magic word", then the meaning behind the actual word becomes redundant and they are merely saying these words to get what they want.

I have never told my almost 2.5 year old son to say please, thank you and sorry when deemed socially appropriate. Why? Because when I do want him to say those words, I want them to be genuine and I only want him to say them if he truly means it. The other day he said "Thank you Mum" for the first time when I stopped a car he was playing with from crashing to the floor. My heart melted in that moment because I could feel how sincere and genuine he was in that statement. So how did I teach him to say "thank you" without making him say it? The Power of Imitation of course! He has observed myself and my husband say thank you to others, including when we say it to him. He has picked up on this, and when he feels the need to say it he will. He has now gone on to say thank you to other children and adults, although he only says it when he means it and not all the time. For me personally, I would much rather someone say thank you to me when they are 100% genuine and sincere because you can feel the gratitude behind the word when it is heartfelt. 

I have similar feelings behind the word "sorry." I have observed children say "sorry" with a huge grin on their face because they are taught to say that when they upset someone. That is all well and honourable...unless you don't mean it. Words do hold energy; but so does intention and feeling. So if you say "sorry" without being genuine, then it is just an empty word that you have been programmed to say because it is socially acceptable. Just like a "thank you," I only need a  "sorry" when the person issuing the apology has heartfelt sincerity behind it. What would you rather an empty word every single time it is deemed socially acceptable or a genuine and heartfelt gesture that goes beyond the actual word being said?

If it resonates with you, I challenge you to take a different approach to teaching your child manners. Instead of telling them what they need to say all the time, take a step back and let them observe you. This act alone will automatically lead them to imitate you. It may not happen immediately but actions do speak louder than words.

Your children will learn from their closest and most loved role model; YOU!

Be compassion. Be love. Be courage.