The Power of Respect: I Want My Son to Be Polite

By Karen Ryce

Q:  “I do my best to be polite to my son, and I would like him to be polite, too. When someone does something for him, or gives him something, I would like him to appreciate it and show his appreciation. When he bumps into someone in the store, I would like him to say, “Excuse me.” I want him to see that politeness is not only adult behavior.”

P.I., Briceland, CA

A:  Don’t assume that because you are polite to him he will automatically be polite in all his dealings with other people. Perhaps he can’t relate to this; were all the important adults in his environment polite to him from the beginning? Are they still polite to him?

Maybe none of his peers practice this kind of behavior, and so it doesn’t occur to him. Maybe adults, and not even all of them, are the only people he sees practicing polite social behavior. He may not understand the value of these social forms; his friends may not care if he says, “thank you” or not, if fact they might tease him if he did.

However, whatever reasons he has for not being polite, you would still like the situation to be different. Sometime when you are sure you have his full and willing attention, let him know that you have a problem and you would like his help to solve it. If he’s not ready right then to help you, tell him that you would like it if you both could at least agree to meet sometime soon, since you can’t solve it by yourself.

At the time of the meeting, it can help keep suggestions accurate if they are written down. Some people like the security of knowing that what they said was accurately recorded; it can prevent bickering, hurt feelings, misunderstandings, if the suggestions are written down then read back for agreement as to what was said.

However, don’t let it get in the way of the practice of communicating, brainstorming, and negotiating. If he doesn’t want the suggestions to be written, or if it doesn’t work for you, and you both agree, don’t write. You could tape it if you both agree.

I usually write only with people who are beginning this practice. With those who are more practiced, agreements are usually reached quickly, almost effortlessly. When the people involved are used to thinking of mutually agreeable solutions, they do it more easily and smoothly.

Explain that you really don’t know what to do about this problem you have, but you really want it to be something that is good for both of you. Be sure he understands what you mean: that you don’t have any hidden agendas; you really just want to solve this thing in a way that is good for you and him; that you each have the right to do what you can to make your life good, especially if it doesn’t hurt anyone.


  • You decide to accept his behavior.
  • He’ll be polite to adults, if you’ll explain exactly what you have in mind, but skip the whys.
  • Now that he understands that you really need him to do this, he’ll do his best.
  • You agree to point out other children being polite.
  • After he understands the possible benefits to him, he agrees to give it a try.
  • He’ll be polite to adults and you agree to_____________________________

Remember, you’re going for mutual satisfaction, don’t be satisfied with less.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Karen Ryce, the Miracle Worker of Education and Parenting, has used the Power of Respect for more than 35 years. She started a Montessori school in 1973, gives talks and workshops to parents and teachers.

Phone:   702-363-5564