Ever since my daughter was born, I’ve been drawn to studies and advice on how to become better a better parent.
I’m especially drawn to the tiny changes that can have outsized outcomes.
Here’s one. Well, three in fact. A trinity of golden phrases that you can encourage your children to use, and that go far beyond their immediate meaning to build persuasiveness, gratitude, and confidence.
In fairness, you probably already encourage these, and your parents encouraged them in you as well. In fact, the degree to which you model them is probably the number-1 factor in determining whether your kids grow to use them habitually as well.
But, I think you’ll find there’s more here than meets the eye. The three simple phrases? “Please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome.”
“Please” (the key to persuasion)
Six short letters, and yet “please” is the sine qua non of polite conversation. It’s soothing and encourages comity. It’s the golden door that leads to all kinds of other polite mannerisms, and that means it makes children become more persuasive.
A study in the journal MIS Quarterly examined a theory called “the politeness bias,” and determined that suggestions phrased using polite language were more likely to be considered smart and persuasive than impolite language — even when the underlying messages were identical.
Interestingly, children seem to know that their employment of politeness and specifically the word “please” are likely to make their arguments more persuasive. Just imagine:
- “Mommy can I stay up a half hour later? Please?”
- “Daddy can I please have just one more cookie?”
- “I really want to go to the pool today. Can we do it? Please? Please? Please?”
Encourage the “please.” The bedtime and the cookie and the outing are up to you.
“Thank you” (the key to gratitude)
Peas and carrots; please and thank you. They go together. But beyond simple politeness, science has shown over and over and over that learning to be thankful and expressing gratitude leads to happiness and success later in life.
- Writing in the journal Cereb Cortex, researchers determined that “gratitude stimulates the hypothalamus (a key part of the brain that regulates stress) and the ventral tegmental area (part of our ‘reward circuitry’ that produces the sensation of pleasure).”
- University of Miami psychologists divided study participants into two groups: one that was asked to write each week about things they were grateful for, and asked a second group asked to write about things that annoyed or irritated them. Ten weeks later, the gratitude group felt more optimistic and better about life than the annoyance group.
- Working at the University of Pennsylvania, the so-called “father of positive psychology,” Martin E.P. Seligman, found that asking more than 400 people to “write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness” led to a “a huge increase in happiness scores.”
Getting kids in the habit of saying “thank you” constantly is the first, small baby step toward embracing these lifelong of habits of gratitude.
“You’re welcome” (the key to confidence)
These are two of the most underrated words in the English language: “You’re welcome.”
I say that because they’ve been replaced so often with simpler, less confident phrases:
- “No problem.”
- “It was nothing.”
- “No worries.” (Hat tip, Australia; good on ya for getting us to adopt this in the United States, even if I don’t love it in this context), and
- My least favorite of all: “Yep.”
The magic of “you’re welcome” acknowledges that you have done something worthy of someone else’s gratitude. It’s a tiny but important confidence builder.
Call it the opposite of a micro-aggression. A micro-affirmation, perhaps. When my daughter does something worthy of praise or thanks, I’d like her to articulate and understand that it is in fact worthy.
Before we leave, let me acknowledge a dissenting view: Robert Cialdini, a psychologist and author of the 38-year-old book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, would tell you that “you’re welcome” is a missed opportunity, and that there are other phrases that can better lay the groundwork for future favors and influence.
(Example: “You’d do the same for me.”)
With all due respect, I think that’s wrong. Maybe it was more apt when the book came out around the time Michael Jackson first did the Moonwalk. But, lack of confidence is as big a pitfall as lack of persuasion is now, with modern children.
Besides, we already covered persuasion with “please” and politeness.
Look, no matter what you build as an entrepreneur, no matter what you do in your career, for a lot of us, raising our kids is going to be a very big part of our legacy on this planet. Maybe the biggest part.
That’s why I’m so drawn into these little hacks, and it’s why I’ve compiled an entire free ebook full of similar tips and tricks: How to Raise Successful Kids (7th Edition).
Please check it out. Thank you for reading. And if you find you like what I’ve had to share, you’re welcome.