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Courtesy is the foundation of our culture.
We need to learn it young.
Courtesy is the foundation of our culture.
We need to learn it young.
(# 3084)

Common Courtesy

433 words


How To Make the "Magic Words" Automatic
by Dianne Roth


After 25 years of teaching young children, my success can be measured by four things: cough and sneeze into your elbow, share, keep your hands and feet to yourself, and say “please” and “thank you”. Of these, the most important is the last. Of course I taught reading, math, science, social studies, music, physical education, and art. But, it was elementary civics that had the most impact on my classroom. In our school it was, “Be Respectful”.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? I actually think it is simple if you begin teaching a child the day she comes home from the hospital. Babies who hear the people in their world use the “magic” words will imitate those patterns of behavior. At one year old, my youngest grandson will say, “Pee” and “Akuu” at just the right time to insure that all of us give him whatever his little heart desires. Besides being cute, he is learning the courtesy that is the foundation of our culture.

Courtesy is not just about getting what you want. It is also a way to show appreciation to the people who care for you and put effort into making your world a better place. My two year old grandson has this appreciation down pat. “Gramma, help me!” is nearly always followed by, “Thank you, Gramma.” If he forgets, I do not prompt him with “What do you say?”. The prompt takes away his responsibility to think for himself. I simply fill in the blank for him, “Thank you, Gramma,” to help him embed the response in the automatic part of his brain.

Do not be fooled. A courtesy that becomes automatic is not less meaningful. It only becomes meaningless when it needs an adult prompt.

As a teacher, it takes a long time to break children of the habit of taking everything I do for them for granted. What should have become an automatic response as a toddler, takes hundreds of repetitions at age five or six. From tying shoes and supplying a pencil, to locating a favorite toy, children turn and walk away unless we hold them accountable to our culture’s norm for common courtesy.

The easiest way to do this is to model it in your own life. Say “please” and “thank you” more times than you think is necessary. If you go around looking for opportunities to say these “magic” words to clerks, waiters, gas station attendants, and your children, you will find it becoming more and more automatic.

You cannot wear these wonderful words out by using them. You can only add to their magic.


Dianne Roth is a teacher, mother, grandmother, and freelance writer. She lives in Oregon.



Last updated on October 8, 2012